World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Gustavo the Gaucho

Taking a break from eating and hiking in Argentina, I wanted to go horseback riding. I had been looking forward to this for much of the trip.  Since I was eight, I’ve imagined going to Argentina and seeing what the life of a gaucho was like.  It all started with Goofy in Disney’s 1940s animated show about Latin America called “Saludos Amigos.”

We were met at Casa Los Sauces by Gustavo, a man who truly looks like the horsey type in chaps, boots and the curious addition of an orange beret. We were taken by van to his house, rustic place with a newly-caught  hare hanging upside down outside, where we quietly signed a waiver. 

After hopscotching around his many dogs and small mounds of dung, we were put on seasoned, docile horses.  Here, we received a quick lesson on reign directions (I had rarely ridden since childhood) and then we were off.

We rode out to lake Argentino and our horses largely took over. They seemed quite in control; not wanting to exert themselves. We were accompanied by the pack of dogs from Gustavo’s yard. This motley canine crew was a pack of half-a-dozen muts including a greyhound mix, pointer mix and terrier mix. 

We rode for over an hour and a half and stopped near the beach for a light picnic of picados: ham, salami, cheese and bread and a couple cups of wine. Sitting down, Gustavo said in Spanish “now shall we eat like Anthony Bourdain?” 

We laughed and asked him if he liked “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. “Es mi Amigo!” replied Gustavo. We learned that that Gustavo had guided Bourdain on an episode of No Reservations on a five day horse trek of Argentina for the show. We asked what that was like.  He said it was a lot of fun and that Bourdain can really drink a lot. No surprise there!

We discussed horses, dogs, religion and a little politics.  We learned that despite growing up in Buenos Aires and studying psychology at university, Gustavo had decided to choose the life of a gaucho due to his love of horses. He now owns 150 horses and lives a happy life in tourism in Patagonia rather than herding cattle on the Pampas. Mother nature was his religion.The lifestyle keeps him busy; doing the things he loves.
We ate a bit more and drank a little wine and then saddled up for the ride home. The dogs, which had been napping away, during our lunch excitedly, began sniffing around for something to chase. Soon they were off on the scent of something that was moving quickly across the grass. The something was a Patagonian hare. The greyhound mix gave chase, but she was foiled by the hare’s sharp turns.  The pointer mix—just off to the side—swooped in and took down the big bunny.  Another dog named Azul retrieved the hare, bringing it to Gustavo. The brief and not so glamorous hunt was exciting: there was a moment of exhilaration when the dogs lost, but then ultimately caught the hare.

We took the hare and the pack of excited dogs back to the ramshackle house. We sat on a bench and looked at an old photo album and politely had a sip of the very bitter yerba mate, a green tea popular in Argentina.  Thanking Gustavo for an unforgettable day, I finally had my "gaucho experience;" however, temporal.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Azalina’s Malaysian and Off the Grid

I’ve been going to Food Trucks across San Francisco for about a year now. I had known good and mediocre food trucks in DC, but the game is more serious here. The range is astonishing. They are diverse with food from French to Filipino and with many fusion as well as traditional offerings; not to mention beer and cocktail vendors. Because of my frequent visits to Truck Stop SF near 1st and Market and Hayes Valley Proxy, I figured I wasn’t missing anything at Off the Grid. I was wrong.

I bumped into Azalina Eusope, the inspiring entrepreneur behind Azalina’s Malaysian.  I knew her packaged products well and [spoiler alert] we can’t wait to get her products into our subscription boxes soon. She asked me why I hadn’t been to visit her at Off the Grid.  I promised I would.

Off the Grid is a gathering of food trucks, organized in different venues around San Francisco.  The biggest of their venues is at Fort Mason Park.  Here, over 30 food trucks churn out food to hungry San Franciscans standing in line.  If there’s one thing people here know how to do, it’s standing in line. San Franciscans will wait and wait and wait for not just any food.  I think it’s a sign that people care about quality. When committed to the notion that there’s something good to be had, they just queue up without a concern and without fuss.

I was familiar with the delicious pork belly bao buns from the Chairman, chicken tikka masala burritos from Curry Up Now, roast pork tacos from Senor Sisig and others, but I was here for Malaysian food. (Fun fact: I was born in Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur). So I was relieved to find that there was momentarily no line at Azalina’s.  Deciding on what to eat was not hard: the Penang Chicken Curry bomb looked amazing.  This tasty, tangy combination of spicy chicken curry mixed with shredded chicken was on a fluffy onion bun.  Fresh cucumbers on top made it a perfect reminder of so many Malaysian flavor combinations I've learned to crave. We thanked Azalina and made our way around.

After some Trinidadian doubles (puri-like fried flat bread with chickpeas), Korean spicy pork tacos and Vietnamese garlic noodles, I still wanted more Malaysian. We went back to Azalina’s and had pumpkin fritters with peanut sauce. We were lucky, because we got the last ones. The crunchy fritters were matched by the slightly crunchy peanuts in this rich, dark sauce, which is a staple of Malaysian cuisine. We went home happy and full and I’m still dreaming of that curry bomb! I can't wait to go back for the banana fritters!

Off the grid will be in Fort Mason tonight.  We suggest going early, bringing friends to share things, dressing warmly, and not being intimidated by long lines.  Oh and do visit Azalina’s Malaysian!

