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Posts from the ‘Buenos Aires’ Category

La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you want to travel over 5,000 miles to eat shot glass and soup spoon food; modern fine dining, molecular gastronomy, whatever you want to call it. Even chef Alejandro Digilio, himself, didn’t have a preferred label when I asked him how he describes his cuisine. He simply said, “contemporáneo.” But yeah, I’ll bite. I mean, you have to temper all that steak-eating somehow and you won’t find a tasting menu like this anywhere else in Buenos Aries.

This was our most expensive meal on vacation, and if you didn’t know what you were in for you might not have high expectations based on the bare bones San Telmo storefront. The small, concrete, high-ceilinged space is in the heart of the tourist district. I don’t find talking about money in relation to dining to be gauche, especially when espousing value, so we spent 320 pesos.  $105 dollars for nine courses of creative food plus wine pairings for two is pretty remarkable.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar starters

You can order a la carte but that’s not the preferred way to dine. Once we opted for the tasting menu we were presented with a jumble of appetizers. The spoons contained a liquid “ravioli,” whose flavor I have completely forgotten, cheese croquettes topped with a tiny jellied tomato square and ceviche.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar more starters

The granules on the left were a tomato powder. You dipped flatbreads in olive oil and then the tomato essence. The almonds in the center were spicy and sweet, but only spicy by Argentine standards. Candied nori sheets were were wedged atop apple cubes like crackly wind sails. Sugared seaweed should be a new Jolly Rancher flavor because these were good.

You would probably be fine just sharing a bunch of fun amuses while sipping a glass or two of wine, but the more substantial dishes are definitely worth trying.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar sopa en 2 tempuraturas 
sopa en 2 tempuraturas

This pea soup is pretty, well, if you like shades of pea green like I do. I’m still not sure how I feel about contrasting temperatures. They were also playing around with this sense when I dined at Moto last year, and I wasn’t crazy about it then either. James was kind of accurate when he said it’s like when you microwave a bowl of soup and there are still cold spots in the middle.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar papa huevo trufa 
papa huevo trufa

This is the dish I kept thinking about later because it simply tasted good. You’re supposed to crack the shell (they’re good at that candied lacquering thing) swiftly with your knife so you don’t mush and the potato and the runny yolk comes out cleanly. I destroyed mine. The starchy, garlicky, creamy and truffled flavors were actually similar to my risotto at Casa Cruz. Maybe these are components are more Argentine than I realized.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar 24 weeds 
twenty-four weeds

They called this assemblage of vegetables, herbs and flowers weeds. Pretty and flavorful, it was almost like something you might find at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I’m always surprised how much I enjoy dishes like this because, not because I dislike vegetables but because I’m scared of eating flowers. I realize that makes no sense coming from an intestine-and -blood sausage-lover.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar pulpo vinagreta solida 
pulpo vinagreta solida

Chewy and tart octopus with a vinaigrette formed into a substance resembling feta cheese.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar mero jugo de paella 
mero jugo de paella

Paella juice isn’t the most appetizing description.  I was more interested in the Rice Krispie bits floating in the broth around the sea bass.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar carrillera caldo de hongos 
carrillera caldo de hongos

I’d never had beef cheeks before and certainly wouldn’t have known what they were. They were rich and just fatty enough, kind of similar to short ribs. Ack, those flowers showed up again.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar cerdo rabanitos hongos 
cerdo rabanitos hongos

Despite the name I don’t recall any mushrooms or radishes with this tender pork. This dish was served with a skinny perfume sampling paper scented with smoke. Inhaling and chewing at the same time created the sensation of barbecued meat, something that would seem to appeal to both Americans and Argentines. I enjoyed it. Toying with temperatures hasn’t wowed me, but manipulating scent and taste is kind of impressive, and fun too.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar ravioli de ron 
ravioli de ron

Another ravioli, and I can remember the filling this time because it was like a mini shot of rum, tempered by a granita.

Vineria de gualterio bolivar crema catalana 
crema catalana

This was deconstructed, obviously. Soft, foamy, powdered and creamy all mixed with hot espresso poured in tableside.

