Chocolate and quite possibly Paradise, Found.

Chocolate 1

As regular readers of my blog will know, I spend a lot of time searching for things in BA, pretty much exclusively foodstuffs of course. Material possession wise I travel light. While some may crave the latest electronic gadget, clothing accessory or automotive experience, I ponder where to get proper bacon (Baines Best), a sausage acceptable at breakfast (Bratwurst Argentina), Norwegian Salmon (Pescaderia Mellino), smoked ribs to have on standby for a lazy feast (El Tejano), Biltong (Biltong in BA) or proper, strong flavoured cheese (I found both a spot-on English cheddar and a rocking, creamy gorgonzola at the food fair in Parque Las Heras on Saturday).

Until Sunday, Dia de La Patria, when any Argentine (including us recent immigrants) can expect the sun to come out and shed a little light into those obscure nooks that have been lacking it, I had not managed to find chocolate or indeed chocolates that ranked any higher than “acceptable”. And I hasten to add, this would not be an “acceptable” in the context of Geneva or Paris but an “acceptable” after 5 years of lowering my expectations and trying the over-sugared, adulterated, artificially flavoured rubbish, that has virtually led to my abandonment of chocolate eating but still admits to the occasional rush of faith on the back of the odd craving.

Hey, I’m not saying you can’t buy pretty chocolates here, you can. There are plenty of artists but they fall into the same trap as most of the molecular gastronomists. Technique over flavour, style over substance. They raise your expectations and then crush you with Cadbury-esque mediocrity. Think Milka with Malba on top.

chocolate 2

However, this sunny Day of the Revolution (I prefer to think of it this way as it was the Spanish that took the brunt not the Brits), I had the good luck to be invited to a celebratory Locrofest, 6 hours of eating, wine and music (but 6 hours of eating too – it was not sequential) and an opportunity to raise a goodly amount for charity (feeding underprivileged kids of course). It was organised by the Buena Morfa Social Club. For non-Lunfardo speakers, Morfar means to Eat or Comer here. And you have all heard of the Buena Vista Social Club, who doesn’t love their music?

Anyway, the members of the former are distinctly fatter than the members of the latter, but proud of it and only slightly less likely to break into song. The hardcore founders are more obsessionally foodie than I, and not above putting in several days of hard work (while cleverly extracting prime ingredients and beverages from every supplier they know) in order to provide a feast for the 55 people that congregated (not including the waiting list), knowing their bellies would be full, as would those of the kids we eventually raised 20,000 pesos for (did I mention it was 6 hours of serious eating, there is a reason that their logo included the Argentine flag, crossed forks and the head of a pig). If you need to know something about eating here or acquiring ingredients I suggest that you subscribe to their Facebook page immediately.

So finally we got to the “mesa de dulces”. A table of desserts showing off the talents of the various members of this hard eating group. And to be fair a delicious spread. But much was made of Diego, which was perfectly reasonable as he had organised the space in the building which made the whole event possible, and his handmade chocolates.

I’d just grabbed a coffee to stimulate my cardiovascular system against extreme, food-excess induced fatigue.

“Would you like me to get you some chocolates?” said the delightful young lady beside me. Well it seemed rude not to after the speech thanking him for being one of the major facilitators of the event. But my expectations were not high! Actually I felt a little depressed. Why? Because I wanted to like this guy, admire him, he’d made a phenomenal effort. It made me uncomfortable to think I was going to have another of those “he’s not even the runner up” moments. She came back with a selection, further adding to my anxiety.

chocolate 3

Until I tasted the first of course and was then un-remorseful that she might have nabbed more than our fair share. Let them eat cake! Or one of the other 20 delicious desserts. I’ve been living in the chocolate purgatory of the vaguely acceptable.

So Diego Armanini Chocolatier (https://www.facebook.com/diego.chocolatier?fref=ts), for my money the best in BA. Fresh taste, fresh high quality ingredients, no cloying aftertaste. Pretty enough to serve to a honeymoon bride, basic enough to satisfy a foodie. He doesn’t have a shop but you can visit him in Palermo Hollywood. He doesn’t seem to have any competition so maybe you should finance his shop! Or a small factory making this stuff? I don’t know the prices yet, but the odd good chocolate is priceless.

