The long journey home

It turned out to be a very wise idea to stop drinking when I did the previous night as I was about to embark on a much longer than expected journey back to the States. The day started out pretty decently with a noon checkout I had negotiated the previous night versus the usual 10AM. The weather was fairly hot but again dry so I walked down to Sarimento one last time to check out a traditional parilla. One had caught my eye the other night as a billboard declared they had Patagonian lamb. That was the last spot on my Argentine food bingo card so it was a no brainer.

image(184)

The restaurant was fairly busy and seemed to be tourist free, another good sign. It was a bit after 1PM and since I wanted to leave for the airport at 3PM, I would have plenty of time… or so I thought. I took a quick glance at the menu but was pretty much convinced I’d have the lamb. To be a bit healthier, I also chose a side of grilled vegetables. I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day so I eschewed the bread basket so as not to break my fast.

By now, I was more than used to the delays to get food, especially at lunch. The WiFi wasn’t working so I opted to read from my Kindle iPhone app. 30 minutes later, with nothing yet and barely a peep from my server, I began to get the sense something was off. Still, it was Sunday, which tends to be even slower service than usual so I let it slide. At a bit before the hour mark, my server appeared, apologizing for the delays and said it would be 10 more minutes. 2PM, OK, well that still works for my timing so fine.

It was now 2:30PM with still no food in sight. A group of men angrily got up and walked out. I came thisclose to joining them but realized that if I did that, I’d still have to get food elsewhere, which wouldn’t be fast. I also wanted my lamb dammit! Plus, I was getting so weak from lack of food, I wasn’t even sure if I could walk anymore. Finally, after 15 mins past the “cuatro minutos” I had been promised, the lamb finally arrived. I was so out of sorts at this point there will be no food porn shots and while decent, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait. Now suddenly pressed for time, I scarfed down the lamb and really mediocre grilled veggies, and ran back to the hotel.

I ended up getting to the Mendoza airport in plenty of time and of course, the flight was delayed. With still no decent WiFi connection, I wandered around the tiny DutyFree store to look for any wine. They had a bottle of one of my favorites, Vina Cobos, which I would take back as a thank you for my friend Jasmina taking care of my cat all these weeks.

Thankfully, I was able to get an exit row both for the short trip to Santiago and the much longer flight back to LAX. The plane was quite nice and during the flight, I finally picked the right side to be able to see the magnificent Aconcagua practically in front of me.

image(185)

After landing in Santiago, I now had about 3 hours to kill before the next flight. The airport looked to be recently renovated but unfortunately that also meant that the insidious plastic chain mentality that pervades so many airports had also appeared. As I walked down an extremely long hallway, I saw nothing but chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesdays (yeah I have no idea either), McDonalds and even Subway. Wanting something even vaguely authentic and lured by an interesting beer list and WiFi, I chose a place called El Antonio’s.

image(186)

There was a large crowd gathered around the TV at the bar – the Super Bowl perhaps? Ha ha, no silly American, why it of course it was a soccer match!

Everything on the menu was listed in Chilean pesos which was waaay more than the Argentine version. My waiter explained it was $450 pesos per dollar. I began to do some mental calculations on some of the items and quickly realized I was dealing with airport prices here. The lomito and queso sandwich looked good and I was going to pair that with this surprisingly good Chilean beer I had tried back in Buenos Aires – Kuntsman – Grand Torbego ale. I got as far as “Kunts…” before my waiter boomed “NO!” and told me they only had Budweiser, Heineken and some sort of really lousy looking Chilean lager. Oh and the WiFi didn’t work. Wonderful. Fortunately, the sandwich, while way too expensive, was actually quite tasty.

image(187)

I made my way down to the gate to find the flight was about to start boarding. I looked outside and saw the massive plane ready to fly us home. I had been surprised how easy it was to go through security but as I walked down the ramp, there was another security checkpoint. One odd thing though was the familiar looking No Liquids sign along with various water bottles, sodas and random liquids in a basket to the side. The gruff security worker looked at my DutyFree bag and pointed to the sign, saying “No liquidos.” I said it was from DutyFree. “No liquidos” “DutyFree” I basically kept saying that over and over until she summoned the other security person who also explained no liquidos. Tired and not wanting to give in, I explained that it’s impossible for me to check something from DutyFree, which is how I got it in the first place. Finally, they let me go.

