Preface: This story and our excursion to Argentina could not have been possible without the assistance of Thiago Magalhaes. Thiago graciously provided me with endless suggestions, notes and recommendations for our trip, and there's simply no way I can repay the favor nor show my gratitude enough for making it an experience of a lifetime. If you are lucky enough to call him a friend then I must say you are truly blessed. T, we love you.
It was an article in May 2005's Saveur Magazine
that prompted me to make a plan and finally visit a city that I'd always wanted to explore. Buenos Aires has always facinated me, in part because of the country's rich history, the blend of cultures from Europe and South America, and the people. Regal, glorious, quaint, progressive and lovely, the reason we chose Buenos Aires above all was for one simple reason: we went to eat.
And eat we did.
After a long, grueling flight from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires with a stop in Washington D.C., we touched down in chilly brisk winter weather. It took us only a few minutes to get settled before we were off having our first light lunch. We'd received fair warning about the late night culture and eating schedule and knew we wouldn't be sitting down for a meal for quite some time so we decided on a light lunch at a restaurant called Campechano. Milanesa, thin steak dipped in egg and flour then fried, papas fritas, a wedge of lemon and a bottle of vino blanco from Mendoza satisfied us while we shopped and walked through La Recoleta. Our afternoon wouldn't have been complete with a visit to the highly-recommended Freddo for ice cream. Freddo, with outlets throughout Buenos Aires, serves some of the most delicious helado I've ever had. Chocolate Amargo, Crema Tramontana and Dulce De Leche helado never tasted so good.
After a leisurely afternoon checking out the sites and an even longer nap we headed over to Casa Cruz for a late dinner. Listed as one of Conde Nast's Hot Tables for 2005, Casa Cruz's former warehouse space has been converted into a dark, lux, rich elegant room reminiscent of an old gentleman's club. Pure Swank deluxe. A creative modern menu featuring eclectic entrees, we sampled the Ojo de Bife that was topped with a dollop of fried mayonnaise (yes, you read that correctly... FRIED MAYONNAISE!). Fried potatoes arrived on the side and took the shape of small fingers, and I enjoyed a delicious Provolone Soufflé. We weren't too crazy about the Tierra del Fuego king crab as an appetizer, but our perfectly mixed Manhattans before the meal made up for any and all shortcomings that Casa Cruz might have faced. I've read many negative reviews online about Casa Cruz's service and food, but our experience couldn't have been better. It was so nice we returned a few nights later and did it all over again. Let's hear it for gluttony!
Friday got off to a delicious start with cafe con leche and medialunas. Why on earth I can't find cafe con leche in Los Angeles served this way or the way I have it in Spain is beyond me, it's enough to make me want to cry. After a visit to La Casa Rosada and the downtown area of Buenos Aires we ended up in Puerto Madero. Shops, cafes and restaurants line the docks of this once seedy area and in recent times it's become quite the tourist area. Making a restaurant choice in Buenos Aires can be difficult – there's so much good food – but luckily our friend Thiago recommended one of his favorite places in this part of town, a restaurant called Bahia Madero. Do you ever have one of those perfect meals, where the food, company, environment and moment all come together? That's the best way to describe our lunch. It was a sunny, warm day, the perfect temperature, and our meal was exemplary. When it came to wine we focused on Malbec and Torrontes primarily; I wanted to soak in as much of the experience as possible. At lunch we had Alamos Malbec from Mendoza with was just right with rich pasta. I'm a firm believer that there are very good inexpensive wines out there, and to me it was hard to find something I didn't like from Argentina.
Friday night we headed to Capitana for dinner, located in the very hip neighborhood of Palermo Viejo. The service was agreeable, the food was nice but not incredibly noteworthy. Again, we stayed true to our carnivorous nature and ate steak and sweetbreads. I found myself more impressed with its modern, open space and beautiful front window. Definitely a nice place to have a drink with friends.
Saturday's lunch at La Baita had to be perhaps one of our most favorite meals. La Baita is a very small corner Italian restaurant that manages to fill up rather quickly, even for lunch. A beautiful antipasti of olives, artichoke hearts, sardines and eggplant started our meal. From there we had Bife de Lomo, Lasagna au gratin, and Crespelles de centolla–French crepes that are stuffed with crab meat and topped with cream, cheese and prepared gratin-style. This single dish has appeared in my dreams multiple times. No kidding.
For dinner we stopped by the restaurant at the Bobo Hotel, another 2005 Conde Nast pick. This small and elegant boutique hotel surely didn't disappoint with its creative and delicious menu. I thoroughly enjoyed the room, the service, and really loved my stuffed rabbit with a confit of potatoes, spinach, port sauce and braised endive. My other half jumped right into his sirloin medallions with a center of tomato, manchego, cadamom and onion that's wrapped up in philo dough. What on earth is not to like about that? After our meal and cocktails I was beginning to think it was impossible to get a bad meal in Buenos Aires.
Sunday morning came and we needed to switch gears. We realized we had indulged so extravagantly, so lavishly, that we decided to go the simple route for most of the day. A simple breakfast followed by pizza at Filo a few hours later seemed to get us back on track. With over 4,000 pizzerias in Buenos Aires we were glad for the point in the right direction. We spent Sunday running around, visiting La Feria de San Telmo and trying to walk off our new well-earned pounds. All this was clearly in vain though, as dinner was a second visit to Casa Cruz (didn't I say we were going to take it easy today?
) It must really be saying something if you're immediately recognized by the host and wait staff of a restaurant and it's only your 4th day in town. And then I wonder why I'm overweight.
As our quick trip to Buenos Aires was coming to an end I realized we hadn't enjoyed a typical Argentinian Parilla. It seemed that we got sidetracked by a very vibrant restaurant scene and extremely creative chefs but there was no way I was going to miss what brought me all the way down there in the first place: grilled, smoky tender steak. Because this country does it better than anyone else, there are steakhouses on every corner. My mind went numb trying to decide where to go but luckily I had recommendations from Thiago and a few locals. With that decision made for us we went to La Caballeriza in Recoleta. A chain restaurant featuring a vast selection of grilled meats and sides, I must say that it was almost too much at one time. And this is from a boy that grew up on barbeque! Of course none of that stopped me from enjoying asado de tira, bife de chorizo, papas a la provenzal and my new favorite artery-clogging dish, Provoleta. Provoleta is a thick slice of provolone that has been aged for at least 30 days. The cheese is brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and grilled until lightly browned and melted, then served topped with sprinkled dried oregano. Needless to say it was delicious and was devoured in about six seconds.
Because we spent only a few days in Buenos Aires we never had the chance to make it to any estancias and the wine country, where I understand Argentina's true beauty shines. As soon as the long, cruel and crowded flight is but a small memory–and I lose the extra 10 lbs I gained in South America–we shall return and do what we do best: eat and drink.Campechano Larrea 1541Freddo various locations throughout Buenos Aires Casa Cruz Uriarte 1658 Bahia Madero Alicia Moreau de Justo 430Capitana Uriarte 1616 La Baita Thames 1603 Bobo Hotel Guatemala 4882 Filo San Martin 975La Caballeriza Vicente Lopez 2024