Disclosure: I haven’t been paid or in anyway bribed for this review, but hey, Diego, if your Facebook likes suddenly increase and lots of people with a poor grasp of Castellano but a craving for sophisticated sweetness turn up at your door, well, send me round a choccie or two!

Oh, by the way he’s a nice guy and a genuine enthusiast.

 

If You Know Where to Look 2 – Ethnic food

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If there is one thing London can provide, it is a panoply of asian and oriental food. New York even more so. Buenos Aires, not at all so some would have you believe. Can this really be true? Of course this may be largely irrelevant to the beef munching tourist. And there are other ways to take a break from the caveman diet. Good Italian (my favourite is Marcelo), Spanish (Tancat), Pizza (Siamo Nel Forno), Armenian (Sarkis) Syrian/ Lebanese (Club Sirio – and the building is spectacular) or more problematically Fish (Damblee or Crizia, both have oyster bars). Further, there are all sorts of traditional “Bodegons” serving the local dishes, such as suckling pig, lentils, puchero or locro. So no, as a tourist here for a few weeks, you won’t have time to get bored.

But what do you do if you live here and have only spent 2 weeks outside the country in the last 4 years (trust me Chile and Uruguay don’t count when we are talking food variety – Peru of course does, but I haven’t made it there yet)? And if you were bought up by  a family with Indian roots (albeit rather colonialist ones) and ate papadums from the age of 6 months sitting on the counter of the local curry restaurant? It is certain that at some point you are going to seriously miss the lack of spice.

Well, first option is Peruvian or Nikkei, the Peruvian Japanese crossbreed. And for that you get yourself down to Osaka or Sipan where you will eat international quality food. What you won’t get is much picante though. For that you have to go to one of the barrio restaurants around Almagro and explain that you are not Argentine and therefore will not die if they put chilli in the ceviche (while we used to go to Mochica, it appears Elvis – the prior owner – has left the house! The last visit was disappointing , you are just going to have to do your own hit and miss research).

You can also go for Korean. However this involves persuading a taxi driver to take you down to Korea town in Bajo Flores, a rather dangerous part of the city (actually we drove and found that the streets were being patrolled by an admirable amount of policeman, so after dinner we still had a vehicle to drive back in – of course this may say something about the quality of La Doctora’s car). There is no doubt this is the real Korean deal. 200 Koreans can’t be wrong! We were the only non-Korean faces in the incredibly crowded place which drew some attention. But once you played with a few babies and chatted with the locals on the heavily armoured smoking terrace, they turn out to be a friendly bunch. And for a very reasonable fixed price they will bring you as much of any dish as you fancy, be it the cheaper meats or soups or the more expensive oysters and prawns. The only drawbacks are that you have to cook it yourself on your tabletop BBQ, and swear on your European passport that you are not Argentine – so please bring the bloody chilli sauce.

But as a Brit, Peru and Korea never really crossed my gastronomic sightline. What I miss is a Ruby (for those who don’t speak the Queen’s cockney rhyming slang, Ruby Murray was a jazz singer and her surname nearly rhymes with Curry, which is why a Londoner goes for a Ruby). There is only one place, Tandoor, which is genuinely good. Luckily it’s round the corner from The 5th Floor but I still feel we have an inadequate curry supply in Capital. What to do?

Asian is the same. Green Bamboo nearly gets it right but while the cocktails are great the food is adapted to the Argentine palate, as in dulled down. Cocina Sunae (a puerta cerrada), seems to have taken the other tack, starting small and educating it’s customers about the food. Much better and the only place we go regularly to eat east asian food.

But things are changing here. Argentines are beginning to crave more than meat, salt and smoke. My bet is in the next ten years gastronomy is going to take off. Their wines are evolving fast, their food tastes are sure to catch up. My plan is to be involved in the next developments and try and de-risk the start-up of some cutting edge new restaurants, be they bacon and sausage sandwich joints, noodle bars, or full on Vietnamese cuisine. Damn, the Mexican food here is so awful that my Mexican Architect can’t recommend anything. And where can you buy decent chocolate? We need to deal with these things as well!