I took my seat next to a very friendly Argentine who was finishing up his economic PhD at MIT. We talked about his thesis on clientism and how effed the Argentine economy was. He spoke perfect English and we would bounce between Spanish and English. We also talked about the NBA, his favorite team, the Spurs, and other sports items. I had also been able to get the half time score of the Super Bowl, which seemed to be heading for a blowout by the Ravens. I was enjoying the conversation so much I didn’t realize that over an hour had passed, and we weren’t moving. Hmmm

Suddenly, it was now over 90 minutes after we had boarded and still nada. My seatmate inquired as to what was going on, and we got a vague answer that it was something to do with the baggage. 30 minutes later, we got the notice that we had to get our stuff and deboard the plane. Greeat. Through my seatmate as well as a couple of other people we were able to piece together that apparently the issue was a labor dispute between the private baggage handlers, who had loaded half of the plane, and the union. We were told to check back in 90 minutes for another update.

The silver lining in all of this was that due to a power outage, the Super Bowl was actually still early in the 3rd quarter. A group of us ended up at Ruby Tuesdays after pleading with them to keep the game on for us. The game turned out to be a nailbiter and one of the guys in our group ended up winning $2000 in a pool with the final safety of the game. It concluded almost exactly when we had to go back to check on the status. We were told that it would be another 30 minutes but that we were going to leave.

The flight finally took off around 2:30 AM and even though my ticket had indicated it was a non-stop flight, there was an hour layover in Lima. Still, the plane was quite nice, with a great entertainment system and we stayed on the plane with the Lima stop. The delays also didn’t matter that much to me as I couldn’t check into my next temporary home until 3PM. After a rare approach over the coast, we landed a bit after 10AM. This seemed to be a popular time to land as the customs line rivaled the one I suffered through in Buenos Aires. Still, being an American, my line wasn’t nearly as bad as that experience. USA USA USA!

After a harrowing cab ride with a truly clueless Armenian driver, I finally arrived home. Of course, that was sadly only a brief stop to get my car and to see that I wasn’t anywhere close to getting into my actual home. It had been an extremely long day/night/day but it was good to be, well, at least home-ish. As I drove to my next stop, in Los Feliz, I reflected back to the whirlwind that had been the last 6 weeks. It was an experience I will never forget and very glad I was able to capture at least some of it via this blog. On to the next adventure…

El Fin, for now

 

Advertisements

Ituzaingo

Saturday started out slowly as the back to back to back to uh, well a lot of late nights began to take its toll on my body. Still, this was my last full day/night in Argentina so I wasn’t about to spend it in my small hotel room. Besides, there was wine to purchase.

After a surprisingly good meal of boneless chicken with a fresh herb sauce and puffed potatoes, I headed back to Vines of Mendoza. Ezekiel was there again to assist. I took out $1100 pesos and said “Now let’s get some wine with this.” I ended up getting both some of the wines I had at the tasting as well as a couple of others to round out a half of a case. I also got another very good reserve Malbec which they couldn’t ship but that I’d transport in my suitcase. A very nice haul indeed.

My initial choice for my final dinner was at Casa Mun, run by a chef who normally has a puerta cerrada in Buenos Aires but is temporarily in Mendoza for a few weeks. Unfortunately, I had received an email a few days ago saying that due to a medical emergency the dinner had been canceled. I had asked them what they suggested for a replacement and they recommended another puerta cerrada called Ituzaingo.

The weather had turned much cooler and though over a mile away, I thought it would be nice to walk to dinner. I ended up on a large street called Las Heras, which had tons of shops and parrilas on it. This seemed to be more of the working class scene, and it was nice being able to see another side of the city. I finally arrived at the address – on Ituzaigno Street natch – with a large wooden door and a long string. I pulled the string and heard barking. I wasn’t exactly sure if I was at the right place but just then the door opened, making it clear that it was.

image(177)

image(176)

The hostess ushered me inside and showed me to my table in what looked like the living room of a nice artist loft. There was a couple sitting on one of the couches, and I was given a small glass of wine as a greeting. This was soon followed by a delicious bruschetta of egg, tomatoes and herbs.

image(178)

There was some nice jazz softly playing in the background and the room was full of art pieces. There didn’t appear to be any menu or options so I assumed that it must be a tasting menu. I was enjoying the onda when the door burst open. A very jovial man carrying two large bags of ice entered along with his barking dog, Tete. This was Gonzalo, the owner and head chef.