James took wine notes, which is weird because he’s not into wine. I only have surface knowledge, myself. Well, they weren’t tasting notes, just what we were served. I don’t have the same brain/memory for wine as I do for food, which is the main reason I don’t tend to discuss it here.

We were served a sherry first. His notes read "malo malo," which make absolutely no sense. First off, no one would call their wine malo because that’s bad. I can’t even come up with a homophone that would be accurate. The order of the rest are as follows:

Aristides Chardonnay
Colomé Torrontes
Escorihuela 2005 Syrah
Weinert Sauvignon Blanc

La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar * Bolivar 865, Buenos Aries, Argentina

Bar Uriarte

I don’t know how to classify a restaurant like Bar Uriarte, which serves steaks, blood sausage and grilled pizzas, all local favorites, but French terrines and chile-spiked prawns, as well. The local online food guide Guia Olea calls this “Mediterránea” so I will take their word for it.

Supposedly, this is a sceney restaurant but on a Sunday night it was dead with just two other occupied tables and some underdressed, overtanned Brazilian tourists sitting way too close to us. Can you be bridge and tunnel if you live in South America? I don’t think puente y tunnel means anything in Spanish.

I do see how this restaurant is geared towards American tastes and pocketbooks (along with Olsen, it gets mentioned a lot in US media). They serve brunch, which isn’t common in Buenos Aires, and specials written on the chalkboard are in English. I don’t recall if the actual menu was in English or not.

Bar uriarte pancetta wrapped figs

Figs stuffed with goat cheese and almonds and wrapped in prosciutto. This was a split appetizer, decadent but not overwhelming. There was a touch of honey in there, too.

Bar uriarte sweetbreads

Grilled sweetbreads with onion rings, french fries and watercress salad. Who can argue with French fries and onion rings? I had to get a dose of mojellas (sweetbreads) in somehow. Organ meats are rampant in the city, not just at parrillas. I do appreciate the Argentine fondness for offal where it’s low-end, upcale and everywhere inbetween.

Bar uriarte ricotta cheesecake

No, you don’t have to go to Buenos Aires for ricotta cheesecake. It was still a nice dessert, and the white chocolate wasn’t completely typical.

Bar Uriarte * Uriarte 1572, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Casa Cruz

I was inclined to pass up Casa Cruz, even though magazines and guidebooks love it and it was close enough to our apartment that I could wear heels without suffering. All the descriptions put me off, especially the notion of giant gold entrance doors (not actual gold, duh—I took a photo upon leaving but it was too dark and blurry). I was picturing cold Meatpacking district, but it was more plush Vegas. The scale of everything—those doors, towering floral arrangements, well-spaced seating—was grand. Trump would feel cozy here.

Casa cruz cocktail

I didn’t encounter cocktails so much in Buenos Aires so I was intrigued by their list containing classics and unique specialties. No matter that The Cruz cost as much as a steak in nearby restaurants. ($10 give or take). I wanted to try something with Chartreuse since you don’t see it used as a mixer that often. The result was stiff, bitter and fitting for an aperitif.

This was the only restaurant we visited that had a sommelier, not that I tend to use them because I don’t like relying on humans. We chose a Torrontes, a crisp local white that I know little about and am trying to figure out. It definitely doesn’t have the same name recognition as Malbec.

Casa cruz amuse

I wish I could remember more about this amuse other than it tasted like Parmesan cheese.

Guidebooks list Casa Cruz as Italian, which isn't really true at all. I'm not sure what cuisine this is. Many of the ingredient combinations sounded wretched (Lisa’s peanut butter mashed potatoes on Top Chef immediately came to mind) but worked on the plate. You’ll see (at least hazily—mood lighting is death for furtive flashless pics).

Casa cruz black pudding figs scallops sprouts almonds 
black pudding * figs * scallops * sprouts salad * almonds…

I’m mimicking how dishes were listed on the menu, don’t blame the pretension on me. English descriptions were on the left hand side and Spanish on the right, which was interesting for comparison. I don’t think the average American knows what black pudding is or wants to know, and would probably be more inclined to order morcilla since it sounds nicer. Of course, I ordered it because I love blood sausage.

