Argentina – Buenos Aires
February 18, 2008
(February 11, 12, 13, and 14) If you want to enjoy European visual aesthetics at depressed US dollar-affordable prices, take your next “European” holiday in Buenos Aries. Imagine Paris built on one side of a 200-kilometer wide Seine. Not only did the city planners pattern this beautiful port after Paris, they did it one better. The leafy avenues are wide, some as wide as 24 lanes, with wide parks club-sandwiched between six-lane thoroughfares. Many are 16 lanes, and even some one-way streets are now six or eight lanes wide. The architecture is patterned after Paris as well, completing the aesthetics perfectly. And, during the past three to five year’s, some smart entrepreneurs have developed a once depressed waterfront into a chic area that competes quite successfully with London’s South Bank in architecture and
dining opportunities. On the far side of the waterfront, new high-rise hotels march into the distance.
The city still looks to Europe for inspiration, especially in food. In the last five years, since Argentina floated the peso and investment and employment have zoomed, neighborhoods have turned around. Trendy restaurants have sprung up everywhere. There seems to be at least one major construction project on every block in most areas.
Our first dinner was in one of the refurbished waterfront buildings at Chila on the recommendation of our concierge. This is one to write home about, and is not in any of the books we read in preparation for our trip. After the delicious amuse bouche, we both enjoyed an avocado soup – a combination of a tasty cream avocado base served just a tad cooler than room temperature with two grilled warm shrimp a tad above warm.
All the dishes we ate sparked pleased commentary and requests for sharing; the tastes punchy, the combinations creative and the service impeccable and friendly.
Gary’s main course of pork, which chef Soledad Nardelli braised in the oven for five hours, fell off the bone into its dark reduction sauce. “Dynamite,” he pronounced. Varian’s chicken stuffed with cheddar and capers was good but not great.
After chatting with the twenty-something but very experienced Soledad, who enumerated her many sources of inspiration, from Bocuse to Spain to three-star restaurants in France, we struck up a conversation with table neighbors Sharon and Emi who were also in awe of the food here. And, they are global-experienced real foodies with this trip traveling from their homes in Hawaii for the international food and wine fair to be held in Mendoza, Argentina, a few days later.
After this serendipitous delight, the next evening we went to Resto, expecting to be bowled over (after all, we had to book a week in advance according to the reviews) whose chef reportedly had spent time with both Ferran Adria and Michel Bras, seemingly, perhaps not in their kitchens.
The food was just OK, nothing flashy, nothing new; pretty basic. The tasting menu, which was a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts from the menu, did not pare the portions down to tasting-menu size but merely served them as if they were the only ones ordered. It turns out that our concierge at the Alvear books it if requested but does not recommend it.
One night in Buenos Aires has to be devoted to tango, so we ate, drank and watched it at Rojo Tango in the Philip Stark-designed Faena Hotel. The food wasn’t bad considering the venue, but it seemed a shame to waste a meal when the city offers so many opportunities. Recommendation, if your time is limited and you must see a tango show: go to this Rojo Tango but arrange to arrive at about 10:00 pm having dined at Chila five minutes away by taxi.
Our hotel, the Alvear Palace was spectacular even with its smallish bedrooms. We can’t remember being in a more beautiful belle epoch hotel ever. The dining rooms are gracious and the service throughout is over the top. That old world architecture and interior design is combined with state-of-art amenities. The gym, for instance, may rival some of East Asia’s finest.