South American Chowhound Report
My husband, son and I visited Buenos Aires prior to taking a cruise around the Horn from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, Chile. Thanks to everyone on these boards who helped me make some restaurant selections on this trip. We'll start with the Buenos Aires report:
December 31 - On the first day of our visit to Buenos Aires, we walked around Recoleta and its famous Cemetario. Ready for a late lunch, we went in search of the street called Posadas and the El Sanjuanino restaurant where people seem to love the empanadas. There was a small line outside, so we joined it and were quickly seated at a table in the main room (there is an additional seating area in the basement). Our waiter turned out to a quite entertaining (yes, a singing waiter!) and our lunch was delicious. We sampled three beef and three chicken empanadas and shared a beef tamale and a mixed salad. With four sodas, mineral water and two beers, the tab was AR$110 (at approximately four Argentinian Pesos to one US Dollar). We all considered this a successful start to our South American eating adventures.
Earlier in the morning, I had stopped at the supermarcado and stocked up on ham, cheese, bread, Beer, and Diet Coke in case we couldn’t find a place to eat for New Years Eve. I didn’t want to pay for an exorbitant meal to celebrate the New Years and hoped that, as in NY, there would be some cheap places open for a meal earlier in the evening. Forget it! Everything that didn’t cost a small fortune really was closed as our B and B owner had predicted, so we had our sandwiches for dinner and then enjoyed a fabulous fireworks display from our terrace – major displays from several directions and local fireworks going on for several hours.
January 1 - As we expected, most businesses were closed in BA. for the New Years holiday, including many if not most of the better restaurants. I think some opened in the evening, but for lunch, only the most touristy of spots seemed to be open as we wandered down Rivadavia, into the Centro, and then over to San Telmo. Walking down Defensa and noting that all of the places along here I had hoped might be open were still closed, hunger overtook us. We reached Plaza Dorrego, where we sat down at an outdoor café called La Pergola del San Telmo complete with tango dancers, horrible service and worse food. Then we walked home. All was not lost, however, because I did enjoy a good ice cream treat for dessert at one of the Freddo branches.
Later before going to the Tango Show, we went to the Palacio de Papa Frita for Brochette of Chicken and Steak served with a huge mound of their special fries – puffed with air and quite tasty. Our son had the cutlet Milanesa and plus salad and drinks the meal came to AR$155. PPF is a chain and in the course of our meanderings, we saw the three other branches of this restaurant. I chose to eat here because it was only a few blocks from the tango show (which had an exorbitant dinner we chose to skip). Some travelers have raved about PPF, but I can’t second their opinion. It’s an okay restaurant that is reasonable with good service. For great food, I would definitely advise going elsewhere.
By the way, we went to Tango Porteno. I had reserved on their website and spent AR$240 for the three of us to sit upstairs without drink or dinner. (US$20 pp) I enjoyed the show which featured a talented troupe of dancers, two singers and twelve musicians (including four playing bandoneón or the Argentinian version of the accordian) and various film snippets of Argentina in the 30’s and 40’s in a lovely art deco theater located right next to the Teatro Colon. Although the seats weren’t great (get here earlier than they recommend if you go, so you can sit in the front row)I would recommend Tango Porteno for an inexpensive tango show experience.
January 2 - We originally planned to eat our first dinner in B.A. at La Cabrera, but because of a twelve hour plane delay in Houston, we missed that meal, and we ended up going for lunch on Saturday. It was fabulous! Our son, ever the curious one, decided a taste test was in order when he discovered Kobe beef on the Specials Board. He ordered the Kobe and we ordered the Argentinian Lomo with pepper on the side so we could compare them (not an opportunity to be missed in his opinion). We all agreed that the Lomo was fantastic and the Kobe Steak tasted even better (for double the price, but still very cheap by NY standards.)To be fair, the Lomo was perfectly tender, but the Kobe had some gristle and wasn’t uniformly tender. Both steaks came with more little sides than I could count (little artichoke hearts, endive, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, apple sauce, olives in several guises, creamed potato, mashed yellow squash, and more – all delicious). With several kinds of bread and bread sticks and olive tapenade and artichoke dip (I think it was artichoke), we had plenty to eat. Also whoever recommended the Degustacion de Postres should be thanked. It wasn’t on the menu, but proved to be an excellent idea and a perfect way to end our meal. I asked our terrific waiter, Marcelo, the price, and in so doing learned that there was a choice of half a selection or a whole platter. We chose half, which was plenty for the three of us and included Chocolate and Strawberry Ice Cream, Flan, Tiramisu, and Dulce de Leche. With a bottle of mineral water and three sodas the total bill came to AR$286.82 (pretty terrific for what we ate including 500 grams of Kobe beef and 400 grams of Lomo!) The rave reviews for La Cabrera are, in my opinion, well deserved and we all thoroughly enjoyed our lunch there. When we exited, there were crowds on the sidewalk, waiting to get in to both the main restaurant and the annex down the street. We had called to make a reservation and I would strongly advise doing that.