The almonds, and even the figs made sense, sweet/savory and kind of Spanish. It was the scallops that seemed weird. They didn’t clash with the rich charcuterie at all, though.

Casa cruz grilled shrimp 
grilled shrimps * potato and pear warm salad * shrimp nage

I’m a control freak and don’t like to let James take his own photos because they tend to come out as blurred as a palsied photographer’s. He also doesn’t get close enough. I didn’t taste this dish.

Casa cruz risotto duck confit truffle oil pickled mango portabellas 
white risotto *  truffle oil * duck confit * pickled mango * portobello mushrooms

I never ever order pastas or risottos. The ingredient combination must’ve grabbed my attention, the pickled fruit specifically. Garlic and truffle oil dominated a bit, but only a bit because this dish was sumptious on all levels. It’s not like you can play down cream and duck confit. It seems odd to be recounting this item now when it’s a gazillion degrees outside and the thought of this makes my stomach hurt, but it made sense for fall weather when I was craving something substantial.

Casa cruz red tuna chimichurri bone marrow raspberries potatoes 
red tuna * chimichurri * bone marrow * raspberries * potatoes

Raspberries are obviously the odd man out in this combination. James insisted that the fruit was absent and I can't detect any hint of it in this photo either.

Casa cruz amuse 2

This was a basil tomato granita. I guess that's Italian.

Casa cruz corn creme brulee black current dulce de leche 
corn crème brulee * black currant * dulce de leche * cinnamon sugar

This was a take on crema Catalan, a flatter, spread out Spanish crème brulee. The sweet corn kind of gave a rice pudding effect while the dulce de leche didn’t register at all. I was really hoping for more caramel flavor.

I expected more scene than substance from Casa Cruz and was wrong. The setting felt luxurious without being stuffy and the food was genuinely good. Of course my perception might be clouded by the amazing exchange rate and foreign locale. I wouldn’t like this restaurant in NYC at all. It just wouldn’t work.

Lion earring

At the very least, I was happy for the chance to wear my new cute/tacky Target earrings with laser cut lions (I'm a leo, I can't help it). I don’t normally wear much, if any, jewelry, and never gold-toned, so these might’ve languished in a drawer for months. Thank you, Casa Cruz for the opportunity.

Casa Cruz * Buenos Aries, Argentina


This is definitely not New York pizza. Just look at all that cheese. I only had time to try pizza once in Buenos Aires and consequently chose what I thought was the most common style: Pizza a la piedra. Pizza a la parrilla, grilled, thin crusted (and probably most to my liking) and pizza al molde, a deep dish pie, can also be found in the city.

Guerrin sells slices up front where diners stand at counters. Table seating is beyond the fray in the back of the restaurant. The multi-paged menu you’re handed lists a ridiculous number of combinations categorized by headings, some which mystified me. Roquefort had its own section, and yes, all the pizzas beneath it contained blue cheese.


The most common toppings consist of green olives (whole with pits, which are tricky to eat), morrones (red peppers) and faina, a thin chickpea cake that people just plop on top of their slices. I purchased a lovely product called Fugafaina, which I'm assuming is the chickpea flour used to make these garbanzo bean delicacies.

Guerrin olive ham tomato pizza

This is the Especial Guerrin with ham, red peppers, and those tricky green olives. The brininess and the generous cheese really get to you and demand pacing. There’s nothing dainty about these pizzas. I think Americans would really dig Argentinean-style pizza. In fact, Americans would like Argentinean cuisine across the board if they knew more about it. We have a lot in common with this meat and potatoes loving culture.

Guerrin onion peppers ham pizza

I ordered one whose name I can’t recall. This used red peppers and ham, as well as a ton of sliced onions. You had better like those onions. A generous sprinkling of oregano spruced up the pizzas.

We ordered two smalls, but really should’ve just shared one. I was inclined to just leave our leftover four slices but our waiter insisted in wrapping them to go. As I’ve mentioned before, I appreciated Buenos Aires’s no food wasting spirit. I’m a glutton but that doesn’t mean I have an insatiable appetite.

