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Trip report: Buenos Aires, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Santiago de Chile

digga Dec 12, 2012 07:40 AM

Boston 'hound just returned yesterday from my first trip to South America. As a pescatarian, I wondered what I would eat (though I did try a few morsels of meat here and there). There is growing interest in veggie-leaning food in BsAs (NYT article) and Santiago (more seafood-centric than Argentina). B’fasts were always included in our hotels/hostels and consisted of the usual toast, cereal, fruit, eggs for B. Nothing trail-blazing here but there's not much South American feedback so here's a run-down (quite long):

-Buenos Aires

My three companions want parilla the first night, of course, so we go for the tourist gusto at La Cabrera. They are disappointed - the short ribs and ribeye are both tough and chewy, but flavor of ribeye is ok. Ironically, my housemade fusilli in tomato sauce is toothsomely good - everyone keeps picking off my plate (the portion is huge). All the fun little side dishes of pickles, etc., that come with the meal console us.

As does lunch at Cafe San Juan the following day. We immediately fall in love with this place - wonderful atmosphere inside. Big chalkboard menus brought to your table and patient wait staff. Open kitchen, which looked positively TINY. Tuna empanada is big enough for us to share. It's very different from other fast food-y places we've tried thus far. Fresh tuna, wonderful dough. Big enough for us to share in addition to the chorizo in wine sauce that the others shared. I was urged to try at least the sauce. Dipping the bread (complementary and generous bread basket and olives) in the sauce made me question for a moment my non-meat eating ways! The smoked tomato square pasta with roasted veggies is a little bland initially, but the flavor builds up towards the bottom of the dish. The pasta itself is wonderful. B has a huge ribeye with deliciously crispy papas fritas. My bro has beef cheek fettuccine (again, I relent and try a forkful of pasta with some sauce...another "wow…yum" moment! SIL's salmon is also huge and perfectly flaky. Tons of salad greens and roasted veggies accompany it.

Osaka is slick and fun and pricey. B and I split the ceviche sampler - cherifo, classic, and Indo. Indo was my favorite, but they're all quite distinct from each other. I would be happy eating any one of them. R and J get an ok roll (can't remember). R gets the miso truffle steak - he forces a small piece on me and it is really juicy and cooked well. J's sea grill is equally well-cooked, with wonderful smoky flavors. B and I split the sakana (grilled fish). The kitchen is quite deft with grilled seafood!

-El Calafate (I was bummed we didn't make it to Pura Vida; lunches are mostly sandwiches we made ourselves during our excursions...I ate many tomato+avocado sandwiches!)

After all the fancy meals, we try to stick more to our usual budget (B and I are trying to keep up with the Manhattanites, R and J!). Empanadas at the original La Lechuza were a fine snack while we wait for R and J to arrive. Calzone-like...verdura (greens), choclo (corn), parmesana, and the best one with black olive. All oozing with melting cheese. Beers, wine, fries smothered in cheese and ham sauce, burger for R, grilled chicken for J at La Tablita when they finally arrive late. Drinks, empanadas, and bar pizza at Librobar (cute 2nd floor space - sunny and chill) post-Big Ice tour. Our last dinner is at Don Pichon. The boys see the mixed grills going by and want one. J gets a big, fresh salad. The three of them go to town on the meat. Some things turn them off, like intestine-y sausages, but the winner is the Patagonian lamb. They go crazy for it. I get a comforting veggie soup and a smoked trout (too dry, but I think that is the style of cooking) with a timbale of mashed potatoes and pumpkin.

-Ushuaia

Las Cabañes del Beagle, owned by Alejandro, are FANTASTIC. I can't stress enough how much we loved the cabin and Alejandro. We could not pass up the small but well-equipped kitchen for dinner in, taken with plenty of red wine. Heated stone floors, a roaring fire, and views of the town below didn't hurt either (veggie soup with brown rice, fresh pasta with lemony+garlicky asparagus sauce, pizza, tomato-y fish stew spiked with plenty of aji are some of the things we made). Alejandro brings a loaf of his own bread, a different one every night - all hearty and made with love. We used the bread to make sandwiches for lunches on the road, too. Terrific with our soup and stew. A fun stop one day at Panaderia La Union in Tolhuin on our way to the east coast on Route a off of RN 3.

-Back in Buenos Aires

Lunch at Origen is just what I craved! My tofu wok stir fry with brown rice is right up my alley – like something I would make at home. B’s grilled hake is flavorful and cooked well. Brown rice, broccoli, and mushrooms accompany. Complimentary bread and eggplant tapanade to start and cute, cool space in the warm BsAs afternoon. Plus, Beck on the sound system. We’re happy! Los Maestros pizza shop in Recoleta is definitely a local place. B chooses the thick crust pizza (I want thin) and it turned out to be bready, bar pizza. We do the tourist thing again by stopping into El Sanjuanino – empanadas are good (more doughy and chewy, which I prefer to flaky) and B says that the locro reminds him of his mom’s Navy bean and ham soup (in a good way!). The house red is horrible.

-Iguazu

Dinner at our hotel, Jasy is pizza again. Again, a bit bready but it’s tasty (and huge) with slices of hearts of palm, basil, tomato. I love pizza, but I’m really getting carbed out between all the pizza and empanadas I’ve been eating. Enough leftovers for lunch at the falls the next day. Dinner again at hotel – rather forgettable (non-housemade pasta and grilled chicken). But staff is great and portions are plentiful after a long, steamy day of hiking around the falls.

-Santiago de Chile

Late dinner at Phone Box Pub is fun. A decent veggie sandwich for me (bread nicely grilled and includes green beans, à la Chacarero in Boston), steak frites for B. Pretty good steak for a packed pub at 11 pm on a Friday! He gives me a small piece and it is juicy and flavorful. We should have passed up Sur Patagonia but we were hungry. Muy touristy. It is pricey but HUGE portions. King crab empanadas; giant arugula/olive/tomato/cheese salad; sandwich of pressed beef with avocado and tomato. Dinner at Etniko was by accident – just walking around and B liked the look of the place. A jalapeno ceviche with plenty of pickled red onion and some giant corn kernals is piquant and lively but the sushi is barely supermarket-level quality. The “sushi” rice is horrible (not flavored at all and hard). Pisco sours and Capital IPA go down easily, however, making for a nighty of cheesy fun (definitely not the kind of place we normally end up at). Le Jardin, a jumbled-up resto that I had read about, is closed for renos! I even checked the website before heading over and there was no mention of this. Bummer! The area around is rather desolate so we went into whatever looked ok – Oda Al Mar. It is all locals, enjoying leisurely extended Sunday lunch. It’s quite pricey, so we split perfectly cooked salmon, papas fritas, and salad. Amuse bouche of ceviche is, again like all the others, wonderful. Dinner at Tiramisu is a let-down. Someone we met in Iguazu loved this place so much, she went back three times. The place is hopping and fun, but the pizza was yet another rendition of bar pizza. After our trip, we decide that we’re spoiled with decent pizza in the States. And the sauce was sickly sweet – how much sugar do they dump into it? But clearly, we are in the minority as the place is perpetually packed with both tourists and locals. Our last meal, lunch at Bar Nacional 3, is fun. We sit at the lunch counter for B’s first completo (hot dog with avocado sauce – he says it’s got good snap), shrimp empananda (B likes it – his first fried version), housemade gnocchi with pesto for me (a bit salty, but we manage to eat the whole thing).

We hope to return to South America, especially to Chile!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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