So obviously I was a venture capitalist during the internet era. I “incubated” a load of companies (in partnership with multinationals like Sun Microsystens and Fujitsu), that provided fantastic services that people didn’t know they needed. The incubation part of the plan was brilliant. The failure was that no one actually needed most of the stuff we incubated. My shame is that my voice integrated software for surfing the net, is now forming the base of a lot of the voice responsive interfaces when you ring your bank. And the f@&King thing still doesn’t even recognise my voice!

But here I have a genuine reason to incubate businesses. While I only have to produce breakfast for 14 people, my kitchen is prepared for 50. Why? Because there are a lot of people out there that know how to cook something different, but don’t have the facilities or the experience to do it. The incubation process was meant to be about taking someone with a great concept, facilitating the delivery and adding any business skills they didn’t have. I think I can do that!

So I put it out on the internet. “Who wants to collaborate? Who wants to take advantage of my facilities? Who wants to make participate in a culinary adventure? I got various replies. A guy from Vietnam, a woman from Pakistan, a German lady who is fascinated by traditional South American cuisine and refines chocolate to 90% purity (another of the apparently undiscoverables here) and who as you might have guessed, is now working with us at The 5th Floor. A friend who does Vegetarian, Vegan and Raw food thinks she might like to do something (and while I’m prejudiced against that stuff, her food is strangely pretty delicious).

Of course, the hardest part of being a Venture Capitalist was the endless hours spent listening politely to enthusiastic entrepreneurs with hopeless business plans containing endless zeros after the £ sign. But here we are talking about food. The worst that I will have to do is spend endless hours eating and if the food is bad I can simply up my wine consumption speed, to ensure that the presentation is at least tolerable.

So I am proud to announce that we have just completed our second round of due diligence / eating a lot, with Thomas the chap from Vietnam, and the investment committee (we will still have to invest time, facilities and marketing skills) has approved moving on to the next stage in the incubation process…namely organising some trial dinners. “Thomas at The 5th Floor”, will shortly be bringing authentic Vietnamese and Thai food to the heart of Alto Palermo!

As always I travel with my lawyer “por las dudas”, as they say here. And La Doctora is establishing a healthy sideline skill in ipad food photography. Unfortunately, at the first tasting her enthusiasm for a bit of spice (while she is Argy, she lived 7 years in Peru where they do know their chilies) somewhat got the better of her and she wolfed down the salmon in coconut curry soup and the chicken satays, before remembering we were serious professionals who needed photographic evidence of our travails. All was not lost though, we salvaged a few shots and this time she behaved like the consummate professional, snapping hastily away before consuming the evidence. So a few shots of dishes that may appear at “Thomas at the 5th Floor”.

A fresh mango prawn salad, sharp, sweet and citric with the saltiness of fish sauce:

imageSeared, marinated beef (calm down my little Argy friends, that’s my portion. We can cook yours until it will be impossible to know there is blood inside a cow), served with sticky rice and a darkly soya/sesame oil/spring onion and spice dipping sauce and a cold lemon grass tea to accompany:

imageFresh summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce:

imageNote fresh pickled chilli and homemade sriracha sauce in the middle:

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Vietnamese spring rolls that you wrap in lettuce with mint and coriander then dip:

imageA delightful chicken broth with wontons and 5 spice pork:

imageA dessert of steamed plantains, tapioca and roasted peanuts:

imageSo by all accounts, another hard day suffered by la Doctora and myself in order to bring a little more diversity to the lives of my Buenos Aires friends and my future guests. And while the latter may not imagine coming to Baires to eat Vietnamese food, by day three they may feel a sudden urge for a meat or pasta free experience. And of course they will get the chance to meet and mingle with all the great people that I know who live here, rather than just speaking to a waiter in a restaurant. So everyone’s a winner, especially me and La Doctora who will have prime asian food, fresh out of our kitchen with little effort other than hosting a great party, once a week!!

Works for me.