image(179)

He put down the ice and told me to join him by the couch. Another plate arrived, this time some smoked salmon with avocado, and he explained that the salmon was from the very south of Argentina. He then sat down with a Coca Cola, due to him having to work, and started to talk about the concept of his place. This was his actual home and he believed that socializing is just as important as the food. By now, another couple had joined the group, who looked vaguely familiar to me.

image(180)

The next bite was a take on the classic proveletta, which in this case had been inverted so that the cheese was inside the dough vs. on the outside. He had us go around the room and introduce ourselves. The couple from Norway had just returned from trying to summit Aconcagua and unfortunately had to turn away 50 meters from the summit due to bad weather. Gonzalo left to take care of dinner and we all had a nice chat getting to know each other. It was around this time that the other couple and I realized where we knew each other. All three of us had been at the same sports bar, Sugar, to watch one of the NFL playoff games and even crazier, they had also initially been planning to go to Casa Mun that night.

We were enjoying our chat so much that we decided to join as a single table, which they set up for us outside. There was a large private party on the other side of the courtyard and Tete was happily circling us. Peter turned out to be a pretty serious wine collector and with Gonzalo, picked out 3 bottles of reds for us to have with our dinner.

image(181)

Now basically a progressive dinner party, we enjoyed swapping stories about our respective trips so far and enjoyed the first bottle of red, which was quickly followed by the second. Gonzalo reappeared to tell us about our next round of appetizers. These were 2 different styles of that most iconic image of Argentine cuisine – the empanada. One was from the Tucman region and was filled with smoked trout and the other was a more traditional take with chicken. The trout was a standout to me. Tete continued to hang around our table, looking up at us with big sad eyes.

image(182)

Finally, it was time for the main course, which of course, was beef – two large tenderloins in my case due my garlic thang served with a delicious Malbec mushroom sauce. The 3nd wine, suggested by Gonzalo, turned out to work great with the juicy steaks, and we toasted again our newfound friendship. Having had so many meals (while fantastic ones) by myself, it was a nice and welcome change of pace to be in a group again.

Peter declared that we should get a 4th bottle and while tempting, I knew that if I went for that, I would be in a world of hurt the next day. I graciously declined but the remaining four went for it anyway. Our final course soon appeared, consisting of 3 different desserts. The first was pumpkin which had been dried in a very specific way in the sun, then boiled in a sugar water solution. It was a very unusual couple of bites, with the sugar and spice of the pumpkin adding punch with the chewy texture. The second bite was spaghetti squash (Argentina is the largest producer of spaghetti squash in the world) in a taco like shell. The squash had once again been enhanced by sugar, this time melted brown sugar.

image(183)

The final dessert was the Argentine staple, dulce de leche mousse. While delicious, I could feel my stomach start to rebel so I only took a few small scoops. Peter and Ture enjoyed it so much they were given a second version with banana soon after. It was now about 3 hours into the dinner and the females of our group were starting to get tired. The rest of us though were still ready to carry on so we decided to meet up for drinks after Peter and Ture dropped off their wives at their respective hotels.

I suggested we try the Aristides area where I had been on Thursday since that was the main drag of bars. We took the short cab ride to the densely populated street. There were hundreds of people filling the various bars, both inside and out. Peter volunteered to do recon at one of the main bars, which wanted a cover to go inside and was also the site of my ill-advised Negroni that past Thursday. I got the vibe the crowd was a bit young for our tastes, and Peter soon reemerged confirming that. We finally ended up at a cool spot called G2, where I was able to snag us a prime outdoor table.

Ever the instigator, Peter insisted at the very least I share a beer with him. I thought that wouldn’t push things too far so we ordered a large bottle of a local stout. It wasn’t that great but better than the usual lager nonsense. Ture had a rum and Coke, and we all relaxed, taking in the scene around us. At the table next to us was a friendly couple. Antonio was like something out of a movie – short, stocky with a bald head and a booming voice, speaking broken English. He seemed to really like the phrase “COME ONNN!” which he said repeatedly. Peter ended up buying them another bottle of wine and I chatted with Gladys, who only spoke Spanish so there were the usual breakdowns in communication.

