2 Weeks to Go

Almost exactly 2 weeks from right now (Pacific time), I will be landing back in LAX, a changed man.  This trip has been truly eye opening and a much needed reset after the worst year of my life last year.  I have 10 more days in Buenos Aires, followed by 3 in Mendoza and that’s it.  Now is the time to start trying to experience as much as I can before I left and cherish every remaining moment I have in this wonderful, crazy, vibrant and dynamic city.

That means more food porn to come, more posts about various alcohols I’m imbibing but hopefully no more Dates from Hell stories if I can avoid it.  As it gets closer to the end, I’ll also be posting overall thoughts and opinions of Buenos Aires, portenos and Argies in general.  It’s been heartening to get so much great feedback and hope everyone continues to enjoy my random musings.  Tonight brings another adventure in cooking and perhaps other shenanigans.  Stay tuned…

Back to the Old School

Despite my best efforts, I awoke yesterday with a fairly massive hangover.  Perhaps my 2AM shot of Polish vodka at the trendy Olsen wasn’t the wisest of choices.  So much for trying to keep up with the locals.  Fortunately, the weather gods decided to give me a break by sending a fairly large rainstorm my way.  The storm was a bigger plus in that it cooler down temperatures considerably.

Given the new school feast I had at iLatina, I thought it would fun to try another parilla and go old school.  I had asked the owner of iLatina some of his favorite parillas and he suggested going to one near Las Canitas.  I had wanted to check out the nightlife there so that seemed to be a good fit.  He said the name of it seems to change frequently so he just gave me the address.

Since this was apparently a very popular spot, I headed out a bit before 9 to trek up there.  Las Canitas is very close to where I’m staying but the catch is that there’s this large train/subway that divides the two barrios so it takes longer than it looks.  Still, the weather was just about perfect – high 60s with a nice breeze – so the walk was welcomed.  I zigzagged my way up some side streets and soon got Dorrego, where the parilla was located.

He had warned me that there’s no sign so it was easy to miss – which is exactly what I did the first the passing it.  There was a small glass door but it was tinted so I couldn’t really see inside.  However, the door opened soon after and it looked to be the place.  I soon realized this was it when I saw the following when turning to the right.

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Yes, this was the Secret Parilla.  It was packed but there was a small table right next to the parilla so they gave me that one.  At first blush, it looked like a lot of the parillas I’ve seen here.  The room was filled with locals, mostly couples out on what must be date night for them.  The owner was a fairly gruff looking chap and his son was the only other waiter.  The man running the parilla was very cool though and I loved watching him work.

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Unfortunately, that would be the last photo I could snap as the owner approached me and made it clear he didn’t want to taking any more pictures.  He bemoaned the fact that some websites had exposed his precious parilla and I think he just didn’t want his locals to be shut out of eating there.  However, this night I was the only interloper.

There were two interesting things about this parilla.  One was the fact that if patrons ordered a bottle of Norton wine (a mid-level Argentine wine) they would get a free bottle of champagne with it.  Given I was flying solo, I opted for the glass of red, which was only $10 pesos (water was $15 pesos.)  The second thing was that the parilla guy would go over to a scale that was next to me to weight the various meats.  This was because your order was either a portion or a half portion.  A portion was a kilo and there was an option to get half of that.  I opted for the half portion of the chorizo – which in Argentine steak land is a sirloin.

The chorizo came on its own large metal platter and was a truly impressive cut of meat.  It was perfectly cooked and for once, thankfully seasoned correctly. Not bad for $60 pesos.  Now I knew why this place was both so popular and “secret.”  I love old school places like this and will honor the tradition by not saying where exactly it is.  Sorry amigos.

With a belly full of meat and wine, I was getting a bit sleepy but still wanted to see Las Canitas so I sallied forth. Having been there before, I could tell that the main action was on a street called Baez so I headed there first. A short while later I approached Baez and the street was teeming with activity.

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By Buenos Aires standards, it was still very early (11PM) so most people were at the various restaurants having dinner.  Since it was so nice outside, most were sitting outside and the whole street was filled with the sounds of people talking. I walked down the street to a cool looking open bar that was one of the only ones to have people actually drinking versus just eating.

