Buenos Aires – Day/Night 5 – Sabado Gigante

Still nursing a bit of a hangover, I forced myself out of bed eventually to enjoy some truly great weather.  My goal today was to explore Palermo Soho a bit and soak up some rays.  But first, I needed food.

image image

I walked down one of the main streets that led to Paraguay, taking a few pics along the way of the ‘hood and eventually arrived at a parilla called Simply Palermo.  Worked for me.

image

I got a nice table outside to enjoy the glorious weather and watch the highly entertaining show going on in front of me.  As noted in the photo above, it was a 4-way intersection with no crosswalks or stop signs, which resulted in total chaos when cars would get there at the same time.  I watched about 4-5 near head-on collisions along with much honking and yelling.  My favorite was when a cyclist would approach, assuming he had the right of way only to be quickly chased away by cars who clearly didn’t think he did.

image

Since i hadn’t eaten a parilla yet, I of course had to order something from the chargrill but wasn’t quite in the mood for a steak.  Fortunately, they had another favorite of mine – bondiola – which is basically a large pork steak.  This along with fries seemed to be just what I needed to tackle the rest of this hangover.  I paid up and headed down the street towards the Plaza Serrano, stopping to take a few snaps here and there.

image

image image image image image

There was a weekend street fair going on at the Plaza, with both hand goods and clothes.

image image

It was all pretty junky though so I mainly just wandered around, taking in the sights and sounds.  After a couple of hours, my feet started to ache so I made the walk back to the apartment for some rest.  I had a 9PM reservation for my last big meal of the trip that was coming up soon so time for siesta.

image

Aramburu is considered to be the grandaddy of all tasting menu focused restaurants in Buenos Aires, having launched with that concept exclusively over 9 years ago, as my server proudly proclaimed.  I was told the menu would be “around 12-13 courses” and focus on everything available at this time of year, which since it was spring meant the selection would be pretty diverse.

image

The first course soon arrived – 3 bites of an apple ravioli filled with blue cheese, a chicken pate ball made to look like a cherry and “sea” chips, which I was to pick from the corral around it. All 3 were good and a nice way to start the meal.

image

The second course was a carrot ravioli and a pork shu mai with a soy ginger sauce.  The ravioli was a bit of a mess to eat but delicious as was the dumpling.

image

The striking presentations continued with the next course – an oyster “pearl”, which was oyster puree encapsulated to make it into an oval.  One bite though and the whole thing burst into my mouth.  Not a huge oyster fan but this was at least creative.

image

The fourth course – a scallop with eggplant puree – was the first time I was offered utensils.  The scallop was very tender and went surprisingly well with the eggplant.

image

The fifth course, the server explained, was their signature dish, a shrimp roll with a grilled shrimp wrapped around ramen noodles then quickly fried.  It was served in a small pot with a hot stone, which then had a broth poured over it to send some lovely aromatic steam into the air.  I could see why they were so proud of it.

image

I sighed though as the next course arrived – sweet breads, my favorite.  However, with the pumpkin puree and the lemon “snow”, this turned out to be way better than expected.  The tart lemon snow helped cut through the richness of the sweet breads and the pumpkin puree added some much needed flavor.

image

The seventh course was a piece of grilled white salmon filet with a celeriac puree and a pistachio crust.  Simple but well made.

image

Both the presentation and quality of the dishes jumped up considerably with the eighth course – 19 hour roasted suckling pig with a pear apple sorbet.  This was outstanding, with a playful presentation of the pork underneath leaves like a traditional Hawaiian pork roast.  Pork and apples go so well together so I wasn’t surprised when combining the pork with the sorbet turned out go beautifully together.

image

I actually gasped when the ninth course arrived – quail and quail egg with mushrooms.  I had never seen quail presented this way and so dramatically.  As one of my favorite game birds, this was a particular delight as it was perfectly seasoned and the earthy mushrooms were a great match with the deep flavor of the quail meat.

image
The last savory course could really only be some sort of steak, in this case a slice of filet mignon with grilled radicchio and mustard.  Nothing mind-blowing about this one – just a nice piece of steak and a side.

image

However, the next course, a palette cleansing sorbet of cucumber and a lemon granita was just that.  It was so good I ended up getting another order.  Not too sweet and with a huge burst of cucumber flavor, this was a stone-cold stunner.

image

The twelfth course was a raspberry sorbet with raspberry powder and a “wings of a bird”  As one might guess from the description, it tasted a lot like, well raspberries.  More points from the presentation versus actual taste for this one.

image
Fortunately, the final course made up for it – white chocolate ice cream with a vanilla panna cotta and white chocolate “nibs” with apple slices that had been marinated in whiskey.  Combining a whole lotta things I love into one dessert made this a can’t miss and it certainly did not.  Absolutely delicious and a worthy final course.

