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Buenos Aires Overview

In December I went to Buenos Aires for two and a half weeks to visit my boyfriend. We ate out nearly every day. I had originally aimed to report on every venue we visited, but at this point I can only easily remember what was, well, memorable. Here's a summary:

We had our first lunch opposite the western border of the botanical gardens at Guido's Bar, which churns out delicious homemade pasta. I had the Bolognese with tagliatelle and the boyfriend had some kind of pasta with mushrooms and truffle oil. Both excellent. We went toward the end of lunch hours and a couple menu items had run out, so going will likely ensure the best selection. The owner is very friendly, making sure to welcome every patron personally. We went back a week later, but a power outage (a common occurrence in BA) had brought their kitchen to a halt. Fortunately, there were still a few warm pizzas in the oven, so we had a tasty margherita.

Sucre is a bit of a drive from the center of the city, but it's worth the trek. Slick and hip interior, including a towering, back-lit bar. Great cocktail list. I had the goat sweet breads, followed by delicious roasted hen with spiced basmati and apples. The latter was simple, but very well prepared. Our server was a little inattentive.

Grand Bar Darzon (Libertad and Santa Fe) has similarly hip fare to that of Sucre (both venues belong to the same restaurant group). Another extensive cocktail list.. I loved my sole cebiche appetizer with pine nuts and melon juice, followed by a main of gnocchi with shrimp.

For some traditional Argentine chow, we squeezed into a dive parilla on Carlos Calvo between Bolivar and Defensa in San Telmo. After awkwardly maneuvering our way through a space only slightly bigger than my freshman year dorm room, we perched on rickety stools and devoured choripan (grilled chorizo on toasted bread) slathered with fresh chimichurri and chili pepper spread. Soccer memorabilia and clippings covered every inch of the walls and meaty aromas hung all around us. An absolute dream!

We dined at Nectarine, a high-end French venue that I believe is in Recoleta, tucked into the end of a brightly illuminated alley. Excellent green tea creme brulee and flawless, accommodating, and warm service. My boyfriend loved his entree with oysters and salmon. Tasting menu available. (La Bourgogne, at the Alvear Palace Hotel, is the other French venue with a great reputation, but we never made it there).

Thymus in Palermo is great for international, avant-garde cuisine at an almost criminally superb value, and they have a tasting menu that permits separate members within the same party to order different items. I suggest the blueberry terrine with rosewater syrup. We sat downstairs, underwhelmed by stone fixtures and other cold, minimalist decor. One of our city guides claimed that this venue offered romantic ambiance, so I suspect that one needs to sit upstairs to achieve this effect. Regardless, the food is excellent.

Oviedo in Barrio Norte is also worthwhile. We had an excellent cheese plate and an appetizer of two squid preparations. Our entrees were satisfactory; I had steak and boyfriend had suckling pig. Supposedly the fish is much better. Nice desserts and wine list. Understatedly elegant and professional.

Asian fare is sparse in BA, but Green Bamboo in Palermo Soho (or perhaps it was Palermo Viejo - I get my Palermos confused) did more than satisfy my craving for Vietnamese. The food is decidedly modern; dont go looking for a bowl a pho. Fresh cocktails and creative presentations. Best avoid the puzzlingly rich and ostentatious desserts.

Finally, my favorite restaurant was Social Paraiso in Palermo Viejo (on Honduras, I think). The food is honest with a touch of tasteful creativity. During our first meal there my boyfriend announced that they made him the best pork rib he had ever eaten. I enjoyed the Risotto Milanese with Osso Buco and the Patagonian Lamb on separate occasions. We also split an excellent appetizer of three salmon preparations and a dessert with crisp slices of caramelized apple and Schezuan pepper ice cream. Friendly staff in a bright, clean, and down-to-earth setting. Great value, too, with a daily prix fixe lunch for 15 pesos. Outstanding!

So there you have it. If I have a chance, I will contribute more as the details return to me. I'm going to be daydreaming about this remarkable trip for the rest of my day :)

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  1. Thanks for the tips...I am going to BA for 3 weeks at the end of March to do some work. Would love to hear anyone else's thoughts or recs. I know steak is ubiquitous down there. Is there a steakhouse in the same vein as Peter Luger down there? A place the is a cut above a cut above the best? I am really looking forward to the food on this trip.