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Called Lupica, it was a Mexican themed bar, complete with luchador masks, Dia del Muerte art and other Mexicana staples.  The DJ was playing some great house music so I sat down at the bar and ordered a (now much maligned) green apple margarita.  As I stated on Facebook, it was delicious and yes, slightly girly.  The crowd was fairly young but friendly, and I enjoyed watching the action unfold as I sipped my massive drink.  It was now midnight so I decided to continue cruising around.

Unfortunately, my back-to-back-to-back late nights started to take a toll on me and I knew it wouldn’t be 4 nights in a row.  So yes, dear readers, no crazy stories to share alas. Instead, I just walked around and took some pictures of the various bars and vowed to return next week when I had more energy.

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Mute Bar – definitely will check this out again.

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A Dutch owned bar that unfortunately was dead when I was there.

A Dutch owned bar that unfortunately was dead when I was there.

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Latin American food porn

After my usual routine of working in the morning, by the time lunch came around I was starved for something Argentine and a spot 2 blocks from me would fit the bill.  Specializing in empanadas, El Horno de Argentina is a classic neighborhood hangout.  Old pictures hang on the wall with weathered old chairs and tables covered in white cloth.  There were 12 different types of empanadas from which to choose, and I was told that 3-4 would make for a good meal.  I decided to get a mix of 4 different types – chicken, beef, Calabresa and ham & cheese.

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These empanadas were much smaller than the ones I had a couple of weeks ago but were bursting with flavor.  Although not obvious from above picture, each empanada was in a different shape and I had been provided an illustrated guide to determine what each was.  As mi amigo Chris had said, empanadas truly were the first Hot Pocket.  I will definitely be back to try other types soon.

For dinner, I was heading to one of the hottest spots in all of Buenos Aires, iLatina for a multi-course feast.  Situated inside an old home in the barrio of Villa Crespo ,iLatina is one of the latest puerta cerradas (closed door) which are all the rage here.  A bit more formal than a pop up but not quite a restaurant either, puerta cerradas allow young and aspiring chefs to have a space for their food without the overhead of a traditional restaurant.  Reservations are required and only then is one even given the full address.

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After the usual routine of having my cabbie drop me off on the corner, I headed up a quiet street to a large house with a massive gate.  A man soon came to the gate and asked for my name on the reservation.  After that was confirmed, I was escorted into the large main room, which handsomely decorated with Latin American art.  There were 4 other couples who also arrived (there’s only 1 seating) around the same time.  I had been sent an email with the entire menu so I already knew what to expect and was very excited to these exotic dishes.

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The owner explained that his brother was the chef along with his sous and one other server – 4 people total.  The music was a mix of classic Latin tunes along with more current versions and helped set the mood.  Soon, I was presented with a very impressive array of breads – Banana bread, cornbread, rosemary olive oil bread, chipá with lime butter.  The cornbread with chunks of sweet corn and the banana bread were particular highlights.

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Along with the bread, I was presented the first of the 5 wines that would be paired with each course.  Known as a blanc de noir, it was a champagne made with Pinot Noir grapes but without the skin so there was no tint.

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The first course was a modern spin on a classic ceviche, salmon ceviche with “leche de tigre” and a fresh salad of cucumber, melon and lychee.  The leche de tigre acidity helped balance the richness of the salmon chunks, with a nice heat underneath that wasn’t overpowering.  The cucumber and melon salad helped cool down some of the heat from the ceviche and together with the dry, light champagne was a fantastic complement to the dish.

The owner explained the rest of the wines would be coming from the same vineyard, Manos Negras.  Ironically enough, that was the winery who made the Pinot Noir I had the previous night, would apparently soon have again.  Next up was their Torrontes. 2011. Valle de Tulum. San Juan.  It was perfectly chilled and had a surprising amount of body for a relatively mild varietal.

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To pair with that, the 2nd course consisted of crispy langostinos with grilled fennel, spicy pineapple and achiote.  I only ever had achiote in a paste form so it was a nice surprise having the actual fruit, which was just sweet enough to help temper the truly spicy pineapple that sat along aside the prawns.  The grilled fennel added a nice spice note to the prawns.  Another winning dish.

