Restaurants & Bars

Buenos Aires report (long)

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Buenos Aires report (long)

Peter | Mar 1, 2006 12:52 AM

I just returned from a week in Buenos Aires and want to let you all know how well I was served by chowhound advice. Before getting into specifics, though, I should begin by saying that Buenos Aires is a wonderful town, and just about everyone I met was friendly and interesting. I’d go back in a flash.

Some general observations:

Contrary to what I have sometimes read here, BA is not chow heaven. There is great food, mediocre food, and ever other kind of food. You can’t just walk into a random eatery and expect bliss. There are some regions where this is almost true (parts of France, Italy, also Thailand in my experience), but not BA.

If you have a bronchial condition, as I do, your choices will be somewhat limited. I had to walk several blocks down Corrientes one day to find a non-smoky place for lunch. The rule I would follow is this: if there are no signs indicating a non-smoking area, there is no non-smoking area. Don’t listen to what the wait staff says. They will tell you “no one else will sit in this area” or “I’ll see to it no one smokes near you”, but there is nothing they can do when a party of puffers plops itself down at the next table. After a few of these fiascos I learned my lesson.

That being said, waiters (mostly men but occasionally women) were professional and efficient without being pretentious or obsequious. They made restaurant eating a pleasure.

Finally, Argentine food tends toward the salty. Breads are a bit salty. Salads usually have a little salt added to the vinegar and oil dressing. Sauces are salty. It’s not a huge issue, but visitors should be aware of it. Anyone who is worried about salt intake should ask before ordering.

Specifics:

My best meal was at Dora in Retiro. I would never have sought it out had it not been for the raves from this site. Thanks! I had the bacalao in scallion cream sauce, light and, well, salty, although I could get used to it. For dessert, I saw “fruit cocktail with zabaglione sauce” on the menu and thought, oh, a little cup of chopped up fruit with a swirl of eggy stuff – I can handle it. Imagine my shock when a large platter was placed in front of me bearing a sea of zabaglione blanketed by a thick layer of fresh, wonderful fruit hunks: melon, mango, berries, kiwi, bananas.... I struggled to finish it. Meanwhile, at the next table several people dug into a large plate heaped with squid that looked and smelled fabulous.

A close runner up, and winner in the “best traditional” category, was El Trapiche in Palermo. We had the grilled cheese appetizer (superb), wonderful, buttery slabs of meat, and a classic cheese-and-fruit paste dessert. Not to be missed.

I enjoyed the ice cream, mostly gelato-style, better than most of what I can get at home but not as compelling as either top-shelf US gelato or good gelato in Italy.

I kept finding myself in situations where I was expected to order parrilla (grill). Argentine beef is OK, but I get better meat at home in the US, where I have local, organic suppliers. And just grilling meat over charcoal gets repetitive after a while.

My most disappointing meal was at Bar Uriarte, which was also praised to the skies by other hounds. I found it overpriced, pretentious and dull in my (admittedly) one visit. I was steered toward veal ribs by my server, but they turned out to be tough, dry and tasteless. Since it was happy hour (which lasts until 10:30 pm), I ordered two glasses of wine for the price of one, but since they fill each one up half way, and since their prices are higher than anyone else’s, I did not get much of a bargain. I also have to say that I was irritated by the way they handled my asthma. I got the old line, don’t worry, no there are no signs, but I will make sure no one smokes in this area. As my teeth are grinding away at the ribs, another server lights up a cigarette just a few feet from me. I look plaintively at the first server who made the brave promises a few minutes earlier, but now she says, I’m sorry but the whole restaurant is smoking. So: expensive, mediocre and abusive, there’s not much reason to frequent Bar Uriarte.

Another, somewhat milder disappointment was La Chacra. (No, it has nothing to do with yoga.) It was extremely expensive by BA standards, but the meat (and this is a meat, meat, meat joint) is ordinary, as far as I can tell. Not bad, but not so exciting either.

Well, I’m going on too long. I will skip the discussion of grocery stores, street food, the outdoor parrillas by the waterfront, all the rest. Maybe next time.

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