Tuna Sashimi Recipe!

Fresh Tuna Sashimi. Not an easy thing to find in BA. And after several years of not finding it you have to make a choice. Either stop moaning or do something about it. So I did. Turns out it’s pretty easy if you put your mind to it. Here is how to make it perfectly.

Simply rent one of these, somewhere like this.

Fish1Make sure you are well hydrated for the ensuing battle.

Fish2

Choose a lurid, psychedelic squid lure that you know tuna will just love!

Fish3

Now its time to put in the hard work. Actual fishing (and reeling) and yes these things are heavier than they look! Scoop out a few.

FishYou don’t get fresher than that!

Fish5Of course you need to make sure your lawyer (La Doctora) documents the whole thing so no one can accuse you of cheating.

Fish6

And then you just cut it up.
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Of course you need a highly trained, elegantly dressed, traditional japanese waiter with a barrel of sake.

Fish8And once you’ve drunk that, a little siesta might be in order. After all that was a lot of hard work!

Fish9Who’s making the Old Fashioneds when I awake?

Another Hard Day’s Work.

Although officially it is still winter, by 8.30 it was already warm enough to enjoy a little coffee on the terrace while preparing myself mentally to cook breakfast for all 4 guests. Oranges to be squeezed, fruit salad to prepare, bakery to visit, eggs and bacon cooked to order. Of course, I only needed to do the cooked stuff (and not even that if I felt lazy) as Daniela had already dealt expertly with the rest.

Breakfast over and the sun was shining brightly, 26 degrees expected. I spent a bit of time helping my clients decipher the schedule for the Tango Festival in La Boca and explaining where else to go there (The Quinquela Martin museum) and more importantly where not to bother with (Caminito). I got rather enthused by the tango festival, a two week affair based around the world championship. Not so much the dancing, though I fancied seeing an hour or so of that but more the modern fusion concerts. I thought I had better go. After all if I can’t get excited about BA’s cultural offerings, how can I enthuse my clients? And this one offers so much choice.

So I spent a couple of hours knocking out a few emails and reading a book in the sun, before hopping in the car with La Doctora and racing through strangely blockage free streets down to La Boca to the very beautiful new Usina del Arte, a converted “Tate Modern style” power station that houses a couple of remarkable concert halls and lots of art space. I parked right outside and happily left the car on the street due to the enhanced police presence during the festival. Parking is free down there of course. We watched some of the qualifiers for the stage tango and then picked up (free) tickets to see Pampa Trash, one of the new Garage Tango bands from zona sur, as the southern outskirts of BA are known. Some of the most exciting music I have heard in a long time, brilliantly accomplished musicians, fusing tango with acid jazz, folk, be bop and rock. Difficult to describe accurately, but worth looking up on http://www.pampatrash.com.ar.

Then we wandered over for a bite to eat at El Obrero, an old fashioned bodegón. Calamaris and a generous glass of wine each. Followed by a bit more dance, another band to see, and then home in equally un-hassled fashion. A great day out at a cost of less than 10 of those Great British pounds I vaguely remember, for the both of us, including shows, petrol, lunch and cigarettes!

On the way back from the garage I picked up the shopping from our favourite fruit man, so tomorrow’s breakfast needs are accounted for. Sadly the guests are getting more strawberries as they are so good at the moment and we only serve the best, but I will throw some delicious sausages that my German friends make for me, into the breakfast mix . Now I am looking forward to my guests returning to help them plan their evening. They are keen on Jazz clubs and we have several close by but they know little about all the new and hidden cocktail bars that have been springing up recently. If I make them sound sufficiently mysterious and difficult to access, perhaps they might decide they need a native guide and of course I will be happy to oblige with a detailed tour. Any excuse!

How do I deal with the stress you ask me? What is it like to be at the hard edge of a fledgeling hospitality empire? Well sometimes I feel vaguely guilty about not having a nine to five job where I am expected to work nine till nine. There is a little echo from my conditioning about the importance of a career, about getting ahead, about making something of myself. Then I remind myself I was never really anything other than a remarkably good “communicator” (define as you will), who managed to convince many expert individuals of his own expertise, in fields that he had no qualifications in. Really that left me with few options. I could either head up a global bank or multinational company or run a little B&B in Buenos Aires. And the problem with the former is that you don’t get left with much time in the day to have fun.