The third wine was the same one I had at Bar du Marche, which was fine as I quite enjoyed it – Manos Negras. Pinot Noir. 2009. Añelo. Patagonia.  I asked if Pinot Noir was a relatively new variety for Argentina and the owner explained that it has become a popular grape to grow in the colder Patagonia region.  While nothing special, it was a very solid, fruit forward Pinot.

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To pair with this, the 3rd course was perhaps the most interesting of everything I had – Encevichado duck in tamarind sauce with white corn arepa and goat cheese.  The duck had been slow cooked for hours and then shredded.  Next, it was combined with traditional ceviche ingredients and essentially became a duck “ceviche.”  Normally I’m not a fan of cold duck but this was superb.  The arepa (similar to polenta cake) was warm and topped with a great goat cheese.  Very creative and very Latin American.

The fourth wine was one again from Manos Negras, this time their Malbec. 2010. Altamira. Mendoza.  It was a very robust Malbec, which was needed with the 4th course.

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This was the big one.  The fourth course was beef tenderloin in sugar cane syrup served with mashed potatoes and peanuts.  The owner explained that pairing peanuts with beef was a Colombian staple, ditto using sugar cane syrup.  I was initially afraid that combination might be too sweet but the richness of the tenderloin helped mitigate that.  The real surprise was that there were also peanuts in the mashed potatoes, which gave them the slight taste of peanut butter, an usual but quite delicious melding of flavors.

A small glass arrived and I knew that was meant for a late harvest wine.  Sure enough, it was for the 2007 late harvest Malbec from Manos Negras.  I’m normally not a fan of dessert wines but this was closer to a port in that it wasn’t overly sweet.  This was paired with a guayaba cheesecake with brie cheese layered on top.  I skipped the brie as I thought that was a bit much but the cheesecake was tart and delicious.  A great way to finish the meal.

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Since I don’t drink coffee, the owner asked me if I wanted some more wine.  I decided to get some more of the Torrontes in the hope that the lack of tannins would mitigate the headache I was sure to have tomorrow.  For the record, it was a noble effort but given that I’m still nursing the hangover, not entirely effective.  It was a very special night and thanks to my increased buying power, only cost about $65 including tip.  I doubt I’ll be able to get back there before I leave but I definitely plan to return someday.

Local eats and wine

After being here for almost 4 weeks, I’ve now settled into a comfortable groove – working during the morning/day and exploring at night.  A large thunderstorm made the temperature cool down a bit so last night was the perfect time to dine alfresco.  I wanted to stay local so it made perfect sense to return to a place that shared its namesake, Local.

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Due to having a light lunch of a smoked salmon sandwich courtesy of my favorite delivery spot, Marfa, I couldn’t hold out for the traditional dinner time.  So, it was no surprise when I got to Local that it was completely empty.  It’s a small, intimate restaurant though so it wasn’t like I was alone in a vast empty space.

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As much as I wanted to have that delicious wood-fired chicken again, I decided to try something different.  The bondiola – pork shoulder – caught my eye but I had to check for garlic.  While this was going on, I had already ordered a glass of the Tempranillo from Mendoza but soon found out that, yes, there was garlic in it.  Oh well.  Although I was actually fine with ordering meat again, the wood oven trout sounded too good to pass up.  Of course, that wasn’t exactly an ideal pairing with my wine but so be it.

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The trout arrived about 20 minutes later (nothing is ever fast in Buenos Aires) and the aroma was amazing.  It’s not really clear from the above picture, but the trout was sliced in two.  The top as shown, then a layer of delicious roasted potatoes that were square like bricks, and then the other half of the trout.  The skin was perfectly crisp, the trout had a surprisingly robust flavor and the roasted vegetables were a great complement to the dish.

As I was finishing, the owner, Daniel, walked over to me and said he recognized me from my previous trip there.  We chatted a bit about how they source only local products, and Daniel bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t get the lamb he wanted for tonight.  He told me I had to come back for their version of matambre, essentially a pork flank steak.  I still want to get their chicken again so I guess I’ll have to make 2 more trips there.  Yes, I know I’m leaving such a tough life.

