Foodcation: Buenos Aires, Argentina
What comes to mind when you hear “Buenos Aires”? Tango or Evita, perhaps? Wine? Steak? Dulce de leche? You may have made many of these associations, though I suspect your preferred search engine is less likely to do the same, and more likely to provide search suggestions for getting to Patagonia or Cataratas del Iguazú. Likewise, trip planning often involves more weather and landmarks than flavors and restaurants. But I insist you savor the deliciousness that is Buenos Aires. It hides behind unassuming walls, if only you care to look.
Buenos Aires –BsAs for short– is a city seasoned with European and Latin spices, marinated in a metropolis, and cooked into a cosmopolitan buffet. How can one resist an eating spree in the megalopolis of “good airs”? Let’s start with El Baqueano. In case you’ve ever heard of the “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list, there’s an edition specifically for Latin America, and El Baqueano is on it. (See #13 here if you’re interested.)
You can’t deny the handsome plating (befitting the restaurant’s location in artsy San Telmo?). I’m hesitant to disturb the art, but it’s simply too delicious to pass up. Add in the wine pairings –all Argentinean, naturally– and I think I’ve found one of the keys to happiness.
When I say “eating spree,” I don’t take the term lightly. Don Julio, also on “Latin Americas’s 50 Best Restaurants” list (see #21 here), is the kind of parilla, or steakhouse, that has the potential to convert vegetarians into carnivores. And those portion sizes…when I’m told an order is good for “two people,” I have to ask if those two people haven’t eaten in a week, because four girls have trouble polishing off their food – and 2.5 of them are definitely not dainty eaters.
Unsurprisingly, nearly a fifth of the restaurants on the Latin American Top 50 list is in Argentina, and nearly all the Argentinean mentions are in BsAs. Let’s switch gears, because I’m gaining weight with the mere memory of mouthwatering delights.
Do you like cafes? Buenos Aires has no shortage of them. After a hauntingly beautiful saunter through Cementerio de la Recoleta, the cheery La Biela (full name: Cafe Historico La Biela) makes for good food and good people-watching. Try the dulce de leche crepes in this see-and-be-seen locale. If you fail to spot any celebs or public figures, you’ll at least be able to take photos with the ever-obliging Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares.
I have a thing for hot chocolate, and there’s an oddly satisfying feeling of pouring it myself.
Ooh, while we’re talking about hot chocolate, have you ever tried a submarino? It’s basically a chocolate bar swirled in hot milk until you have, well, hot chocolate milk. For this traditional beverage, let’s head to a traditional cafe, not far from Casa Rosada. Back in San Telmo’s Cafe Dorrego, servers write your bill on a napkin – a napkin that’s more parchment paper than anything. How fitting that we go old school in one of the city’s oldest cafes: You might observe your server write out your itemized bill from memory, do a manual tabulation, and when you’re ready to pay, open a fat moneybook for change. When you exit the cafe into the open space that is Plaza Dorrego (go for tango in the evenings and an art fair on Sundays), look up. You may find some interesting architecture.
Since we’re on a hot chocolate kick, let’s round out our cafe experience with the iconic Cafe Tortoni. The most famous cafe in BsAs, it has also been named among the world’s most beautiful cafes. (BsAs has a thing for beauty, it seems; it also has one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, El Ateneo.) I love the old-school feel of this time-tested locale, with its stained glass ceilings, wooden panels, and staff still dressed sharply from the days this city enjoyed its wealthy heyday.
More fat moneybooks on the servers here; what is it about large stacks of currency that’s so entertaining to observe? That, and more hot chocolate. (Insert heart-eyed emoticon here.)
Cafe Tortoni has really good cappuccino too, if you trust my word (since I’m not much of a coffee drinker). Actually, there is much yumminess to be had. Just consider your portion sizes before ordering individual servings; it truly is a lot of food – you might put in three orders for four people, and end up with food for six. Imagine a large wine glass filled to the brim with orange juice, and a slice of chocolate cake bigger than that glass…and they’re merely components of a bigger breakfast order. A single menu item. Yup, it’s like that.
Ok, I’m seriously starting to feel my clothing shrinking by the minute. Let’s end this gastronomic adventure in Puerto Madero. For as casual as it is, i Central Market presents you with plates that look like they belong in a much fancier establishment. Hey, I’m not complaining. Especially with the explosion of flavor. Pardon me while I stuff my face….
Ok, I’m in desperate need of a nap. And maybe 10 hours at the gym. Have a delicious weekend!