Of course there is always the issue of money. Compared to my former self I have ridiculously little. But then I spend ridiculously little, doing so much more than I ever used to in London. And I have time to do it all, with plenty to spare, which if I wasn’t such a lazy bugger I would be dedicating to writing my third novel (still struggling to write the ending for my first), honing my body at the gym (I’ve lost 2 stone just because I walk around more, but got bored of the gym after 2 weeks) and learning to sing the blues (still at the training phase, 30 years of whiskey and cigarettes accomplished and the Blues School is only two blocks away). There is little I would really like to do that I can’t afford, though that may be explained by the fact that I am a peasant at heart and have also already had the opportunity to try many of the things we are meant to aspire to. My number one priority is eating well and while I like restaurants I couldn’t imagine eating in one every night. Here I have had the time to go to Chef’s school but more importantly have the time to produce increasingly more complex dishes from scratch (in my amazingly equipped kitchen), with ingredients from small local providers, that are turning out better every time. Food wise I’ve got it licked so its lucky I walk around a lot. And hell, it may even turn into a money making adjunct to my business one day if I decide to pull my finger out.

Maybe I’m too hard on myself? Maybe I’m not as lazy as I think? After all, my overriding responsibility is to make sure that my guests have a wonderful time in this city. Each time I go out to a new bar, restaurant, art space or venue, I am going out with purpose. Their experience will to some extent be conditioned by my recommendations. So my responsibility is to know what’s hot and what’s not, across the cultural spectrum. In fact it’s becoming clear to me that I am nearly always working, trying to discover a new cocktail, a peruvian fusion dish, a wine, a band, an artist or an interesting new social group that may seriously enhance the experience for my clients. Christ, I’m working a 16 hour day for less than a McDonalds employee. Shocking, what a sacrifice. I better program in a little siesta for tomorrow. After all, I don’t want to burn out. That might be macho for a banker but not for the owner of a B&B. Wake me up in time to cook dinner please.

Winter Sun and Kumquat Chutney

chutney1

Mid winter in BA and now it’s really cold, down to 2 degrees this morning. However, I’m lucky enough to own my own microclimate, my ample Andalusian terrace where if the sun is shining you have to strip off your jumper by midday regardless of the surrounding chill. And the sun has shone consistently for the last few days with a kind of alpine glory and while this has been deceiving and has led to me venturing out on the street seriously underdressed on occasions, I am still getting in a few pleasant hours of work a day basking in its rays. That is if you consider lounging with a coffee, book and cigarette to be work, which as an aspiring writer I obviously do.

I share my terrace with my plants and other than those that are simply designed to give shade and privacy during the summer, all the rest are useful by which I mean edible. Lemons, limes and kumquats, lots of herbs and a wide array of chilli plants which I nurtured from seed and which I am hoping will find conditions here conducive enough to become perennial. I have faith as even in the depths of winter the Thai ones are still producing a fresh crop every two weeks.

Given that all these plants are in their first season and some of the larger ones suffered from my amateur attempts at transplantation, I had low expectations for the yields especially from the trees. The lemons failed, producing lots of pretty flowers that didn’t set. The lime did better, though the fruit was not your UK supermarket lime. It turned out less acidic, incredibly fragrant, more orangey…nice to cook with and I have preserved the rest in a salt brine (and just fried some up with some red mullet fillets (Trilla for my Argentine friends).

The Kumquats however have gone ballistic, weighing down their spindly trunked tree with kilos of fruit. Unlike chillies they all ripen together. And while La Doctora has eaten one tree’s worth that leaves the problem of what to do with the other? I’m not the kind of guy to let them rot on the vine!

Neither do I see myself as your Martha Stewart jam-making kind of person. You read about this stuff and it all seems complicated and precise and requires buying expensive jars that cost more than the jam and there is risk of mould and bacteria and unforeseen poisoning of guests etc. I’m not yet convinced. But maybe chutney? Yes, chutney is something I miss here. Sweet, sour spicy flavours to go with cheeses or cold meats. Not part of the national food dictionary. Impossible to buy. Complicated to make?

It turns out that there is nothing simpler and that possibly there is nothing more delicious than kumquats to make it with (obviously my home grown are superior to any you can buy!). My method of cooking something new is to read 10 recipes on the internet, forget about them for an hour and then go shopping with an idea of the end flavour in mind and an eye out for what looks tasty in the greengrocer. I made an Indian spiced chutney, but you could easily go more herbal (rosemary would work in large amounts) or more christmas pudding (cinnamon, cloves, brandy?). Anyway, as much as anything as an aide memoire for myself I will give you my newly invented recipe, which according to La Doctora couldn’t have been better.