It was now past four, and we collectively agreed to pack it in for the night. We said goodbye to Antonio and Gladys, whom of course were just getting started, and I made sure Ture made it back to the hotel. I crawled into bed at 5AM, dreading the long day/night/morning ahead but at least I could have a final meal and hopefully relax a bit before I began the long journey home.

Wine, wine y mas vino

I woke up Friday in quite a bit of pain. Clearly my brilliant plan of having a Negroni after 2 bottles of wine had not exactly helped. The cumulative wear and tear was starting to getting to me too and next thing I knew it was noon. Damian informed me that the office visit had to be canceled due to a family emergency. That gave me a much needed reprieve, and I dozed off again. I spent the next few hours in a state of semi-consciousness but eventually rallied to go explore my new surroundings.

image(162)

I had made a reservation at a wine tasting place called Vines of Mendoza, which specialized in small boutique vineyards in Mendoza and could also ship to the US in case I wanted to get some bottles. It was once again fairly hot but the lack of humidity made it tolerable. Across the street from the hotel was the very attractive Plaza Italia, which given it was 7PM, was full of people talking early evening strolls.

image(163)

 

image(164) image(165)

The city is very attractive, streets lined with massive trees and clean. There are large and very inviting plazas and parks. I was still getting over the culture shock of going from a huge metropolis to a much smaller city but the proximity of everything was a definite plus. I continued up a street called Sarimiento, which was filled with outdoor cafes and shops. After about 15 minutes, I arrived at the Vines of Mendoza.

It was clearly designed to handle the gringo tourist trade but thankfully not in a cheesy way. I had made a reservation to do the Boutique wine tasting, which was a sample of 5 local vineyards for only $75 pesos. There were other more expensive options, a reserve tasting for $250 all the way up to the crazy $650 level for the “5 best wines in Argentina.” To me, that screamed out “rich gringo who doesn’t know better” so I passed on that level. Plus, part of my goal was to get wines that I could never buy in the States.

I took a seat at the slick, modern bar, with a flatscreen TV showing a video on a loop about Vines of Mendoza and was greeted by the very jovial Ezekiel, who was going to be my tour guide. He spoke perfect English and given my less than stellar state, I was glad to listen and speak in English for a change. He explained the progression of the tastings – light to heavy – and the overall concept. Out came the tasting glasses and away we went!

image(166)

The first wine was a Torrontes from a very small vineyard based in Mendoza – Las Perdices. It was a bit lighter than the Torrontes I had been imbibing previously but still very nice and refreshing.

image(167)

Next up was a Pinot Noir from another tiny vineyard and my favorite label I’ve seen in awhile – Maula. Ezekiel explained that unlike most of the Pinot Noirs around here, they used oak, which made it not nearly as fruit forward as most. Nothing too remarkable but I’d order it with a meal if I had the option.

The 3rd one was a Caberent Franc/Syrah blend, which apparently I didn’t take a photo of so visualize in the mind’s eye. I didn’t really care for it so no big loss anyway. Moving on…

image(168)

The 4th one was by far my favorite. From another tiny vineyard called Mairena, it was a bold and rich reserve Bonarda. Given it was a bit aged – 2008 – it had a depth of flavor that was lacking in the previous two wines. I made a mental note to get a couple of bottles of this.

image(175)

The final tasting was finally a Malbec (there was another tasting option of all Malbecs but I wanted to try a variety.) From yet another small vineyard, Qaramy, this was a very balanced and tasty Malbec, with a nice punch of flavor but not too overwhelming.

image(169) image(170)

I was enjoying the experience so much that when Ezekiel asked if I wanted another glass, how could I resist? I opted for a full glass of the other Torrontes they had, which he said was very different than the one I had in the tasting. He spoketh the truth. From a larger vineyard called Laborum, it had a bit more dept of flavor but still light and crisp. As I sipped on my wine, I noticed a fellow American traveler doing the reserve tasting. We started chatting a bit and next thing I knew, he was including me in his tastings. Originally from Oregon but having spent time in San Francisco and New York, he had been in Mendoza for a week. After a few more tastings, I invited him to join me for dinner at a place that had been recommended to me and enthusiastically supported by Ezekiel – Asafran.

image(173)