    Danny

    4 Replies
    1. re: thedanny

      Great review of the restaurants you remember, annana! We just began our month stay in Buenos Aires. We plan to eat out every night so we'll post our complete restaurant list later!
      In the meantime, our first dinner in BA was at Sucre. We had asked the concierge at the Four Seasons for a recommendation of a restaurant with creative, modern food. And, they could get us a reservation for Saturday night so we went. The space is as you described and, although most of the tables are very close together, we enjoyed talking to the couple next to us (who spoke English).
      Our first impression of the restaurant was not auspicious. The woman "at the front of the house" seating guests was speaking to a colleague and kept us waiting at the door. She did not apologize for the delay.
      We like to share a bottle of wine, an appetizer, a main and a dessert and we did that at Sucre with no problem. The food was very good (but not great). Unfortunately the timing from the kitchen and the co-ordination with the wait staff was terrible. The kitchen was too fast and the wait staff was too inattentive (as you observed!)
      The appetizer was a cold, seared tuna in a sweet-soy broth. It had crunchy green mango and papaya cubes on top. It a was very good but it came before the wine did. We had a salmon rosado for our main and it was good but not as flavorful as we would have liked. Again, it arrived before the wait staff had put silverware and plates for the main on the table. Oh well. For dessert we had a very good zabaglione. Our wine was an excellent Laggard viognier (for AP$52/US $16). There was a cover charge of AP$12 for the 2 of us. The total bill was AP$183/US$58.
      The restaurant was full and almost entirely with English speakers. That is kind of off-putting. Together with the bad service, it is probably a once in a lifetime experience for us. ALEDM

      1. re: aledm

        Actually -- the Malbec IS the way to go -- as is the Bonarda (another varietal that does well in Argentina). while you are there see if you can sample an Altocedro Malbec Reserva...and anything by Cobos... oh and reservas from the Zuccardi bodega.. and any manner more. Also try the Pinot Noirs from the patagonian region.

        As for restaurants, try some of the ones from my blog:

        http://argentinarocks.blogspot.com/20...

      2. re: thedanny

        There ain't no P Luger in BA. The best steaks beat BA but in general the quality is good and above which is not the case in most cities. Also, it is cheap enough that for value, you won't be disappointed.
        I would say go to La Cabrera. Forget Las Lilas, overpriced tourist crap. Also, forget Sucre, the most expensive meal I had in BA, by far, and one of the worst.It reminds me of a bunch of B&T in a place that is supposed to be cool.
        Grand Bar Danzon is cool for drinks, food is probably not great, though last I heard it was not as hopping as it had been.
        Thymus is good but in that vein, though less exotic and better is, I forget the name in my age and senility. Female chef, protege from Spain. Look for it, you will get it. If I remember by the end, I will name it.
        Don't go to Casa Cruz either.
        Ice cream, yeah, I think Freddo is the best chain(not sure).There was one that was a cut above or more.
        Service is always at best, good, at worst, bad.No worries, relax, enjoy the vibe.People are cool and it is cheap and good.
        Pizza, not so great.Cheese down there is not great for that use.In general, not the best but in certain cases it works well.
        Many places are very good that I do not know the names, dive type places.Unfortunately, Central is closed.Really good, ate lunch there all the time but never dinner.
        RESTO, that is the name.
        Also, La Brigada for steaks. Never went but I just trust it.
        Skip Tomo 1 if it is still open, too. Many other places, some will be good, some not, hope you do well.
        Finally, ALWAYS ask for your steak MUY JUGOSA.
        Like most cultures that are not up on the high cuisine, they cook the &*($#)* out of meat. Seriously, you will never get rare, pray for medium rare. Just tell them many times, MUY, MUY, and pray.

        Forgot, don't go with the whole Malbec thing.Good wine people(or even restaurant people who know anything)will tell you the same. Argentina makes very good wine but that varietal is not hte way to go. Have enjoyed some Cab Sauvignon, actually, better than the syrup, ripoff that is California, at least.