For about half a kilo of kumquats (quinotos here):

Bung 2 finely chopped red onions in your saucepan with a big thumb of finely cooked ginger and cook gently in olive oil. Then add chillis of your choice, the big green jalapenos giving a grassier flavour and some little red bird’s eye for a bit of underlying heat.

After a few minutes add mustard seeds, ground cumin, black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, (about half to a teaspoon of each) and then a teaspoon of cinnamon. Integrate, taste!! And if that seems like the base taste (given that it will become much milder by the end of the process) then add your kumquats. I only halved them as you are going to cook them hard so it’s nice to preserve a bit of shape and colour even though they will end up very soft. Then add a hundred or two grams of raisins.

Once the kumquats have softened a bit and given out their juices add two or three big spoons of sugar and at least half a cup of vinegar ( I used cheap apple vinegar and a dash of sweet chinese). Cook (slow or hard depending on how much stirring you want to do) until everything is nice and soft but the kumquats still retain texture and the liquid has evaporated. Cool, leave a day and eat!

chutney2

If this doesn’t go with a good ripe goats cheese I don’t know what does! And as every verduleria is currently selling quinotos in small sacks and they are cheap as chips you have no excuse.

Let’s join the Martha Stewart jam making set. After all she’s out of prison now. We wont need domestic goddess tats!

Solid Choices

 

olaya1

The 5th Floor is quiet at the moment but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. The rational for staying at a more intimate establishment such as our own is not just the familial atmosphere but also the access to local knowledge and the planning ability of your hosts. Of course The Faena offers you an Experience Manager and most other hotels a Concierge. Undoubtedly she (at least at the former it normally is a she) will be considerably younger and decidedly prettier than myself but does she spend her spare time trawling through auction catalogues to judge the quality of the respective houses’ pre-sale exhibitions or journeying off to the new spaces and events that the Ministry of Culture has just inaugurated? I doubt it, she is probably saving herself for a good evening’s clubbing.

Does she pore over restaurant reviews, agonising about lack of consistency or a sudden change of chef? Unlikely. She probably doesn’t have the money to eat out often nor the international experience to make her recommendations relevant. If you want to pop a few pills and dance till sun-up, a Faena experience manager may be for you. She will know the Buenos Aires club scene far better than myself. If you are looking for solid food choices to fortify you for your daily cultural program, maybe not.

However providing our “Super-Concierge” service is hard graft. We can’t rely on third-party reviews and pretty photos to enhance our list of recommended restaurants. We have to get out there, literally get our snouts in the trough, ignore the perils of piling on the pounds. After all our credibility is at stake! And sometimes it is disheartening. The BA food scene is developing incredibly quickly, but is still too frequently hit and miss. Sometimes I become despondent, lock myself in the kitchen and just cook what I know I like, for maybe a week. However, having had a few good experiences recently after integrating with a voracious group of foodies on Facebook, we were once again inspired and have put in some Serious Eating, obviously “on behalf of our future clients”, sampling the (relatively) new and venturing out to check quality at a couple of the more established.

CEVICHEDoes Buenos Aires really need another Peruvian fusion restaurant? They seem to be popping up like moles on a croquet lawn. We took advantage of the fixed-menu offer during Buenos Aires Food Week to try Olaya, one of the most recent, and then returned last week to confirm initial impressions (yes we are conscientious). It seems the answer is yes, if the restaurant in question leans firmly towards its Peruvian roots. The BAFW menu was plainly Peru. We couldn’t not try the classic Ceviche with its attendant Leche de Tigre. It was probably the best I’ve had in BA. Fresh and zingy, unusually spicy for here, delicious leche, and very ample. Having been offered an amuse bouche of 3 tasty and well made Nigris we could have (should have) moved straight onto dessert (also good) but we didn’t. We deviated by way of an unnecessary and not very interesting main course. La Doctora, who spent seven years in Lima, said it was authentic. That didn’t mean I wanted to eat it.

Tiradito

But the ceviche ensured I wanted to return and so I did. I won’t bore you with the details of each dish, the moral of the story is just stick with the generously proportioned starters, sushi, ceviches and tiraditos. We tried four which were all delicious, washed down with good pisco sours (the Peruvian pisco, not the Chilean impostor) and again one much duller main course (which was by then unnecessary). These guys definitely excel at the fiddly stuff, the quirky blends of textures and flavours, the amplification of the freshness of high quality fish. If I want a stir fry I’ll lock myself back in the kitchen and do it myself but you won’t find me imitating the complexities of the plate below. After all, there is a point to going out.