It was only 3 blocks away so we made the short jaunt back to Sarimiento. The weather had turned a lot cooler so we decided to get a table in their large outside section. The real reason I wanted to go there was their very cool concept of not having a wine list but instead select a bottle directly from their wine cellar. I asked to see the cellar and we were soon joined by the executive chef, Pablo, who asked us what we wanted to eat. Both of us wanted something lighter, so he suggested a Torrontes, which of course was perfect for me. Funny enough the first one he selected was the Laborum I just had. Wanting to try something different, he then recommended his personal favorite, Alta Vista.

image(172)

image(171)

We made our way back to the table and our server brought out the perfectly chilled wine. We swapped notes about portenas (he had been in Buenos Aires as well) which of course included my Date from Hell story. He ordered a plate of camembert and fresh peaches for a starter. I’m not a huge wine and cheese fan but a couple of bites was a nice way to counteract the increasing volume of wine I was consuming. Pablo had suggested the Chilean salmon so I went with that. The salmon was perfectly cooked and had a great basmati rice bed underneath it.

 

This is basically what my vision looked like by this point.

This is basically what my vision looked like by this point.

We paid the bill and said our goodbyes. He was off to Colombia the next day for a wedding and we wished each other bien viajes. It was the perfect random evening that one experiences when traveling solo and a great way to continue my Mendoza trip.

 

 

 

Adios Buenos Aires y Bienvenido Mendoza

After over a month, it was finally time for me to leave Buenos Aires. Time had flown by and I was going truly miss this crazy, fun, diverse and massive city. I was going to particularly going to miss the extra buying power the Argentine’s completely messed up economy had gotten me. My flight was scheduled to leave at 7PM so I had plenty of time to say goodbye.

My first stop was to have one final, great meal at my favorite spot, Local. Even though it was Thursday, they didn’t have their usual wood oven options, which was OK at it allowed me to try something from their regular menu. I had become obsessed with the Argentine version of the sweet potato so I selected the pork shoulder with roasted sweet potatoes and an olive tapenade. The pork shoulder had been cooked sous vide for 6 hours and then flash roasted for a few minutes. This gave it a wonderful combination of a crispy skin and incredibly tender meat. It was a great send off.

image(157)

As I was eating, Daniel, the owner, showed up with his wife and young girl. I told him how I was going to miss the place, and he said he’d miss one of his favorite customers (awww) I walked out sated as usual and made my way back to the loft for the last time. I was surprised how emotional I was getting about leaving. I was looking forward to continuing my trip, but it was a bittersweet moment.

I arrived at the gleaming new Aeorparque airport and made it through customs in no time. It was nice not to have to take my shoes off for a change. There was an impressive food court and shopping mall on the second level, including this fancy high tea and dessert place.

image(159)

 

Right before I left the loft, I had gotten an email stating my flight had once again been delayed. When I got to the gate, there were a bunch of people waiting who clearly didn’t receive the same email.

image(158)

After a truly garbled announcement, the group started gathering their things and heading to another gate. It was a good thing I had been paying attention or I would have easily missed my flight. After securing an exit row (huzzah!), I bordered the plane, only to notice a truly interesting sight. Pretty much the entire back of the plane consisted of little girls ranging I’d guess from age 10-15 or so, all dressed in pink. They were part of some sort of summer group and sang songs as the plane was boarding. They also pretended like the takeoff was a rollercoaster going “Wooooo!” as the plane ascended. It was all quite charming, especially when we landed and they all started singing/clapping as they made their way to baggage claim.

image(160)

My host in Mendoza, Damian, was there to pick me up and told me my timing was good as the entire city of Mendoza had been without water for the past 2 days due to some large storms knocking out the distribution plants. Water had just been turned back on only a few hours before. I wondered if maybe that’s why they kept delaying the plane.

It was once again hot, even at 10PM but unlike Buenos Aires, much less humid. Damian played tour guide, pointing out various landmarks, barrios and points of interest. He said we were going to one of his favorite local restaurants, Siete Cocinas. It was located in what looked like to be a former house and while now almost 11PM, there were still a few people dining there. Damian comes from a winemaking family so he walked into their cellar to check out what looked good to him. I mentioned that I had several good Malbecs in Buenos Aires, which made him smile and say “You haven’t had Malbecs yet.”

Since it was hot, I suggested getting a white first and he scanned through the ubiquitous iPad wine list. There were several that he asked about that weren’t in stock, including the chardonnay that he really wanted me to try. He settled for another chardonnay, which while tasty, didn’t have quite enough depth to it. Given the late hour, for once, I ordered an appetizer. On the menu it said it was peas and fried sweet potatoes, which sounded intriguing. I was surprised though when it came and the peas were actually part of a small casserole with cheese, onions and bacon – so much for my supposedly healthy starter. Alas, the lighting was too low for any decent food porn shots.