        Enjoy

        1. re: gambit50

          I would never consider myself an expert on Argentina, but I did spend two months living in BA last summer (and am about to head back for four months, which is why I am looking for restaurant suggestions), and I think you greatly misrepresented the food and wine. Good Argentine Malbec is fantastic, and I never saw wine sold in Argentina that was as low-end as what is sold in the US. There's no shortage of other good wines produced in country that will better introduce you to Argentina and help support its agricultural economy. Argentine wine goes with Argentine steak, which is cooked differently at different restaurants. Some care how you order your steak; some will cook it however they see fit. Before I was in Argentina, I would always order meat in the US medium well or more cooked; now I only order medium rare. I learned this when multiple home cooks and restaurants, particularly one of the best meals I've had in my life at a place in Mendoza, just kept serving it to me rare or medium rare.

          Also, for however long you are in Argentina (or Uruguay), try to befriend people and get them or their family to cook traditional parilla-style for you. Many people actually have these wooden grills in their apartments or on their balconies, and watching someone patiently cook down the fresh wood and slow-cook their own meat is amazing. I saw people do this numerous times and am trying to find someone who will teach me on this return trip (any suggestions here?)

      3. a couple more restaurants to consider are:

        nebula in villa crespo (just beyond cordoba).
        nice back yard. cozy. good (not great) food with a bit more to it than a parilla. generally a younger though not obnoxious crowd.

        de olivas i lustres in palermo viejo.
        tapas with a nice price tag done well. nothing is going to blow your socks off, but the service is good, and the ambience is very nice. tapas tasting menu for two at a total of $28.50 pesos (or $9 US) per person.

        azema exotic bistro in palermo hollywood.
        french and international fusion. mmmm. decently priced as well.

        la cabrera in palermo.
        good meet. amazing amount of sides. nice atmosphere (unless they're showing how sausage gets made on the projector....). a favorite of many people i know

        the most dependable and up-to-date restaurant guide for buenos aires is guia oleo (guiaoleo.com.ar). really nice website. there are even english and portugese versions of it.

        don't forget to eat ice cream in ba. volta, freddo, and persicco all have multiple locations and all are very good.

        and if you like to cook, i highly recommend the produce at the farmer's market in belgrano off the juramento stop on linea d. outside of farmer's markets you're not going to have the best luck with produce variety or quality in ba, but all the stuff i've gotten from this particular one has been top top quality, especially the herbs.

        the only other thing i recommend is that you go to buenos aires with annana ;)

        10 Replies
        1. re: sfaok

          Thanks sfaok! What day or days of the week is the Belgrano Farmer's Market? None of my guidebooks includes any info on farmer's markets. Do you know of a source of info about them? How about fish markets? We're in BA now and we'll probably be eating out every night for the next 6 weeks! I would like to have the option to cook at home though. Thanks, aledm

          1. re: aledm

            For what it's worth: That market in Belgrano is not a farmers market in the sense that I would use the term. That is, as far as I know, they aren't producers selling to the public. It's a European-style market with different stalls/vendors under one roof. Another one like it is the Mercado del Progreso off the A line subte in Caballito. You'll find fish stalls in both of them.

            The only farmers market that I know of – where you'll find the farmers themselves selling to the public — is called El Galpón and it's next to the Federico Lacroze station off the B line subte. Wednesday it's on from 9-13h and Saturdays the hours are 9-15h.

            1. re: daniels

              it's true that it's probably not farmers selling to you in belgrano, but the goods very fresh. pretty cheap too (everything here is if you're from the US or Europe), depending on the stall you use. in addition to the produce and fish stalls, there are also cheeses, breads, wines, meats, oils, etc.

              anyhow, it's called la feria modelo belgrano, and it's one block west of the juramento stop on linea d at juramento and ciudad de la paz. i don't know exactly what the hours are, but i usually go between 5 and 8 in the evening. since i live off the linea d, this has been the most convenient for me, though the el gapon market sounds very intersting as well.

              1. re: daniels

                Greetings daniels! We went on a search for El Galpón on Saturday morning and didn't find it. We drove over to the Federico Lacroze station off the B line. When it wasn't obvious where the market was, we circled (by car) Av. Federico Lacroze, then to Av. Corrientes to Av. Elcano, to Fraga to Av. Forest to F. Lacroze again. So where is the farmer's market hidden? Thanks for your help.