image

The final little bite would have made more sense if I drank coffee but was still tasty with the last bit of Malbec I had left.  Once again, a beautiful presentation.  As I finished up, I began chatting with the table next to me, who turned out to be cousins in town for a few days.  One of them was a foodie.  The other decidedly was not so most of the theatricality of the meal was lost on her.  I compared notes with the foodie one and gave her some suggestions for her final lunch tomorrow.  It was still early (well only midnight), so I decided to head back to Palermo and get a nightcap somewhere.

image

I had my cabbie drop me off in the heart of Palermo Hollywood and after a couple of unsuccessful stops at bars that had opened since I was last here, I crossed a few blocks over to one of my favorites, Olsen.  Tucked away on a quiet part of the street with a magnificent courtyard that extended to the open layout of the main room, it is a great spot to mingle or in my case, just have a nice cocktail in relative quiet. I finished up and opted to walk the mile plus streets home, working off my meal and enjoying the cool weather.

Advertisements

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 4 – Rest, Recovery and Rejuvenation

The rain continued to pour as I groggily woke up and dealt with the punishment I had inflicted upon my poor body over the past few days.  I was in no mood to venture out into the rain so I pulled up the great site I had used many times during my last stay, BuenosAireDelivery.  I knew I needed to take a break from all of my meat consumption so I scoured the site for anything vegetarian that looked decent.  In Buenos Aires, this is easier said than done but I finally found a place that seemed to be what I wanted.

The restaurant listed a tortilla (in Latin America, this means usually an omelet or a quiche) with roasted carrots, chard, onions and potatoes.  I selected that along with a rice and white cheese empanada that sounded good.  About 10 minutes after ordering, I hadn’t received the email confirmation that is usually sent right away so I used the site’s online chat to inquire as to the status.  It was then that I realized I had forgotten (suppressed?) the somewhat maddening process of trying to order for delivery in Buenos Aires.  Most places will list dishes that they in fact do not have at the moment and that causes the order to be cancelled.  Thankfully in this case, it was just the empanada so I switched it to a four-cheese one and the order went through.

About 45 minutes later, the intercom rang and since I couldn’t figure out how to buzz in the delivery guy, I just went downstairs to get my meal from him that way.  The tortilla was nothing special but it was filling and at least somewhat healthy so it was a winner in that sense.  The four cheese empanada was very good and combined with a couple of pieces of my bread from last night, overall it was a simple but satisfying lunch.

I was still pretty tired and couldn’t quite muster up the energy to catch up on the blog so I instead lounged on the couch and watched some TV.  After the required siesta, I showered and got gussied up for my big evening.  Although where I was going was about 2km away, I thought it best to reserve my energy and took the short cab ride just past Plaza Armenia to my destination – Nicky NY Sushi.

The restaurant, however, was just the excuse to get to the main goal of the evening, the private Harrison Speakeasy, which had recently been cited as one of the best bars in the world.  There were only 2 ways to get in – either be a member or go with a member; or make a reservation at the sushi restaurant it is behind and when done say “I want to see the wine cellar.”  I had discovered that latter method randomly in the comments section of an article about the speakeasy, and I had confirmed with the bartender at Rey de Copas that indeed was the correct way to do it.

I made my way past the velvet rope and the unsmiling model-type hostess in a kimono to a nice table that overlooked the small kitchen in the middle of the restaurant.  Wanting to eat light, I chose some salmon nigiri and a “crazy crab” roll, which turned out to be better than expected.  I noticed on the menu that entry to the bodega required at least $250 pesos per person, which I had just hit with those 2 items plus a glass of Torrontes.

After I paid the bill, I leaned in and said that I would like to see the wine cellar.  My server nodded and told me to wait a moment.  Soon that same unsmiling hostess appeared and ushered me across the restaurant and through a set of curtains.  Sure enough, in front of me was indeed a small wine cellar and she began to explain that Nicky Harrison was the son of a famous gangster who had opened up one of the first speakeasies there because he didn’t want to stop drinking during Prohibition.  After the story, she escorted me through a fake panel at the back of the cellar to another room, which had a large vault door.

She said we were now in a time machine and now about to be transported back to the Roaring 20s of New York and Nicky’s private speakeasy.  Since during that time there were no modern cameras or cell phones, the use of those for photos was prohibited (clever way of saying no photos.) and she opened the vault to reveal a small patio, which had a few people on it smoking, and led me into the quite spectacular main room.  Ragtime music quietly played in the background and the dark wood room was dimly lit by candlelight on the tables.  This must have cost a small fortune to design as it truly did feel like I was on the set of Boardwalk Empire.

I took a seat at the bar and was soon handed a copy of a newspaper which had the large headline  – NICKY HARRISON ARRESTED AND SPEAKEASY SHUT DOWN BY NEW YORK POLICE – along with what appeared to be legit news stories from that same date.  Inside the next page was a list of the drinks – all versions of drinks that would have been served during that time.  Santiago, the bartender nearest me asked what I would like, and I selected the Smoke Old Fashioned.  He said that was an excellent choice as it featured Bacardi 8, one of his favorite rums.