Still full from lunch we decided to have a smaller dinner and our son chose to try the pizza place recommended by our cab driver from the previous night (who mentioned as we passed it that Pizzeria Guerrin on Corrientes near the Obelisco, had the best pizza in the world). We are New Yorkers who ate pizza in Rome in November, so we were more than a little skeptical, but with a recommendation like that, it was worth a try. Sure enough, at 9 o’clock on Saturday night the restaurant was very crowded. We ordered the Pizza a la Casa Grande, which came with Mozzerella, Ham, Tomatoes, Olives and Red Peppers. While it wasn’t a great pizza, it was quite tasty and we all enjoyed it. With a beer, two sodas and a mineral water, the bill came to AR$78.
I was sorry to have had so few opportunities to eat at the many recommended places in Buenos Aires because of our late arrival and the holiday. I kept some pesos and definitely plan to return in the not too distant future for more B.A. dining experiences.
Our first port of call was Montevideo, so here is a description of what we ate and drank there.
January 4 - After touring downtown Montevideo and the suburbs of Carrasco and Pocitos, we drove back into town and had lunch in the Mercado del Puerto at La Posada Don Tiburon. This was a restaurant recommended by our guide, who we invited to join us. We ordered a Brochette, an Ojo de Buey and a Milanesa de Tenderloin along with a chorizo sausage (which we all tasted, and which was delicious) and a caprese (here served as hot tomato and cheese sort of like a pizza without the crust) ordered by the guide. We also had two bottles of water and a bottle of Don Julio Cabernet for a total bill which came to $55 a couple in US dollars. After lunch the sun came out and we were happy to take a short stroll around the market area before returning to the ship. There were many other restaurants in the market, but they were inside. While more expensive, this was a fancier place with a nice glass patio area facing the pedestrian area and I guess the guide thought we would prefer it. Next time I’ll check out one of the parillas inside.
There were a number of ports between Montevideo and our next portside dining experience in Puerto Veras, Chile. I traveled on this trip with two decidedly non-Chowhound companions, so forgive me for not sampling food in Puerto Madryn, Stanley in the Falklands, Ushuaia or Puerto Chacabuco. Several of these were short port days and in each case, after a large breakfast, we got back on the ship in time for some sort of lunch. We did spend the entire day touring around Lake Llanquihue, Petrohue Falls, Osorono, and Puerto Veras, so here we happily stopped for a lovely lunch.
January 15 - Since we (a group of nine people who met on the Roll Call at Cruise Critics) were all very hungry after a morning of zip lining on Osorno and walking around at Petrohue (plus visiting with emus and llamas at a little farm), lunch in Puerto Veras was much anticipated. We were all pleased with our guide’s pick, a little restaurant called El Patio de Mi Casa. We ordered off the menu with Jaime providing translations and ate Salmon a la Plancha (served with a sauce and spaetzle), Tortellini Stuffed with Chicken for our son (very good pasta drenched in a delicious cheese sauce), and a Crab Au Gratin dish (Pastel de Jaiba), which was outstanding. For the three of us, with one Crab dish, one Salmon dish, the Tortellini, a beer, Mineral Water, two glasses of White Wine (also terrific), and a Pisco Sour (for our son, who wanted to try his first Pisco Sour, but not his last) the total was US $43.
January 17 - After debarking in Valparaiso on January 17, we traveled over to Vina del Mar for three days of surf, sunshine, and touring before heading back to snowy, chilly NY. Leaving our son, who went to bed at 4 a.m. after a last night of hanging out with his friends on the ship and needed a nap at the B and B, my husband and I strolled over to the seafront, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean, looking for a place to lunch. I had the restaurant called Enjoy in mind, and although it looked very nice when we found it, it was closed for the National Election Day (yes, we dealt with both New Years and Election Day on this trip, both of which put a crimp into my eating plans!) We then walked to a place our B and B owner had recommended, an Italian restaurant that several of his clients had frequented and recommended to him earlier in the week. On the way, as we checked various possible places (either closed or packed with people), an older woman (older that is than I which means quite old) asked me in Spanish if I needed help. I explained what we were doing, and she recommended another Italian restaurant she likes. We stopped to check at the one Brian had mentioned only to find they had a long wait … something about the kitchen being backed up with orders (the explanation was only available in Spanish so I might have missed something, but it was also very crowded). We then walked with her to her favorite place, only to find that it, too, was closed for the day. I thanked her profusely for her assistance, and we started to walk back, looking for a likely place. Eventually we got to a coffee café with cold coffee drinks. Having gotten beyond hunger, and booked for an 8:30 dinner, I decided a cold drink and a pastry would suffice.
