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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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