He first took out a beautifully etched glass and lit some vanilla tobacco on fire, cupping the glass over it, which quickly filled with smoke.  Next he combined the Bacardi 8, some red vermouth and Angostura bitters into a pitcher and stirred it for a couple of minutes.  He lifted up the glass and poured the drink into it.  He finished it with a twist of orange and presented it to me with a flourish.  It was a very delicious mix of slight smoke, bitter and sweet – a really good cocktail.

As I chatted with him, I found out it was actually his first day here but he had been bartending for 7 years, most recently at another popular speakeasy.  He spoke excellent English but I would occasionally switch back to Spanish when he got busy.  A very cool dude originally from Venezuela who had been here 7 years, he was a charming host and clearly had the chops to be there.

About an hour later, I told him to make me his favorite rum drink, and he smiled as he said OK.  I said once again that I didn’t want anything too sweet but other than that, have at it.  He got to work with all matters of fancy moves and ingredients, which I tried to check off along the way.  While this was going on, I noticed that another bartender had lit something on fire on top of what looked like a model train.  Sure enough, shortly thereafter, a waitress picked up the tray and started yelling “WOO WOOO! WOO WOOO!” as she delivered what I found out was the Union Pacific 2 person drink to a table near me.

It was now past midnight and the rest of the room had started to fill up more – a mix of what clearly looked like to be members along with a few like myself who had done the dinner route.  I chatted with a nice couple next to me at the bar, who were regulars.  The middle bartender had just handed the male of the couple the largest tumbler I had ever seen with a giant ice cube – his gigantic version of an old fashioned, which was 3 drinks in one.  He let me taste it and yep, it was indeed that.  Pretty crazy.

Soon after, Santiago handed me the drink – a Manhattan but made with the same Bacardi 8 from the last drink instead of the traditional bourbon – served in another piece of stunning antique glassware.  I was surprised how much it tasted like a traditional Manhattan but without the usual back of the throat burn associated with the bourbon in the original version.

A few minutes later, 2 guys approached the bar.  One seemed to affiliated with it somehow as everyone was greeting him as he inspected the bartenders.  It turned out he was one of the owners, here to check out the new guy along with his head bartender.  A round of drinks suddenly appeared and I was handed one as well – not exactly sure what it was, but it was quite good.  The owner soon left but the main bartender stayed, Martin, so I started chatting with him.  I explained how in Los Angeles there were several bars like this and how much it reminded me of The Varnish there.  He hadn’t heard of it but said he would definitely check it out.

It was now just past 1AM, so I decided to get one last drink and challenged Santiago, like I had the other Santiago at Rey de Copas, to make something smokey but not what I had originally.  He nodded and pulled out a bag of what looked like some sort of chilis and laced the bottom of the pitcher with those.  Next he added some Cynar, an artichoke liqueur which has become popular lately, along with some red vermouth, Campari and finally some Bacardi 8.  He stirred all of this together and then strained out what he now told me were smoked red chili flakes, and handed me the drink, again in a truly stunning piece of antique glassware.

He said it was called Negrito Diablito – and it was something he had created during a short stint at Rey de Copas, with the twist being using Cynar instead of the usual bitters and rum instead of gin.  This was a serious cocktail.  The smoke chili flakes added a small note of heat and the Cynar had just the right amount of bitter without overwhelming the rest.  I nursed it for quite awhile since I knew it would be last one plus it packed quite a punch.

About an hour later, he said it was last call, very early by Buenos Aires standards, but given I had been there since 10PM, that was A-OK with me.  I said my goodbyes and headed down the alley to back entrance of the restaurant, and out onto the street.  It’s nights like this why I love traveling alone as it makes it a lot easier for magic like that to happen and enjoy life to its fullest.  Tomorrow (or rather later that day) would be the last of multi-course dinners extravaganzas so it was time for some ZZZs.

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 3 – Dia del Pavo, Latin America Style

Since the initial $100 USD I had exchanged was now almost gone, it was time to re-up via the online payment service, Xoom, which allows one to send money from one country to someone else in another.  In my case, this meant sending money from my US bank account to myself here in Buenos Aires.  I had discovered this great service during my last stay and while it wasn’t quite as good as the “blue rate” (the underground market) it was still substantially better than the official rate.  The only problem was that the nearest place to collect the funds was in Recoleta, which was about a 20 minute cab ride away.