After dinner, I walked a few blocks more to a new-ish wine bar that I noticed last week.  Despite Buenos Aires being a pretty wine centric dining scene, there are surprisingly few places to get multiple options by the glass.  Out of that apparent need, Bar du Marche was born.

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A small, classic French bistro/wine bar, they have an astounding 50 wines by the glass, arranged from lightest to the most robust.  I was concerned that it would be mostly French but thankfully the vast majority were from Argentina.  I decided to start with a Pinot Noir from Manos Negros, an Argentine winery – a first for me.  It was a classic fruit-forward Pinot, which was just what I wanted.  I sat at a table outside, enjoying the nice cool breeze and soaking in the local scene.

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I had to try a Malbec, of course, so I chose one from their Robust section.  It was a deep red color and was substantially heavier than the Pinot, in a good way though.  It was a very generous pour and at only $45 pesos (which was only $7.50 with my increased buying power) a steal.  I will definitely return here soon.

Snapshots of Buenos Aires

Yesterday was a day of work and rest for me so no food porn or dating disasters.  Instead, here are a few random snapshots I’ve taken over the past week for your viewing pleasure.

View from my "office" aka my bed

View from my “office” aka my bed

Palermo Hollywood

Palermo Hollywood

Messi section at a sporting goods store in Alto Palermo Shopping Mall

Messi section at a sporting goods store in Alto Palermo Shopping Mall

Recoleta - past bumping up against present

Recoleta – past bumping up against present

Recoleta

Recoleta

The massive Avenida de Julio 9 - the widest avenue in the world

The massive Avenida de Julio 9 – the widest avenue in the world

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SDIM0789

 

A Taste of Peru in Buenos Aires

Argentine food tends to be a bit on the heavy side – empanadas, steaks, massive cuts of glorious meat.  I love that stuff, don’t get me wrong, but after awhile it can become a bit one note.  Plus, given the hot weather, one can only take so much dense food before wanting something a bit lighter.  After another fairly hot day, I decided it was time for something not only lighter but also cooler.

When I was first exploring Las Canitas, one of the restaurants that caught my attention was a cevicheria conveniently named Ceviche.  It was a Peruvian/Japanese fusion place, and I made a mental note to check it out at a later date.  As it turned out, that was actually the second location, and the first one was even closer to me.

There was actually a very pleasant breeze helping cut the heat as I strolled to the restaurant.  I was a bit early – 9PM – so the restaurant was fairly empty.  The space was pretty massive, with a large front room and an even larger backroom which led to a patio area.

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Given that I was alone, I decided to take a spot at the sushi bar, which also served as the ceviche area.

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The bar contained a pretty impressive array of sushi grade fish, including a massive amount of gorgeous looking salmon.  Daniel, the chef in the picture above, explained to me that they source most of their fish from Chile as it’s much better quality than what they can get in Argentina.  The menu was pretty extensive but I was immediately drawn to the ceviche section.  There were several different options, from traditional to more fusion based dishes.  At the bottom of the page was the Ceviche Tasting, which I knew immediately was the way to go.

I selected a glass Mendoza based Sauvignon Blanc and waited for the seafood goodness to come.  Daniel told me that pretty much every sushi restaurant in Buenos Aires is actually a Peruvivan/Japanese fusion called Nikkei.  They still have nigiri and rolls, but also have Peruvivian dishes like ceviche or heavier meat-based fare.  The restaurant was run by a Peruvian but the other chefs, like Daniel, were Colombian or Argentine.  Still, given that the guiding hand was actually from Peru, I thought I’d be in good hands.  This proved to be true as the following appeared in front of me:

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The ceviches in the tasting were the following:

– Traditional – a traditional, classic ceviche with corn, sweet potatoes, onions and white fish cooked with lime juice and a piece of fried yucca

– Del Mercado – similar to the traditional except with sole and a more acidic Leche del Tigre

– Arequeno – A mixed seafood ceviche with squid, shrimp and caramelized sweet potatoes

– Palmerian – Chilean salmon chunks with mango and sushi rice.

The last one was the real winner as it was sweeter than the more acidic ceviches that came before it.

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This was the real winner.

All and all a fantastic meal and a much needed break from the usual.

