World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Buenos Aires

Since I was eight years old, I've wanted to travel to Argentina.  I can pinpoint exactly when and why. I had a Disney film called Saludos Amigos on VHS that I watched over and over again and Argentina or at least Goofy as a gaucho (Argentine cowboy) was the coolest thing in my mind when it came to South America.

S and I left behind the rainy weather of San Francisco for two weeks of vacation to travel to Argentina  Our trip was an odyssey around the country. While we were not able to go everywhere we would have liked given that Argentina is a large country and we had limited time, we still managed to see Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego.

We began our trip in Buenos Aires. Encouraged to see the Sunday flea market in the San Telmo neighborhood we made our way there from our hotel in the city center. It was fun walking around the market and seeing all kinds of antiques and kitsch.

We were recommended an old, quaint place called Bar Federal near Plaza Dorego.  Here we waited 45 minutes before we got our beer.  Our Imperial brand "chops" or draft beers, one dark and one red were accompanied eventually with forlorn cold cuts of salami, ham, and oily cheese.  A pizza also appeared that also did not impress, as it was more or less a discus-like thick dry crust with gluey cheese on top. We ate our first bites here with some consternation and after much trial and tribulation we flagged our waitress down to get our bill. A young English couple with small children arrived and left in frustration in the midst of these scene. Fortunately our first bite in BA was not illustrative of the road ahead. We stopped at a nearby market to investigate the state of local produce and salume.

We walked from San Telmo to Puerto Madero where we tried to get a drink at the Faena Hotel, only to find that there were police and people with cameras hanging around outside the main entrance.  What was going on? Was Brangelina there? No. Apparently Pink Floyd was in town for a concert and this meant we couldn't get into the hotel for a drink since the band was staying there or something to that effect. We took this to be a sign and instead walked around Puerto Madero checking out the restaurants and people watching from another bar.
Dinner in Buenos Aires usually doesn't begin until 10 pm.  So grateful that we were on Pacific time, I suppose, we walked back to our hotel downtown; also known as Microcenter.  We caught a cab to the trendy neighborhood of Palermo Soho and found a restaurant called Don Julio, which came highly recommended.  It's a charming old school parilla (that's steakhouse) with leather topped tables and wine bottles from customers all over the walls above the asado or grill area. What was so special about this place? The food was exactly what you have in mind when you think of great Argentine asado!

Beef in Argentina, as many expect, is fed clean grass, is free of antibiotics and growth hormones, and not stressed out in a feed lot. The spicy, garlicy chimichuri (a condiment of parsley, garlic, paprika and olive oil) is good on your steak, but better on the warm bread while you wait. The steak is good enough that you don't want to mess with it. The rump steak has a grassy clean and lean if only slight chewy quality, but only because a muscle like that works hard and packs a lot of flavor. The magic of asado is not just great meat, it's how you cook it. You need plenty of salt to draw the moisture on the surface and caramelize as the meat sears to create a first layer of flavor. But, wait there's more. Wood is burned to create coals and these hot embers are pulled from the side of the grill at the right time to add smoke and heat  as the meat cooks.  This provides an amazing char that seals more flavor on the meat as it cooks.

Of course, it's not all beef there.  Grilled pork "rose meat," which was described to us a being somewhere around the ribs was juicy and perfectly done. We enjoyed our hearty, satisfying empanadas: onion and cheese and also sweet corn. Boiled vegetables were a uninspired side dish we ordered that along with wine helped us between bites of salty meat. Before we ordered, we were given an iPad that allowed us to quickly discover a bottle in our price range and with characteristics we liked. I'm not sure that it was Wine List Pro, but I am sure that this tool will help consumers tremendously as it increases in popularity.  Rather than replace the sommelier, this ought to  compensate for the poor memories of some waiters.  Of course our wine choice had to be malbec, the originally French grape that is synonymous today with Argentine wine. I finally settled on a malbec/cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend.

After a fun first day in the city, I pronounced this tremendous asado a 9/10 (I actually was being cautious since this was the first day!).


  1. It is kind of crazy the time they eat in BA. I was in the Obelisk area when I traveled there. It is a shopping complex and underground pedestrian causeway (which you may have to pass through at some point on your trip anyway) that is itself worth a short trip. Paris, New York, London, and virtually every major city with a subway once had similar underground complexes
    There were always restaurants open near the Buenos Aires temporary rent I had bt they started dinner at 10 as you say!