I recently returned from a trip to Argentina and would like to share my food experiences in BA at Cluny, Patagonia Sur (sort of), Tomo I, La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, La Cabrera, Piegari and Casa Cruz.
Upon arriving my girlfriend and I went to Cluny for lunch in Palermo Soho. Unfortunately we arrived just after they stopped serving their normal lunch menu so we could only order from a limited sandwich/pastry type of "afternoon tea" menu. No matter -- the food was ample and excellent. We sat outside in a very pleasant garden-type of area and ordered sandwiches of lomo, onion, lettuce with spicy dressing and smoked salmon with tomato and creme fraiche and a simple plate of grilled ham and cheese sandiwhces. Just sandwiches but very good, flavorful and well-prepared. Overall a very pleasant and comfortable place to eat, and one I would like to return to in order to sample a more complete menu.
Patagonia Sur was next for dinner. Long story short, we did not eat there because we got lost on the way and showed up late for our 10:30 reservation just as the kitchen was closing. Some things to realize if eating here: it is located in a neighborhood that is not very safe at night (in La Boca right by Barracas) and it is not very centralized and the restaurant itself closes much earlier than normal BA restaurants at night. We learned this the hard way and were pretty surprised and somewhat scared when we appeared on a pretty deserted corner in a pretty bad neighborhood at around 11:30 at night and were not even allowed in the restaurant to figure out where to go next. This isn't a knock on the restaurant necessarily -- I still want to eat here on my next trip -- but just a warning so you don't make same mistakes that my grilfriend and I did (i.e., put your life in danger and miss your reservation).
After that adventure and finally getting a cab out of there we ended up at Tomo I. I wasn't planning to go here on the trip as I had read some negative reviews, but I am very glad we did. The decor is somewhat bland but that is my only complaint. We walked in the door at about midnight and were given complimentary glasses of champagne while our table was being prepared. The people there spoke almost perfect English and when I asked for a Malbec recommndation, the host pointed two wines out, one 3x as much in price as the other, and upon further prodding he told me the cheaper one was better and it was quite good. The food was also delicious and the menu varied: I had a mushroom ravioli in a pesto/herb sauce which was exceptional and a pork loin wrapped in bacon which was also well done. My girlfriend has a simple greens salad which was very good and a spicy pasta dish, both of which she enjoyed. As I said, I read some negative reviews about this place, but my experience was nothing but positive.
La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar in San Telmo was Sunday's lunch. This was my one "take a chance" meal on this vacation. I had read a positive review on this board that said the chef had worked in El Bulli in Spain, so I was intrigued. Bottom line is if you appreciate good food and you don't eat here you are nuts. You are missing out, plain and simple. The food here was superlative. It is a tapas bar with original, inventive, professional preparations that are full of flavor. There were lots of foam sauces which were no doubt a mark of the training the chef received at El Bulli. We got a tasting menu for $100 pesos each and had, among other things, some sort of vegetable tempura with a cinnamon foam sauce, hot and cold split pea soup and other plates of fish, beef, shrimp and squid. It was a long lunch with a lot of food. The wiater/owner also spoke nearly perfect English, so he was able to explain each dish to us and for some give us instructions on the best way to enjoy them. We also asked them to pair a different wine with each course. The wine here was also quite good and worth mentioning because it was unique. After eating at a bunch of good BA restaurants and even walking into various wine stores, you start to see the same wines from the same bodegas. All except one of the wines we had here we could not find anywhere else, and all of these unique wines were very, very good. In total the bill for the food and wine was around $300 pesos, steep for BA (though we went all out -- if you just got a couple glasses of wine and a couple of plates, it would be much less) but well worth it.
The food for the rest of the trip didn't compare really with the first part, unfortunately. Dinner at La Cabrera was ok, not bad, nothing really great. It was VERY touristy -- every table was speaking English. We asked for the meat rare but it was overcooked and didn't seem very flavorful to me, though the service was friendly. I also ordered sweetbreads which were also somewhat bland. Next time I would like to try another parilla as I imagine there is better to be had. We also tried to eat the the Resto at the Society of Architects but it was closed that day due to electrical problems, so we ended up eating lunch at Piegari. It was good but very expensive. We didn't have much -- a hot salas of eggplant, onion, tomato and olive oil which was tasty and different and we shared a pizza, which was good for South America. If you are looking to have an expensive, somewhat formal Italian dinner, this looks like it would be your place; otherwise I think you would be disappointed.
Finally, we ate at Casa Cruz for dinner. This place was hit and miss. Great, trendy decor/crowd and friendly service but I thought the food would be better. Hit: veal carpaccio, white truffle risotto. Miss: roasted oyster and caviar appetizer (too dry) and ojo de bife with truffle mayonnaise (again, somewhat flavorless).
That is all. My experiences in Rio will be forthcoming in another post.
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