Still, this gave me a chance to go back to one of my favorite restaurants in the area, Cumana.  The restaurant is known for its authentic take on classic Argentine cuisine such as locro, casuelas (basically a casserole but in a pot) and of course empanadas.  Since I knew I had a big meal in store that evening, I decided this time not to have anything too heavy and chose 3 different empanadas – cheese with basil and tomatoes, cheese and spinach, and beef.

image

Pipping hot, fresh out of the clay oven that dominates the small kitchen, these meat pastries of joy were fantastic, perhaps the best I had ever had.  I ended up ordering the chicken just to see what their version was like, and it was also excellent.

image

The MORE money store was a few block away down the main street of Santa Fe, and I noticed as I walked towards it that the trees were covered in the same purple blossoms that permeate Los Angeles around this same time of late spring.  It made for a very visually appealing walk along with the impressive architecture of the neighborhood.

image

The process to retrieve my money was very straightforward and I only had to wait for one fellow traveler to get his before it was my turn.  I showed my transaction number along with my passport; confirmed I wasn’t here on business and got my wad of 100 peso bills (the largest tender recommended to carry around)  I cashed $700, which equated to just under 10,000 pesos, which made for a visually impressive bankroll.

image

Not wanting to hanging around too long with such a wad of cash, I hailed a cab and headed back to the apartment.  After a couple of hours of catching up with various friends’ Thanksgiving well-wishes and a FaceTime chat, it was time for perhaps my favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires, iLatina.

image

Located in a nice mansion in a slightly dicey barrio just south of Palermo, iLatina was probably the most famous of the puerta cerrada (closed door) restaurants.  As readers from my previous adventures know, puerta cerradas are essentially underground restaurants in that they are in spaces, like this mansion, that aren’t zoned to be a restaurant.  This also allows the owners to provide a fairly substantial discount in their offerings since they don’t have the usual overhead of a traditional restaurants.

image

iLatina had recently ascended to the coveted number one spot on TripAdvisor’s top restaurants in Buenos Aires so it was no surprise that I noticed most of the tables around me were speaking English or at least not Spanish.  Specializing dishes from across South America, with a particular focus on Colombia (where the chefs and owners are from), they offer an 8 course tasting menu along with the requisite wine pairings.  Since I had already done this the night before, I chose to stick to by the glass this time around.

image

Before the proper courses though, there was a round of Snacks – mini versions of 3 classic Latina American street food, each about a bite full and all delicious.

image

Next up was the Bread Basket, a lovely assortment of various breads, from coconut and banana to focaccia and bread made with cacao.  Even though I knew I had many courses ahead, I couldn’t resist at least sampling each of these fantastic baked goods.  So good that in fact I ended up getting another order to go to have the next day.

image
Soon after, the first course arrive – shredded lamb in masa with a cilantro cream sauce, an update on a Colombian favorite.  The lamb was wonderfully tender and contrasted nicely with the smooth masa.  A great start.

image

The second course was lacquered shrimp with spicy pineapple and fennel.  I was encouraged to mix it all together for the true Caribbean taste.  The shrimps were perfectly cooked and the spicy pineapple added a nice punch.  Classic and delicious.

image

Next up a dish I never get tired of – ceviche, in this case Baru (an island just off the coast of Colombia) style, which includes the usual ingredients and adds lychee to the mix, along with some strips of pickled mango.  This was fantastic, super fresh fish and the lychee gave it a nice note of sweetness to cut through the acid of the citrus.

image

The fourth course was supposed to be a chupa (chowder) of grilled octopus but because of my garlic issue, the chef had instead made a pumpkin soup with sliced, caramelized octopus on the side.  My server suggested putting the octopus into the soup, which I had and was blown away how perfectly they went together.  The octopus rivaled my beloved El Mercado version in its tenderness and the soup was fantastic.  Since the ratios were a bit off, I asked if I could have a bit more octopus and they ended up giving me the entire course over again, which I eagerly consumed.

image The final savory course was my “turkey” basically – pork shoulder that had been slowly braised in Colombian coffee with a sugarcane reduction along with grilled vegetables and 2 sauces – beetroot and artichoke.  The coffee flavor was unmistakable and paired nicely with the slightly sweet reduction.  The vegetables were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and tasted even better after being swirled around the 2 sauces.

(PHOTO NOT FOUND)

Due to a technical issue, the photographic evidence of the six course, a pre-dessert of cacao truffle with sea salt and olive oil, didn’t make it. Rest assured though, it was quite pretty and tasty.

image

The final course turned out to be nice, unintentional nod to Thanksgiving – a sweet potato sorbet with creamy goat cheese, candied lemon peels, sesame tuile and hibiscus meringue.  OK, so not exactly traditional Turkey Day dessert but delicious nevertheless.

image

The final dish of the evening is usually a ceremonial cup of Colombian coffee but for us non-caffeine drinkers, instead I got a cup of a pretty complex herbal tea and some petit fours of classic Latin American desserts.  These probably would have been even better with coffee but a nice way to end a truly wonderful meal.

image

By the time I was ready to leave, most tables had turned over and now predominately featured locals, which increased the noise level substantially.  I requested a taxi and one of the servers, who turned out to be from Minnesota, waited with me outside for it to arrive.  I wished her a Happy Thanksgiving, which made her pause and thank me so much for telling her that as she was feeling homesick.  My cab arrived and back to Palermo I went but with a quick nightcap before heading home.

image

I had passed by the intriguingly named Odin Artisanal Beer Tavern on my walk the previous night and always wanting to try a local brew, I thought it would make for a nice post-meal drink or two.  Designed to look at lot older than it actually was, it was basically an urban biker bar, with speed metal blaring out of the speakers and many patrons with numerous piercings and tattoos.  Still, I was there for the beer so I flagged over a short purple haired waitress with a nose ring and took at seat at the bar.