Guerrin * Corrientes 1368, Buenos Aires, Argentina


1/2 Not all Argentinean food revolves around steak and pasta. In fact, there are quite a few regional specialties that I wish I had more time to learn about. Cumaná serves food from the northern part of the country and standouts include empanadas and hearty casseroles dubbed cazuelas for the clay vessels they’re cooked in. I don’t know that you’d want to eat heavy, steaming bowls meat and legumes in the middle of summer, but this was perfect for June sweater weather.

Cumana interior  

This was the only restaurant other than La Cabrera where we had to wait for a table, about 20 minutes around 1pm on a weekday. It’s clearly popular, the tables are a little squished and I guess it’s noisy, all par for the course here in NYC. (The dreamer/hipster guy who worked for our apartment management company and who was fixated on showing us camera phone photos of his restored Fiat and describing a fantasy wine bar he wanted to open, told us he lives right near Cumaná but doesn’t go because it’s too loud. He also won’t visit NYC because he likes “everything to be perfect.” He was totally a Williamsburg boyfriend; seemingly easygoing, slacker on the surface, and it’s all a façade hiding how fussy and high-maintenance they truly are.)

Cumana calabaza, humita queso & lomo picante empanadas

We started with empanadas, and once again had the portion perception problem. I only ordered two fearing they might be gigantic. They weren’t. And lots of tables had big piles being served to them on circular wooden trays.

Argentinean empanadas are baked, so it didn’t feel as unhealthy as the greasy crescents you find in these parts. We split a lomo picante, chopped beef that unsurprisingly was not spicy at all, and another containing calabaza, corn and white cheese, which was sweet though not dessert sweet. They were thin and charred like mini-calzones (which was a separate menu item—I would’ve been curious to see the difference).

I have a decent Spanish food vocabulary though I hardly know every ingredient. I knew I wanted locro, a classic stew of corn, squash and meaty bits but I couldn’t decipher every cazuela listed. I was fairly certain mondongo featured tripe, a soup I associate more with the Caribbean than South America. Who knew?

Cumana locro

Locro seemed a bit dull on paper—I can be biased against seemingly simple food—which wasn’t the truth in person. The kernels turned out to be hominy, which I love and small chunks of smoked pork permeated the stew.

Cumana lentejas

James was hemming and hawing over lentejas, which he thought might be lentils but worried that it could be liver. I could think of the words for kidneys, hearts, intestines, sweetbreads, tongue and brain but was blank on liver. Hígado, as it turns out, so lentejas were beans and not offal.

We were brought grated parmesan and I’m not sure if it was intended for a particular dish or if aged cheese is appropriate for everything. This is the stuff you don’t think about when eating unfamiliar food. I expect to be stymied by condiments and proper eating procedures in Asia, but it’s not something I counted on happening in Argentina.

Cumaná * Rodríguez Peña 1149, Buenos Aires, Argentina

El Trapiche

I was hesitant to stray from steak, but I’d gotten it into my head that matambrito, something mysterious and porky, was the thing to order at El Trapiche. I’d read it in more than one place and it was advertised on a board posted outside the front door. It must be true.

El trapiche interior

I’ll admit that I wasn’t fully sure what matambrito was. I’m still not sure. I thought it would be a big solid edible object, possibly like a miniaturized matambre (stuffed flank steak).

There were at least three different versions of matambrito on the giant menu. We picked matambrito al verdeo mainly because that was the one advertised outside, and figured it would have to have some sort of green component. That was as good as I could come up with.

El trapiche matambrito de cerdo dish

And it was fairly accurate; the green came from scallions. The pork appeared to have been grilled, sliced and sauced, not cooked in the liquid, which kept the crispiness and smoky qualities intact. It was a perfectly likeable dish, yet there was something about it that felt just slightly Chinese even with roasted potatoes instead of rice. We referred to our leftovers we carried around the rest of the night as Chinese food.

El trapiche jamon crudo

We started with jamon crudo. Why not double up on the pork intake? We also drank a bottle of Trapiche Malbec, a bodega that has no relation to the restaurant.