I couldn’t have my first choice of entree – the goat – because, of course, it had been braised in garlic so Damian suggested the matambre. I can’t say it was my favorite as it was too dry but Damian had paired it excellently with a fantastic Malbec/Cabernet blend.

Since there was still quite a bit of wine left and Damian wanted coffee, I decided to get the baked apples with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. This was a real winner and was necessary after the dry matambre. Since it was only 1AM (i.e. early), Damian suggested we head up the street for a drink and so he could smoke. After a couple of false starts, we chose a bustling bar that had some outside seating.

Unfortunately, right as we sat down, some sort of liquor promo started up, with a blaring TV and PA right in front of us. We were able to secure another table thankfully, and Damian enjoyed another cigarette. A night cap sounded good to both of us and for some reason, I chose a Negroni. I thought the slightly bitter taste would be a nice contrast to what we had previously. Alas, the Negroni was waay too bitter but I was able to counteract that by having them bring some lemon slices. Now it was fine to drink. By this point, it was 2:30AM, and I had yet to check in to the hotel.

We got back in Damian’s car and took the short drive to the hotel. I checked in and said my goodbyes to Damian. The plan for the next day was to go to Damian’s office, which we both agreed probably wouldn’t happen until at least after lunch. It was quite the change to go from a large loft to a tiny hotel room but I was so tired and wiped out, I crashed easily.

The Last Waltz (Tango) in Buenos Aires

As hard as it was to believe, Wednesday was my last night in Buenos Aires.  I knew I wanted to go somewhere special but also a place that wasn’t stuffy or too formal.  As I had dined at various places, I had asked the chefs, cooks and servers where they go on their day off, with many of them citing the same place – Las Pizarras Bistro in Palermo Soho. I had been told to make sure to get a reservation so I booked a table for 9PM.  At first I had thought this was a pizzeria, given the name and the last thing I wanted was another terrible slice of za.  However, the word pizarras actually means, more or less, a blackboard.

image(151)

It became very obvious why it was called Las Pizarras as soon as I entered the room.  Given it’s a place for the locals, there was no English translations but by now, I could pretty much decipher any Spanish language menu.  It was once again incredibly hot so I opted for a glass of cold Torrontes to start.  The restaurant was right up my alley – small, cozy with an open kitchen and extremely reasonable prices.

image(152)

My eye was immediately drawn to the marget de pato (duck breast), which was about half of the cost of the one She Who Shall Not Be Named had at Casa Umare.  This seemed like the perfect way to exorcise those demons.  My server, who turned out to a girl who had recently moved there from Michigan, recommended the Cabernet Sauvignon.  What was soon presented to me turned out to be hands down the single best dish I had in Buenos Aires.

image(150)

The fat on the duck breast had been perfectly rendered and thankfully well seasoned.  It was a perfect medium rare and tender.  However, what set this dish apart was what came with it.  Underneath the duck was a fantastic puree of carrots and ginger.  Even better was the salad next to it.  A fascinating blend of flavors of grilled arugula, fresh peaches and a truly memorable dressing of Dijon mustard, veal stock (wow), and Himalayan pepper, it elevated the dish to “blackout goodness” as Anthony Bourdain likes to say.

image(153)

image(154)

It was now 11PM but still 82 degrees and muggy so instead of having dessert there, I walked down a few blocks to the first place I had ice cream in Buenos Aires, Fillipo.  I had wanted to try their delicious dulce de leche for awhile, especially since they gave you the option of having a cup vs. those terrible sugar cones, which causes a mess.  It was just what I needed.

image(155)

Since I was fairly close to Plaza Serrano, I thought it would be fine to take one last stroll through there.  The plaza was extremely packed and buzzing with energy.  I later found out that the next day was a national holiday so it made sense that people were out partying.  I ended up at a funky large bar called Club Serrano since they were having 2×1 drinks.

image(156)