Later we set out for the Cap Ducal, which our B and B owner, who is clearly not a chowhound, thought would be the ideal venue for a first night dinner in Vina – seafood on the oceanfront. When we arrived, the view was stunning and we were seated at a window table. A few minutes later two friends from the ship came over to inform us that they had been waiting for half an hour and had just been told that they wouldn’t take orders until 9 p.m. or serve until 10 because of the Election restrictions. We had been told they wouldn’t be open until 8:30 for dinner, so the fact that they had gone at 8 made us think there was some miscommunication involved. Soon after, they left without eating, but enjoying the view and the ambience, we stuck it out. Candles were lit on the table as the sun set, and soon after they took our order. Soon they brought out delicious warm rolls and we were served cokes. We knew there could be no alcohol sales until after 10 p.m. because of the election and quickly discovered that the fish options were limited (perhaps because it was Sunday, but more likely also because of the Election). We ordered three appetizers and three entrees in order to try a variety of dishes. For the starters, we had Machas Parmesana, Parmesan Marisco (an assortment) and a Congrio and Calamari Brochette Fritti. For the entrees we shared A Reineta y Corvina Prima Pasto, Corvina Vasco, and Congrio Erisa.
Dinner was disappointing. Cap Ducal has a great location and apparently the owner doesn’t feel the need to serve anything more than average food. The seafood was fresh and tasted okay, but there was nothing exceptional about it, and every fish dish on the table was drowned in sauce. The bill came to 43,700 Pesos (at almost 500 Pesos to the Dollar, so this dinner cost over $90 for the three of us with no alcohol... definitely too expensive!)
January 18 - After a day-long walking tour of Valparaiso (including a $6 pub lunch which included soup, chicken and mashed potatoes, and fruit salad) the three of us plus a couple who were also staying at our B and B took one of the electric trolleybuses back to Victoria Square, in search of a pub recommended to our hotel-mates by their friend, the Director of the German School in Vina del Mar. After some strolling around the square along with lots of locals, and viewing the entertainment on offer (a Punch and Judy show for children and a mime who was pretty funny) and some hunting, we found the pub and were surprised to see an offer for $3000 Pesos (about US$6) for Chorianna, four Pisco Sours and a Litre of wine. This didn’t seem possible, but we ordered the special and later learned someone had erased the “1” so it was actually $13,000 pesos, which was only about $25 and still a bargain. The Chorianna arrived on a large platter – strips of fried meat, onions, egg, and French Fries. In addition, we ordered Fried Fish and Chips, our friends ordered Ceviche and the three guys also had some beer. Everything tasted good, but certainly not great. The company was good, and I would consider it a Valparaiso experience, but not a great eating experience.
Tuesday, January 19
We said good-bye to our new friends at breakfast since they were headed for a final meal in Valparaiso at the Fish Market (they reported later that the Ceviche there was great and much better than at the Pub) before their flight home. For lunch, we set off down the hill to eat at “Enjoy,” which had re-opened. Brian recommended the Barbecue/Parilla and the idea of one last Parilla appealed a great deal to all of us. As a result, we sat at a table on the terrace – gorgeous view of the sea and protected from the sun and ordered a Parilla de Carne (for two) and a Parilla del Marisco (for one). We ended up with Ribs, Steak, Sausage, Roast Potatoes, Salmon, Scallops, and Shrimp along with some excellent Chilean white wine – a lovely although fairly pricey meal.
Later, our innkeepers invited us to join them in the garden. They had been out to a winery for lunch and told us about their day while we shared stories of our travels and experiences. In the end, this is the main reason I love to travel – connections like these with people who live far away. Sitting in the garden, drinking wine, eating olives, and conversing about our lives was a perfect finish to our trip.
After our huge lunch, we didn’t want another big meal, so we went down the hill one final time to try a restaurant I had on my list called “Entre Masas.” I thought this place would be limited to empanadas since that is what my notes indicated, but it turned out that in addition to some 30 empanada combinations, they have a full menu. Part of a chain, the restaurant was decorated in a modern and comfortable style, and the service was excellent. I had to put my Spanish skills to the test in deciphering the empanada fillings, and ended up ordering one with crab, one with meat and olives and cheese, and a third empanada with ham and cheese. All were deep fried, very large, and delicious, with the meat, olives, and cheese the winner of the taste test. It was fitting, somehow, that we started the trip with empanadas and finished with them, too.
I was sorry that I didn’t get to try some of the restaurants on my Valparaiso list on this visit. Because we had to eat as a group for lunch the day of the tour (and although I checked, Le Filou de Montpellier was open for lunch only so we ended up at the pub with our new friends), and because we just didn’t feel energetic enough to go back to Valparaiso on our final day, we still have a group of Valparaiso restaurants to sample on our next trip to Chile.