Yan kie Amusingly, after dinner we walked past a Chinese restaurant, Yan Kie, on our way to Acabar for a drink (where I was baffled by their playing Best of The Cure followed by Best of Paul McCartney and 1:30am closing when I wasn’t ready to call it a night yet). If I had more than a week to burn in Buenos Aires I might’ve eventually broken down and tried arrolladitos primaveras and cerdo saltado con salsa agripicante, which I’m guessing are spring rolls and sweet and sour pork.

El Trapiche * Paraguay 5099, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Don Julio

Steak for dinner is logical. It’s even an appropriate breakfast partner for eggs. But somehow steak just doesn’t seem like a lunch food. I quickly got over my narrow minded thinking, though.

Don Julio was intended as full-blown dinner destination the night before but after walking all day I was too burnt out to walk the 25 minutes or so to get there (we went to El Trapiche instead). I couldn’t let this parrilla slip of my schedule completely.

Don julio arugula salad

I started feeling uncomfortable about the lack of vegetables being ingested in vacation so we ordered an arugula salad. Well, it came with a shitload of provolone and sun-dried tomatoes, so no, not terribly healthy. We were brought olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a tiny pitcher of lemon juice to craft our own dressing. This seemed to be commonplace in the city. I was just going to mention how you never see crap like thousand island dressing, but I take that back. There’s a popular condiment called “golf sauce” served with things like hearts of palm and avocados and it’s totally mixed mayonnaise and ketchup.

Don julio media ojo de bife 

Being the middle of the afternoon we split an ojo de bife, we didn’t want to get bogged down, but frankly we could’ve easily eaten one each no problem. There’s definitely a problem with sizing consistency in Buenos Aires. We never knew if we were over or under ordering. If you’ve been following along, the first ojo de bife we ordered could’ve served six.

This is the amount of fat I like on my steaks. Is that wrong? It’s kind of a different beast than the NYC Peter Luger (no S on the end of I’ll gouge you with a dull steak knife) porterhouse standard. I didn’t encounter much bone-in meat, but that’s probably due to my ordering. I really shouldn’t reminisce about food like this while eating. I was totally fine with my tilapia and blue berries (on the side, not together) until I started thinking about charred edges and grilled smokiness.

Don julio chinchulines

Chinchulines (intestines) were mine, and mine only. This was a half order and it was plenty. I would’ve loved to sample a whole range of offal: sweetbreads, kidneys, tripe and so on, but that’s just not doable without a crowd joining in. I honestly don’t find organs offputting. These weren’t tough, just chewy with a bit of snappy bite and a creamy texture. These are not the same type of long, skinny intestines you get a parrillas in NYC.

Don julio chimichurri

This is the first place where we received condiments: chimichurri and a chunky onion one. I’m still not clear on when they crack out the chimichurri. In my brief experience, it seemed that we only got the herby sauce when we ordered meat in addition to steak. Things like innards or sausages.

Don julio

Don Julio * Guatemala 4691, Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Brigada

La Brigada wasn’t on my original itinerary, but after taking such a shining to grilled grass-fed beef we had to add another parrilla to our eating plans at the last minute. I wasn’t crazy about San Telmo, which seemed to be a favorite tourist neighborhood and felt mildly sketchy. But La Brigada (along with El Desnivel) appeared to be the biggies in the area and seemed worth at try.

La brigada interior

In hindsight, maybe we should’ve tried El Desnivel because our meal ended up being pricey. Not even close to NYC pricey (my steak was like $16 but I was aware that 50 pesos was hefty by local standards) but still like you were being gouged for choosing a foreigner’s greatest hits type place. Well, except the food was good.

Trying to find a source of comparison between La Brigada and La Cabrera (my favorite), I would say that La Brigada is like a Little Italy restaurant if those restaurants actually served quality food, and that La Cabrera would be more like an outer borough creative place like, say a di la. Don’t ask why I’m using Italian food to compare Argentine steakhouses.