Want a fun Malaysian recipe and the great story behind this food? Check out Azalina's interview:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Argentine Odyssey: Glacial Heights

At the Fancy Food Show in Washington, DC I found some great Argentina products to include in a specialty subscription box available in September to our subscribers.  Meanwhile, sit back and let me tell you more about this amazing country....

 We got up early one morning in El Calafate, Patagonia to the cold, dark morning and walked briskly to the clubhouse at Casa Los Sauces, for breakfast. On seeing the sumptuous breakfast buffet, I easily convinced myself that I needed to consume as many calories as possible to keep warm that morning. Stuffing my face with pastries and a local air-dried ham with a strong resemblance to prosciutto, I made a heroic effort.

 We took a bus and then a ferry into the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, an enormous national park that covers not just the Perito Moreno Glacier, but also several mountains, including Fitz Roy Massive and Mt. Torres. A few minutes to tie on some crampons, and we were trudging out over the glacier over packed snow that was about 2000 years old.  

The technique takes a little time to get used to, especially if like yours truly, you have exceptionally poor coordination. However, I managed not to twist an ankle and was pleased to find at the end of the hour-long walk that we were to stop for a drink. The guides declared that the ice was older than the whiskey.  Indeed!  Rather suitably the booze poured was Jameson. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it happened to be St. Patrick’s Day!

Another pleasant surprise was the lunch packed for us: our hotel prepared smoked salmon sandwiches with crème fraiche and thinly sliced cucumber. This was happily followed by desserts of caramel flan and fresh-baked alfajores (shortbread sandwiches, filled with dulce de leche caramel). Surely some of the most refined outdoorsy food, I’d enjoyed in some time.

After an afternoon watching the glacier break into the lake, we returned to El Calafate. Casa los Sauces didn’t let us down at dinner either: a trio of smoked Patagonian game (trout mouse and smoked venison with a wild berry chutney over a potato croquette), large lamb raviolis and grilled Patagonian trout followed.

The following morning, we took the bus to El Chalten to visit Lago des Torres where we had view of Mt. Fitz Roy and Mt. Torres.  

On our way back to El Calafate we stopped in a small café for pancakes with pears and cinnamon topped with fresh cream and a couple café con leches. 

Dinner in town was at Casimiro Bigua, on the main strip through town, where we ate delicious Patagonian lamb cooked on a vertical spit and lamb tripe, which was grilled and crispy and surprisingly tasty for not having been braised into oblivion with lemon juice on top. All washed down with a deep, rich malbec, of course.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More Mendoza and the food of Patagonia

Things have been super busy lately at Hungry Globetrotter getting ready for our big launch, but I wanted to share a couple delicious memories of Argentina... Enjoy!

Road up into the Andes

The following few days in Argentina were a whirlwind of excursions and travel.  After a high Andes tour where we went up to the Chilean border to view Mount Aconcagua, we stopped at a roadside eatery.  This modest restaurant had a surprising array of stews with potatoes and rice. The beef stew with malbec and the white beans in tomatoes and bacon were astonishingly good, wholesome and honest food.
Mount Aconcagua

 That evening we had one of our most enchanting restaurant experiences in Argentina.  We went to Siete Cocinas (Seven Kitchens), a contemporary restaurant where they are putting a modern spin on traditional ingredients from the seven different states of Argentina. The result is unique and creative food. We found a table near the window to the kitchen with it’s prominent clay oven. We ordered a bottle of bonarda off the restaurant's iPad app (in lieu of a printed wine list).  
Our meal began with firm veal sweetbreads on thin soft wafers, followed by pork sausage and black sausage that was earthy and mouth-watering was smeared on the fresh baked bread, which had come out earlier warm from the oven and perfect with the intense olive oil, cold-pressed from the local vineyards that produce the olives along side their grape vines.  My main course of rabbit cannnolini was nearly submerged in a striking green sauce and had a almost sweet crepe-like consistency around the slow-roasted rabbit meat

Dessert was simple and elegant fruit with mint and sorbet.  The chef very graciously allowed us to visit the kitchen and he discussed his philosophy of cooking, his background of Spanish and Italian family and experience working in Mexico, Australia and Spain.  To come back to Argentina and cook with local ingredients, but with different techniques and approaches learned overseas was clearly a source of pride for him.

From Mendoza we went to El Calafate in Patagonia for our first dinner at Casa Los Sauces, we ate at the Club House of our comfortable spa and hotel. The Club House was a casual grill featuring outstanding parilla or Argentine BBQ. I ordered a flank steak: a perfect 10 out of 10. The meat actually came out quite rare, but sent back and brought to medium, the meat achieved a perfect crust of salt-crusted caramelization and newly burnt charcoal edge. S had a lamb rib nearly the length of her arm. On either end were rich flavorful hunks of Patagonian mutton that kept juicy bits of fat that once trimmed away, left behind juicy, intense flavor that exemplified the essence of the meat: mountain grass and spring water-fed and free from the industrial apocalypse of modern agriculture.
Roast Patagonian lamb on the spit

The flank was rich and flavorful and exceedingly tender like you wouldn’t expect normally from a lean steak. This elevated ordinary meat to another level. You knew that you were eating an animal that wasn’t stressed out. Superb!

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