There were two local breweries being featured so I chose to get a sample of 3 different beers from there – 2 from Zeppellin – a Scotch Ale and a porter – and 1 from Buko, their Oktoberfest beer.  First up was the Scotch Ale, which..wasn’t great – a very weak version of what is normally a favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, the next, the Buko Oktoberfest was a disaster.  Just awful and I stopped drinking it after 2 sips.  The final “robust” porter was hardly that but thankfully at least at some decent, if uninspired flavor.  Argies really should just stick to making wine I guess.

It was now past 2AM and while I could have kept going, the bad beer and all of the food in my belly mandated I go home and get some sleep.  There was 100% of rain for tomorrow so I knew I would be able to have some downtime and relax.  I dashed home just in time before the massive thunderstorm took control of the skies, which made for a nice sleeping soundtrack.

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 2 – New Discoveries

After a relatively peaceful night’s rest and catching up some work, it was time to go exploring.  Santiago had told me about a new outdoor mall that had been built in the formerly abandoned train yard just a block away.  Having often used that as my crossing point from Palermo Hollywood into Palermo Soho when I was temporarily living there, I was shocked to what they done with it.

image

Santiago had noted that while it was considered an outlet mall, in Buenos Aires, that didn’t really mean much – maybe 10-15% discounts.  Given the majority of the stores were ones I could find back in the States, that didn’t really matter as I wasn’t shopping for anything, especially not at places like the Mannequins of the Damned

image

But first, I needed some food.

image

There was a small crepe stand close to the entrance and since I wanted something quick and easy, it sounded good to me.  The structure in what clearly seems to be a trend at least in South America, having seen it Cartegena, Lima and now Buenos Aires, was a former shipping container.  For such a setup though, it made a lot of sense to use something like that for their stand.

image

I ended up going with the classic ham and cheese crepe, which came in a handy carrying case, although it was way too hot at first to eat that way.  After a few minutes though, it had cooled enough for me to eat and walk around the rest of the complex.  I briefly checked out an interesting wine store outlet, which had a lot of familiar Mendoza wines I had enjoyed in the past.  I decided I would come back later to investigate it further.

A few hours later, I was back in a cab, heading across town to a new (well since I had been here last) restaurant called El Banqueano, which specialized in exotic Argentine game meats and fishes with a modern touch.  It was quite a nice drive, spanning across several of the key Buenos Aires landmarks, from the Obelisk to Teatro Colon.  As we approached one of the oldest parts of the city, San Telmo, the streets turned into rough cobblestone for the last few minutes of the trip.

The restaurant was very traditional looking cafe, dark with lots of red in the interior.  Since I had been able to successfully change $100 into a 14:1 rate for pesos (official being 9.2:1) thanks to Santiago, I decided to splurge a bit and get the 6 wine pairings along with the 8 course meal.

image

At least from the vague menu descriptions, I couldn’t quite tell the supposed exotic meal that lay ahead but it still looked good to me.

image

Soon after I sat down, the first wine, a nice rose cava from Mendoza, arrived as a welcome.  This was quickly followed by a choice of breads, one of which was called “mushroom bread” so of course I had to get that.  It definitely had an earthy taste to it and was quite good, especially with the Zuccardi olive oil that accompanied it.

image

A couple of minutes the first course arrived – “Textures of Tomatoes”  – a tomato sorbet, sliced herloom tomatoes with a tomato broth.  Between my IK dish and this one, perhaps I was starting to turnaround on my relative distaste for cold tomatoes as it was very tasty.  A good start to the meal.

image

Next up was a Sauvignon Blanc, also from Mendoza.  While a bit too bland for my tastes, it paired nicely with the second course that arrived moments later.

image

I had to ask my server twice what she had said as I think it was crocodile maki?  Yep, indeed it was.  River crocodile maki with a pure wasabi (as in not very spicy) emulsion with a seaweed sauce.  OK, now the concept of the restaurant was starting to make a lot more sense.  And damned if it didn’t taste just like chicken.  I eagerly gobbled up all 3 pieces in quick succession and could have had another 3 easily.

image

Next wine was a Chardonnay, also from Mendoza.  Unfortunately, like most from there, it was just OK but really was more again for the pairing with the next course.

image

The third course was an Atlantic white fish, affectionately known as a “trash fish” with a strawberry “caviar” and sauce.  Fortunately the strawberry taste wasn’t very pronounced and the fish was very tender and well-seasoned.  Not a knockout but a solid dish.

image

The next wine was actually a twofer of a Torrontes from La Rioja and, surprisingly, a class of chica morrada, a fermented beer-like drink popular in the Andes.  My server explained that one of the cooks is from Peru and this was his complement to the dish.