La brigada provoleta

I was starting to get nervous because my time in town was running out and I hadn’t tried a provoleta yet. This had to be rectified since it was our final dinner. When gorging on beef isn’t enough, one must make an appetizer of grilled provolone cheese rubbed in olive oil and herbs like oregano (you can buy these ready to cook at grocery stores—we picked one up and ate it cold before realizing its intended purpose). And I must say that this was even better than I’d imagined in my head. Only a freak doesn’t enjoy melted cheese. The edges were crusty and added a whole other dimension of aged tanginess. This was no processed slab of dairy. Provoleta is definitely a candidate for best low carb snack ever.

Ok, so I accidentally ordered the bife de chorizo, generally an expensive cut, when I really wanted to try tira de asado (short ribs cut like for kalbi) but first asked a question about the size of the bife to gauge whether full portions here were too much for one (they weren’t anywhere near La Cabrera dimensions, one hungry person could handle them) and because of language confusion our waiter wrote down bife de chorizo as my order and I just went with it because I’m even more passive in Spanish than in English.

James ordered the lomo (filet mignon). We knew what this was but it was another weird Argentine wording just how bife de chorizo has nothing to do with chorizo the sausage. In NYC at least, lomo usually means pork.

La brigada lomo and bife de chorizo

These were some classy cuts of meat and tender beyond belief, as was demonstrated by our waiter who cut the damn things in front of us using spoons for effect. I would never ever utter wretched phrases like “melts in your mouth” or “cuts like butter” but yeah, the spoon cutting was kind of impressive.

Honestly, I prefer gnarlier cuts of meat because they have more flavor. I like fatty blobs, bones and burnt bits on the edges. These steaks were almost too pure for me.

La brigada papas fritas 
Papas fritas, of course.

La brigada panqueque

And panqueque number two. I couldn’t bear to branch out beyond the dulce de leche filled crepe even though everyone else seemed to be enjoying Don Pedros (ice cream topped with whiskey). The waiters divvied everything up here on individual plates.

Afterward, we decided to walk over to Puerto Madero and find someplace to have a drink. I couldn’t imagine what this area was like but from descriptions it seemed like a classier Atlantic City boardwalk (the insanely designed Faena Hotel is over there). In reality, it seemed like Battery Park City, and at 11pm on a Thursday, a total ghost town. We could never figure out all the hype in guidebooks about partying and drinking all night. Perhaps we were in the wrong places at the wrong times (later as our cab approached our neighborhood, bars were so packed people were pouring into the street) but things seemed dead everywhere we went and were closed by 2am.

I think we were already fueled by quite a bit of Malbec because we became convinced that the strip of flashy restaurants and new high-rise apartments couldn’t be all there was to Puerto Madero. Then James insisted that the Rio de la Plata was just beyond this development and we should go see it.

We ended up along some well-manicured parks that might be nice during the day, but felt eerie when empty. We only encountered a priest, then one lone dog, no owner in sight, standing at the top of a big grassy hill and barking mournfully into the night. I’m not scared of dogs but he was giving me the heebies. I wasn’t sure if it was ok to be in this area at night. There weren’t proper streetlights and just the occasional car passing by.

But then a lit café with some lingering patrons appeared in a grassy patch and I was all for just stopping there and heading back. But James was convinced the water was just across the road. There was a cement promenade that had a few makeshift stands grilling meat. This was kind of cool because I hadn’t seen any street food to speak of in Buenos Aires and am still sad I never tried a choripan. But we were full from dinner. There were a few guys hanging around in folding chairs but I still wasn’t sure if this was an ok place to be wandering around in the dark.

The promenade looked like it should be overlooking the sea but as it was pitch black we couldn’t see the horizon until we got right up on it and there was only dim grasslands. Huh? I guess the Rio de la Plata was further than we thought. There was nothing more than a big marshy pampas patch that creeped the hell out of me. There were big, wide stairs to go down closer but I was afraid creatures might jump out. Or more realistically we’d stumble upon random sex acts—it was then that I noticed anti-prostitution graffiti stenciled on the cement.

Later, I figured out that this is an ecological preserve and looks much less ominous during the day.