I ordered a mojito, which unfortunately turned out to be godawful.  It was way too sweet and the mint was barely muddled.  I choked down about half of it and then asked the bartender for some soda.  That took the sickeningly sweet tasted out of it but it needed more lime so I asked for that next.  Finally, I had him do a quick toss, and voila!, an actual mojito emerged.  The music was eclectic to say the least – bouncing from 80s pop – Frankie Goes to Hollywood “The Power of Love” (?), to smoooth R&B – Sade – to modern dance – with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

For my second drink, I opted for a caiprihna, which was much better.  Suddenly, the music got turned up and the large doors were shut, blocking my nice view of the Plaza.  It was DJ Electro Cheeze time and the music got much, much worse.  There was a cavernous second room, which was the club part of venue.  The crowd was pretty young and wasn’t really my scene so I bailed.  Plus, tomorrow was a big day with a switch to a new locale, Mendoza, so I decided to get at a few hours of beauty sleep.

 

 

A Taste of Peru and Cocktails too

The weather continued to be extremely hot and Tuesday evening was worse than ever.  That made me crave once again some ceviche and as luck would have it, I had discovered a site where I could make reservations to various restaurants and get a discount.  I had heard good things about a Peruvian place called Bardot and with a 20% discount, it seemed to be a good choice.

image(144)

Living up to its namesake, the interior of the restaurant was very French boudoir chic, with plush couches, chandeliers and dark red colors.  It seemed slightly at odds with the Peruvian menu but whatever works I guess.  I had been craving a nice, cold pisco sour and the one here hit the spot.

image(145)

Nicely chilled, with the perfect balance of the strong pisco offset by the fresh lime juice and the whipped egg whites added the foamy goodness that is key in a good pisco sour.  It gave me hope that I was going to get some good authentic Peruvian food.

The ceviche list was pretty extensive but I decided to let my server, who was from northern Peru, to recommend the one he likes. He smiled and pointed to the Amazon salmon ceviche.  As I read the ingredients, I saw the usual items – fish (in this case salmon), leche de tigre, sweet potatoes – but then it got…different.  Smoked bacon and maize – whaaa?  He explained the bacon and maize were often added to ceviches in the Amazon.  I was intrigued to see if this could possibly work, so why not?

image(146)

The salmon was thick but buttery smooth, with the leche del tigre adding the acidic punch.  The peppers and red onions were thankfully subdued and the sweet potato was nicely prepared.  Amazingly, the bacon and the maize really worked, adding a smokey undernote to all of the acid in the rest of the dish.  I would have never expected this to be as harmonious as it was but very glad I decided to take the risk.

Bardot was only a couple of blocks from the great bar Rey de Copas so I headed there next.  Since I was only drinking this time, I chose a seat at the bar and chatted with the very cool Martin, the main bartender for the evening. Jamiroquai was playing in the background and the place while not exactly full, had a very friendly vibe.  I sat right in front of Martin’s laboratory of ingredients, ranging from perfumes of different scents to various droppers and all of the usual toys high end mixologists covet.

image(149)

This time I decided to start with the botanic smash, which I had made a mental note to try.  The drink included Bombay Sapphire gin, Ricard, lime, mint, basil and a smash of rosemary.  The herbaceous flavors came through nicely and the mix of the floral gin with the slightly bitter Ricard made for a very well balanced drink.

image(147)

Given that I had already been mixing my liquors – pisco, wine and now gin, I thought it might be wise to stick with another gin cocktail.  While I’m not a tonic fan at all, Martin told me about this Argentine tonic called 1748 that he claimed wasn’t nearly as bitter.  He suggested the botanic gin and since I was already in a herb mood (so to speak) it sounded like a good idea.  This one took a bit longer to make, with Martin chilling a wine glass (interesting) and then adding/stirring the various ingredients until this was presented to me.

image(148)

Yikes.  Martin explained that gin and tonic in a wine glass was a very Spanish thing (news to me but OK.)  I was bit leery of such a large drink given my distaste for tonic but when in Rome, er Buenos Aires…  The botanic elements, which this time included thyme, rosemary, mint and basil, help temper the bitterness of the tonic but also as he had noted, the tonic itself wasn’t too harsh.  The twist of grapefruit was a nice touch too.

I sipped on my monster cocktail and chatted up a woman who turned out to be an ex Pat from LA.  She was having a pre-cocktail before heading over to an after party for the band Grizzly Bear at this private club near there.  We talked about portenos vs. portenas and about our respective experiences.  She took off to her shindig and given it was 2AM on a Tues, I thought it might be a good idea to go home.