image

There are only a few items that make me wince when I see it on a menu, and unfortunately, the next course featured it – tripe as part of “All Parts of the Corn” – which along with the tripe had a corn sauce, masa cake and pieces of corn.  After confirming that yep, I hate tripe, I carefully eat around it and found the rest of the dish to be pretty good.

image

Finally it was on to the reds, with a very nice Pinot Noir from Patagonia.  I had enjoyed a couple of pinots from that region last time I was here and this one was excellent.  So good in fact I ended up asking for another glass, which they happily obliged.

image

The fifth course was the one I was most looking forward to and even exceeded those expectations – “Mushrooms of the Moment” – a wonderful combination of mushroom sorbet (!), sliced morels, mushroom powder, mushroom cracker with a mushroom puree.  I was surprised it was served cold but this was an absolute stunner for a mushroom fan like me.  Wow.

image

I assumed a Malbec had to be in the offering at some point and sure it enough one arrived next.  However, since it wasn’t from Mendoza, it didn’t have that robust earthy notes I love so much.  It was kind of a letdown to be honest and even more a headscratcher given the next course.

image

The sixth course turned out to be a brand new one the chef had been experimenting with – braised chivito (baby goat) from Mendoza with a chivito reduction sauce and kimchi on a black molasses bun.  This was crazy good, super tender meat with a ton of flavor and the spicy crunchy kimchi.  I asked the co-owner, the chef’s wife and sommelier, why she hadn’t paired it with a Mendoza Malbec and she said that truthfully it really should be with a beer.  I agreed.

image

The seventh course was a palette cleanser (no wine pairing) where my server challenged me to name all of the ingredients.  I ended up getting 7 out of 10 correct, nailing the lemon-lime sorbet, mint, parsley, basil, orange and grapefruit but whiffing on the sweet cumcumber, green apple (which was in a sauce that didn’t have the usual sour notes) and olive oil (which c’mon wasn’t really fair!)  Very complex and a great way to wash away the intense flavors of the last course.

image The last wine was a real winner, a late harvest Malbec from Mendoza.  Not too sweet but with that wonderful slightly sticky quality, I was a very happy man and once again asked for seconds with this one.

image

The final course was a deconstructed version of an Argentine classic dessert – El Aljafor. I was encouraged to combine the various elements together to get the familiar taste of the original cake.  A fun and playful way to finish a great meal.

After the last sip of that wonderful late harvest Malbec, I somehow pushed myself away from the table, hailed a cab and staggered back to my apartment.  Tomorrow would be yet another epic meal day plus I had a critical errand to run to fund my adventures so sleep was a must.

LIM-EZE – Getaway Day

As quickly as I had arrived, it was now time to depart Lima, at least for now.  After another failed Uber attempt, I hailed a cab and headed to the airport.  A few minutes into the ride however my cabbie told me that he can’t actually go into the airport and would need to drop me off on the side.  He assured me though it was a short walk to Departures from there.

It turned out to be a bit farther than expected but eventually I made it to the check-in area.  Fortunately, perhaps as a make-do, the travel gods smiled upon me with both a very fast check-in and security clearance process.  I had a bit over an hour before my flight so I headed to the VIP Salon, which was one of the benefits of my recently acquired AmEx Platinum card.  I had read the near-by SUMAQ VIP Lounge was always packed and not very good.  I was able to witness this in person because I had to print out my reciprocity fee receipt, which was required for entry into Buenos Aires.  It looked like not a fun place at all to be, with travelers crammed into the fairly small lounge area and no seats in sight. I had made the right decision.

image

The flight, despite going directly over the Andes, was blissfully smooth and a mere 4 hours later, I had landed in Buenos Aires.  I steeled myself for a long wait to clear immigration given my past experience and was pleasantly surprised to see an almost entirely empty room.  15 minutes later I had cleared customs and found my AirBnB host, Santiago, waiting for me with a placard.  He spoke fairly decent English so I took advantage of being able to speak my native tongue for awhile with occasional lapses back to Spanish.

We soon arrived back to the familiar confines of Palermo Soho, where the streets were packed with people enjoying a nice evening.  After a quick tour of the apartment (very nice and spacious for a studio), I said my goodbyes to Santiago and took a short siesta.  Since it was 2 hours earlier on my body clock, I decided to take advantage of this by getting a nightcap and finally checking out this supposedly crazy club night called Hype.  But first, it was time to return to my favorite bar in all of Buenos Aires, El Rey de Copa.

image

As soon as I heard the familiar jazzy house music, it felt like I was home again and soon was greeted by the smiling owner who said it had been awhile.  I took a seat at the bar and chatted a bit with the new bartender, Santiago, who had previously worked at Franks, which I was planning to check out at some point.  I said I wanted something not too sweet and with a bit of smoke, having grown tired of the pisco sour taste and the like.

image

He ended up making a different take on a Negroni, with Johnny Walker Red and some mezcal.  There definitely was a nice note of smoke as requested and made a mental note to try this again sometime.  Not really wanting a true dinner but still hungry, I opted for their version of poutine, which in this case had fries, 4 types of cheeses and pancetta.

image

Definitely not the healthiest of things to eat, it was very tasty and helped absorb the large amount of alcohol I had consumed from my previous drinks.  The club, KIKA, was only 2 blocks away but I had to get there before 1AM for the free list.  I said adios to my friends and promised to return before I left.