I never know when to be genuinely on guard in foreign cities. After getting robbed in Vancouver B.C. (seriously, Canada?!) years ago, the only city I’ve ever visited where anything bad has ever happened, I’ve learned not to be a cocky New Yorker (where you can’t always judge a neighborhood’s dangerousness based on how ratty it is). If you have a bad feeling you should trust it.

Tgifridays margarita

So, we hightailed it back to the populated well-lit docks and couldn’t find anyplace suitable for a drink (everything seemed about to close or more of a restaurant than bar). In desperation, I singled out TGI Friday’s where I was treated to an expensive margarita that barely tasted alcoholic and was rimmed with table salt. But at least I got to fit one American chain into the vacation.

La Brigada * Estados Unidos 765, Buenos Aries, Argentina

Cafe Tortoni

1/2 Sure, Café Tortoni is touristy but it’s also historic (the oldest café in Argentina—we just don’t have that many 150-year-old establishments in the US) and I didn’t feel bad for stopping in for a traditional breakfast of espresso and medialunas. It's not even close to being the Carnegie Deli or Magnolia Bakery of Buenos Aires.

Cafe tortoni medialuna and coffee

I assumed the croissants would be buttery and French, but this specimen at least, was crackly and sugar glazed more like a flaky cookie. I was more interested in all of the new-to-me fracturas (pastries) but you can’t really order them from your table if you don’t know their names.

Cafe tortoni ham and cheese sandwich

James ordered a ham and cheese sandwich. I really like these simple jamon Serrano bocadillos like you find in Spain. Cured meat is so much more exciting than deli ham.  

Café Tortoni * Avenida de Mayo 825, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Bar de Gallego

No, this isn’t chicken fried steak. It’s not a schnitzel either, though it could be. This blobby, pounded, battered and pan-fried beef cutlet is a milanesa, and they’re quite popular casual fare in Argentina (and other parts of Latin America too—it’s a common filling for Mexican tortas).

Bar de gallego milanesa

I had to try one, and old-school Bar de Gallego, holding-out on a corner in gentrifying (fied?) Palermo Hollywood, seemed like the right place to try one during Saturday lunch, mere minutes after we arrived in town. I saw quite a few milanesas coming out of the kitchen, some decked out with melted cheese and tomato sauce, napolitana-style with giant mounds of mashed potatoes on the side. I had to draw the line and stick with the lemon juice-only purism. French fries are part of the combo. French fries are always part of the combo.

This was my first meal in Buenos Aires and I noticed a lot of things. One, women were eating seriously hearty food, leaving no leftovers and they were all quite svelte. Argentines challenged my notion that only Asian girls can eat whatever they want. In fact, I’m more convinced than ever that pretty much everyone else except me can eat whatever they please to no ill effect. Two, no one eats ketchup with their fries. I’m ok with this, but I don’t recall ever seeing a bottle anywhere and papas fritas are on like every menu in town, high and low. Three, Argentine food is essentially meat and potatoes to the point where the blandest American palate wouldn’t be offended.

Which isn’t to say that the cuisine is flavorless, they just don’t like spicy food. Neither do Spaniards, Swedes and plenty of residents on the planet. (As an aside, I’m not sure where the notion that all Latinos eat hot food comes from. Mexican food certainly is picante, and other nationalities use chiles, especially in condiments, but I wouldn’t characterize most of these cuisines as fiery. And I don’t know that all Argentines even consider themselves Latino, which is a whole other aside.)

So, my thin crisp slab of meat and surprisingly crunchy, non-mealy steak fries (normally, I don't like fat fries) were satisfying, and perfect as is, I was just speculating that if I were eating them at home I know I would break out the Sriracha. Maybe I’m afraid of naked food.

Bar de gallego costillas

To me, costillas are ribs, but here they turned out to be deliciously meaty, properly fatty ‘50s-style pork chops. None of that lean other white meat business. And for approximately $5 we weren’t expecting two slabs. Also with fries, of course. I only had one (ok, two) bites because this was James’s dish.

I’d much rather be downing a breaded cutlet and bottle of Quilmes than the peanut butter toast and iced black coffee I’m looking at this Saturday afternoon.

Bar de gallego exterior

Bar de Gallego * Bonpland 1703, Buenos Aires, Argentina