                1. re: aledm

                  If you're facing the Lacroze train station, the market is maybe 200m down an alley to the right of the station. It's in a yellow building. Suerte.

                  1. re: daniels

                    We found El Galpon; it was right where you said it would be! The selection was a bit limited but the mushroom selection was impressive (the vendor's phone no. is 15 5642 1868, by the way). For others interested in El Galpon, it is described as "Centro Comunal de Abastecimiento de Alimentos Agroecológics". It's got a website: www.elgalpon.org.ar. It's every Wed. from 9-13 and Sat. from 9-15, just as daniels said. They have a parking area in front of the building at Federico Lacroze 4171. And they have a phone no. during the hours that the market is open: 4554-9330.

                    As to other markets, we will try sfaok's in Belgano. Does anyone know about the Mercado Central for Buenos Aires? We saw a huge building called Mercado Central near Exit 16 or 17 off of the Autopista del Sur when we were wizzing by. Is that open to the general public?

                    1. re: aledm

                      Yeah, the selection at El Galpón is starting to taper off now that we're off the height of summer. It's never going to be the best selection in the city, but it does offer a chance to buy things direct from the farmers and support small-scale agriculture, as well as some social programs in some cases.

                      And since we're not talking huge producers, the selection can be sporadic. I got some great squash blossoms there earlier this year, but they were only around for a week. One weekend, I picked up a watermelon. But I haven't seen them before or since. It's all local stuff. So once the season is gone, it's gone.

                      Also, for what it's worth: The vast majority of it — if not all — is organic.

                      As for the Mercado Central, it's mostly wholesale but there is a part that's open to the public. I went a while ago and wasn't wowed. I didn't see anything I couldn't find in the city. Maybe things were cheaper (can't remember), but for me it's a long way to go (on a bus) to save a little money. I wouldn't tell you not to go, but I'd be surprised if you went back a lot.

                      1. re: daniels

                        Great tips, thanks everyone. This will be a big help in helping me strategize for my trip, One specific query for my own favorite food that is a bit hard to come by in the US. Anyone have a rec for a place to score jamon iberico in Buenos Aires? I found it in Mexico City last year and was very satisfied, is there a good spot in BA?

                        1. re: daniels

                          You're better off going to the Mercado Progreso - they carry pretty much everything that the Mercado Central does - far fewer stands and quantity, but the same variety, and much easier to get to. Subte "A" at the Primera Junta stop - Avenida Rivadavia 5430.

                          http://www.saltshaker.net/20070830/pr...

                          http://www.saltshaker.net/20060517/ta...

                          http://www.mercadodelprogreso.com.ar/

                          1. re: Casa SaltShaker

                            My partner and I just dined at La Vineria de Gaullterio Bolivar in San Telmo. It's a really conceptual restaurant a la El Bulli in Spain, where the chef studied. Not cheap, at $352 Argentine for two including wine pairing, but highly recommend it. We had 9 courses, all exciting and provocative. 865 Bolivar at Estados Unidos tel: 4361-4709 e: lavineriadebolivar@gmail.com

                            Also, as with a lot of posts, I highly recommend La Cabrera for parilla, just a wonderful place with great food and excellent service... we are staying nearby on Cabrera and Scallabrini Ortiz so it's just a walk down the street.

                            If you get a chance, you definitely need to try Casa Felix, the puerta cerrada or 'hidden restaurant' in Chacarita. Diego Felix and his wife. Sanra, are promoting indigenous Argentine cuisine at their home--it's an incredibly welcoming and inspiring taste of the country, all is cooked at a very high level (highlites included fish w. a salad of fresh tomatoes and figs grown at their neighbor's home--a really delicious combination-- and we ended the meal with an incredible Paraguayan yerba mate, which is smoked yerba strained with water and then sugar added, like an herbal espresso. It's a great way to get to know other foodies in BsAs. www.diegofelix.com

                            tomorrow we dine at Casa Saltshaker

                            Buen Provecho.