There was a medium size line when I got to the club but the doorman waived me through, probably because of the novelty of being a tall gringo but I’ll take it.  The club was fairly small, with a decent sized main dance floor, a large VIP area with couches and a wraparound bar.  Full of all assortment of things, I opted not to have another drink and instead just watched the crowd.  It was unfortunately too dark for any decent photos and after about an hour, I had my fill and left.  Given the event lasted until 6AM, it was probably just too early but I wasn’t intrigued enough to stick around even remotely that long.  Plus, Buenos Aires is like a marathon, not a sprint, and I had a long way to go.

Lima Day/Night 4 – A Trip to the Jungle Whilst Still in Lima

Since the weather was still pretty cloudy (why had the weather gods forsaken me?!?), I spent the morning catching up on work and relaxing.  Around 2PM, I finally dragged myself out of the apartment and headed up to Parque Kennedy for lunch.

image

It was a bit cooler than the previous days but still a nice walk.  I had passed by an interesting looking restaurant the previous night and since I wanted something simple given my epic meal planned for that night, it seemed like the right choice.

image

After trying to choose between a few items, I asked the server which was her favorite and she eagerly said it was the lomo soltado.  A glorious mix of Chinese and Peruvian styles, this version consisted of slices of beef tenderloin, red peppers and onions, all quickly cooked in a large wok, served with fries and rice.  It was stick to your ribs good and would be able to easily sustain me for the rest of the day.  I walked around the park, saying hola to the various gatos that permeate it, and then headed home for a siesta.

image

My dinner reservation was a bit earlier than usual – 8PM – but this being Latin Amercia, I was of course the only one there exactly at that time.  Restaurant IK had just been voted one of the top 10 restaurants in Latin America so I was very curious to check it out.  As shown by the picture above, the room was stunning, designed to look like a large fruit crate with tropical plants everywhere and a new age-y jungle soundtrack lowly playing in the background.

image

Given how much pisco I had imbibed on the trip so far, I decided to go with a local craft brew as my first drink.  It was a very nice and crisp amber ale that ended up going surprisingly well with the first few courses.

image

The Maitre d’ explained the concept of the restaurant that the 12 courses I would be served represented the 12 months of the year and would extend from the sea to the land to the jungle.  Everything would be cooked in a traditional Incan oven, which I happened to be sitting directly to through a large picture window.

image

The first course was an amuse of the sea, which featured 2 “octopus” crisps (actually just a potato chip made to look like an octopus) and some crispy fish skin.  The attention to detail on the “octopus” crisps was amazing as this close-up shows.

image

This was quickly followed by one of the more dramatic presentations of the evening.

image

The server jokingly said this course would make me work a bit for it.  At the very top of the tree was a crisp made of wild mushrooms.  The small branch extending from the fallen log was actually a piece of pretzel.  Finally, there was a quail egg (this time actually a quail egg), which had been cooked 63 style (which makes the yolk and white the same consistency and then encapsulated so that when I popped it in my mouth, it burst with a wonderful rich egg taste.

image

Next up was a duo the Peruvian staple, potatoes, cooked over coals.  When the lid was removed, a huge plume of smoke filled the air with that wonderful aroma and the potatoes had a rich smoky flavor.

image

This was soon followed by a tender, grilled piece of robalo, which had been perfectly seasoned, and a puree of celery and celery root.  This was probably the most traditional dish of the evening but still great.

image

As way of a palate cleanser, the next course was “a medley of tomatoes” – with several different types of tomatoes with a tomato water broth.  I’m not usually a fan of a tomato dish like this but they were all so fresh plus the broth was so good, I ended really enjoying it.

image

Next was a real standout, grilled asparagus salad with an asparagus sauce.  Not only was the presentation stunning but it tasted even better.  The grilled asparagus was still hot and when mixed with the cool leaves around it and the sauce made for a wonderful combination.

image

Next up was a trip way into the Peruvian jungle with an Amazon white fish baked in leaves with an aged balsamic soy sauce.  The pot above it was filled with jungle herbs that one would smell if having this dish in its place of origin.  Again, the attention to detail was stellar.