Adventures in Cooking – Take Dos

Monday for dinner in Buenos Aires is tough as there are not that many places open.  Not wanting something too heavy given the caloric overload I had over the weekend, I decided the best course of aciton was to cook for myself.  Given that I hadn’t tried any of the kitchen equipment in the loft yet, I thought it was wise to go with something fairly simple.

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I had walked by this store many times and was intrigued by a chicken only butcher.  As the sign says “The Best Quality for the Best Price” so how could I lose?  Senor Pollo had a variety of cuts, all apparently delivered daily fresh from their own farm.  Like most places, the prices were based on kilos (2.2 lbs) which is way too much for just me.  I opted for the boneless thighs, which they were in the process of deboning as I selected them.  There was a slight breakdown in communication as they seemed puzzled why I would only get .5 kilos but eventually I got my order.

I decided to make a simple stir fry with some kind of vegetable.  The next step was to get the ingredients for the sauce.  There was a supermarket a couple of stores down but their selection was pretty poor and shelling out $5 for a small bottle of soy sauce seemed like a rip off.  I wanted to do a Dijon soy sauce but there also was no Dijon mustard to be found.  Still walking around with my raw chicken, I gave up and headed to my local supermercado, which was owned by a Japanese family so maybe I’d have better luck there.  That turned out to be the right move as they had a much larger bottle of soy (soja) for a lot less.  There was still no Dijon but there was a decent looking mustard that would probably work in a pinch.

I next went across the street to a fruit and vegetable stand.  There I found some great looking broccoli and I was set.  I also picked up my new favorite beer, Quilmes Bock, and walked back to the loft.

Around 9PM, it was dinner time so I started to take inventory on what I had.

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It was a pretty random assortment of tools and looked like they had barely been touched.  The knife wasn’t great but looked sharp enough and the slotted spoon would serve as a decent stir fry instrument.  I had previously asked Marcos for a sautee pan but it turned out to be almost a wok, which in this case was a plus.

It was obvious that no one really thought about actually using the kitchen as there was no exhaust fan and the lights were comically placed, casting shadows over where I would be cooking.  I was concerned there was no cutting board but finally found one stashed away in the back of one of the cupboards.  The knife proved to be fairly decent and I was able to quickly cut up the thighs.  Now it was time to figure out how the stove and ranges worked.

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Taken after I cooked my meal but wanted to show my perspective

The first challenge, as one can see, was how low the stove was for me.  This combined with the shadows from the light not hitting the area correctly would make this a wee bit tricky.  The next task was to figure out how to light one of the burners.  There was a large lever (not pictured) that I had to turn to get the gas going.  Visions of being knocked out by the gas flooded my head so I knew I need to quickly get a burner going.  I found the correct knob and heard the familiar hissing of gas.

As the gas hissed away, I noticed that there was another knob with a picture of a light bulb and a lightning bolt.  I assumed that was a way to light the pilot so I turned it to the left, which is where the lightning bolt was….which turned on the oven light.  OK, so let’s try the right then…bingo.  I saw a blue flame engulf the bottom of my pan.  There were a series of dots that I assumed was to turn low or high.  I turned it towards the largest dot…and the flame went out.  OK, repeat the process with the pilot.  Lit?  OK, good.  Now let’s try to crank it all to the left.  I saw the flame increase in size but when I turned it all the way, yep, out went the flame.  I finally figured out, for no real logical reason, that the High setting was actually in the middle of the 2 dots.  Oookay.

Once I had the flame going, I was pleasantly surprised how hot the pan got in a very short period of time.  After a few minutes of stir frying, I added the soy mustard mixture, which actually had turned out to be pretty decent, and soon was ready to eat.

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The meal turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself and gave me a much needed light(ish) meal break. It took way longer than I hoped but next time would be a lot quicker.  The downside, of course, was that I also had to clean up everything.  There’s something about cleaning up essentially another person’s kitchen that isn’t quite as appealing as doing it in your own kitchen. The other thing that I realized is that I probably could have gotten the same meal somewhere for as much if not a bit less.  Nevertheless, it was a nice change of pace and a reminder that it just wasn’t possible to go out every night for almost 5 weeks.