What was also stellar was the service as it was around this point of my meal where I overheard the crabby older English couple behind me start complaining about the food. I was baffled how someone would book a reservation (required for here) and not get the concept.  After going back and forth with the ever-patient server, they demanded to see a menu.  The Maitre d’ finally agreed to give them a set menu from which to choose.  The Worst.

image

I ordered a half bottle of a Chilean Cabernet after being disappointing with a glass of Malbec, knowing that I was about to start into the meat courses.  This one unfortunately featured sweet breads, probably of my least favorite gourmet items.  Still as far as they go, this was a good version, with a spicy chili rub that contrasted nicely with the smooth white bean puree.

image

The final savory course was braised pork belly with a “celebration of corn” – corn puree, corn fritter and grilled baby corn.  The belly was a bit chewy for my tastes but the corn medley was superb and a nice way to end this portion of the meal.

image

The first dessert featured a variety of Peruvian fruits – maracuya, cherimoya and custard apples, both sliced and as a sorbet.  This was another great palette cleanser – light and refreshing.

image

The next dessert had one of the other more dramatic presentations – “cacao in everything”, which consisted of a cacao ice cream with Greek yogurt, candied cacao nibs and a cream sauce made with the white part of the cacao.  While I normally shy away from cacao due to its caffeine content, I went for it and was blown away by this dessert.  A true Peruvian classic.

image

The final dessert was a celebration of the Andean culture, including the server throwing confetti in the air and little chocolate bon bons.  And if that wasn’t enough cleverness, they next brought over this guy.

image
A figure of an Andean folklore hero, I was told that he had been sent to give me some final gifts, which were attached to the clothespins.  These included 2 chili chocolate bon bons, a bag of sea salt and a bag of cacao nibs.  I enjoyed the bon bons while sipping the last of my wine but noticed that the room was now almost empty.  I called my server over, jokingly saying they had abandoned me.  He replied “oh no, senor!  We knew you understood how us Latin Americans like to dine and left you alone so you could enjoy the rest of your wine.”  I couldn’t think of a higher compliment or more perfect way to end this wonderful evening.

Lima Day/Night 3 – Easing Down on the Throttle

After 2 very long and tiring (but of course fun) days, I decided to take advantage of Sunday being the traditional day of rest. The only thing on the agenda was lunch at a Japanese-Peruvian fusion (known as Nikkei) restaurant Maido. I had actually passed it the previous night after leaving Rafael so I made the quick 15 minute walk to the restaurant in the now ubiquitous cloudy skies.

image

image

When I arrived, there was a bit of confusion about the fact I had changed my reservation but fortunately they had a seat at the sushi bar, which is where I wanted to sit anyway. I had initially thought about getting their Nikkei Experience but given I had a large meal set for my final night opted instead to order ala carte. While I was deciding, I received an amuse bouche of spicy crab, which was a nice way to begin the meal.

image
Wanting to take full advantage of the glorious seafood of Lima, I first selected the sashimi 12 cut catch of the day, which turned out to a lovely assorted of grouper, salmon belly, tuna, shrimp and octopus. While I normally eschew using soy, the sushi chef encouraged me to have some with it as it was a very high quality sauce. He was right although I still used only a bit per piece. Excellent.

image

Next I opted for one of the Nikkei specialities, salmon belly with aji amarillo. This is one of the best examples of the wonderful fusion between Japanese and Peruvian food, with the sushi quality salmon enhanced greatly by the yellow pepper sauce. Delicious.

image

It was now time for the main event, a 10 piece maki of crunchy shrimp, spicy crab, avocado and salmon belly with, yes, aji amarillo sauce on top. The crunch of the shrimp mixed with the lump crab meat and the soft salmon on top was a great blend of textures, enhanced of course by the great aji amarillo sauce.

image

My initial plan was to go get dessert somewhere in Parque Kennedy but thought I’d at least check out what they had to offer at Maido. I was immediately struck by the first item, named Egg and Nest. Given the impeccable presentations I had seen both from my order as well as those around me, I concluded it was a must to get that. As the picture shows, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever seen. The “nest” was cotton candy with crunch strips of cacao as the cross branches and the “egg” was a sorbet of chiramoya – the “white” and a sorbet of maracuya (the “yolk”) with a white chocolate shell. It turned out to be surprisingly light given those ingredients and a perfect conclusion to a great lunch.

image

I made the walk back to the apartment, strolling more casually this time and enjoying the cool air. I opted to catch up on the blog, do a bit of work and overall just relax, allowing my aching feet to get some rest. Around 9PM, I was once again hungry but wanted something light and relatively healthy. I had passed a restaurant on the Malecon towards Parque Kennedy that looked decent so off I went. Called Alfresco, the place was fairly quiet with a few patrons, not surprising given it was Sunday evening. I decided to get the simple grilled filet of sea bass with steamed vegetables. This was exactly what I needed, light, fresh and delicious.

image

I headed up towards Parque Kennedy and along the way, I noticed a cafe that had pictures of some really nice looking desserts. Since my dinner was so healthy, I thought why not have something decidedly not for dessert. The winner was the vanilla cake “volcano” with hot dulce de leche inside. It was as good as it sounds.

After an aborted attempt to find the Bengals Cards game in Pizza Alley, I headed home to get some sleep. Tomorrow would be my last day in Lima and an epic dinner awaited.