TACUNIGIRI

Other than that, the place has onda, light and airy, you can see the chefs working and the service is great. Although not the bargain option, I’ll be going back. And by the way, this is an efficient market. Chira opened at the about the same time as Olaya, serving Peruvian Fusion in a too-cool looking locale, with a too expensive menu and the feeling you would be face checked on the door. A five minute walk from Olaya, we never went in. It didn’t look welcoming. Or fun. It appears to have already gone belly up. Another expensive RIP in BA’s restaurant scene.

(By way of an aside, if you’ve noticed that my food photography has dramatically improved i’ll let you into my new strategy. If you like the place and are going to write about it nicely, just ask them to send you their pro photos over. It saves all the fiddling around and looking like a bloody train spotter. You are probably an eater not an artist. Stick to what you know you can do well! Of course if you don’t like the place and are going to write nasty things, it’s obligatory to use your turn of the century blackberry to ensure the food images come out even grimier than your review.)

Also relatively new though with enough history to have overcome any teething problems, is Fukuro Noodle Bar, an altogether braver proposition. Genuine homemade Ramen noodle soup that you eat sitting at a bar. Possibly the smallest menu in the world, 5 items including pudding and not a table in sight. Do they really think this is going to work in BA? They insist it will and it appears they are right though it took me several cups of their very acceptable warm sake to get over the shock. I think it works. Both the dumplings and the steamed buns (the sum total of the starters on offer) are excellent. The sort of thing you could eat all day, given an endless supply of sake. The two soups (porky or veggie) high quality and brightly flavoured, the former possibly lacking a bit of gelatinous depth (I had the suspicion it was a tad too healthy tasting). Good noodles and add-ins. Not designed for a romantic night out but for a more rapid meal, definitely a solid and more unusual choice. And they do have hot sauce to liven up the broth.

The two restaurants above fall into the category of stuff I like to eat but don’t know how to make. I can’t see myself mucking around with the technicalities of sushi, the preparation of the myriad of ingredients that need to be ready and added in precise quantities to add to the flavour blend or indeed being confident in accessing the best quality of fresh fish. And while I suspect I could make a more than acceptable porky soup (maybe I’ll take my own next time, strong deep and gelatinous, and pay corkage?), I have no desire to dedicate myself to the intricacies of noodle making.

The next two fall into the category of stuff I like to eat that is time consuming enough and susceptible enough to the chef’s personal touch that I thoroughly appreciate someone else making it (and sourcing the ingredients) and gladly pay for the convenience of being presented with a menu on which there are lots of things that appeal which I can eat immediately.

Social Paraiso, from outside looks like the kind of restaurant I would set up if I ever decided to take the plunge. Smart enough to know you are in a restaurant, unpretentious enough to feel relaxed and not worry about how you are dressed. One assumes, correctly, that this is about food and not fanfare. Its menu seems to rotate with adequate frequency and seasonality and always has a variety of options I want to try. And this I knew just from walking past. Until a few of days ago I had never been in, for some reason whenever it occurred to me to go I could never remember where it was, got distracted, remembered somewhere else I wanted to experience and filed it into the “another day” category. So I’m glad I finally went.

It’s a restaurant that I don’t want to damn by faint praise. It’s solid, not flashy. The dishes taste pretty much as you hope they will. There’s a decent amount of variety on offer for such a small place. I enjoyed everything I had. While it doesn’t concern itself (and rightly so) with cutting edge techniques, it ensures the right variety of flavours on your plate. Top quality bistro food sums it up. And at Bistro prices, the bill was less pretentious than the place and the wine list a study in being reasonable and offering variety and value. I could cook some of their dishes better than them, some of them worse. It’s probably the restaurant I would end up having if I dared. A proper bistro, reasonably priced. There aren’t many competing for this title in BA so the owners should be proud. I’ll be going back.

Cafe San Juan. Finally, I have to admit it. Despite the fact that we live in politically correct, socially aware, anything goes times, I’m prejudiced. I’m eager to dislike television star, skater-boy, heavily tattooed chefs, who have risen to glory on the strength of their success in one minuscule restaurant where mummy and daddy run the front of house and back office. The “we’re a big family, cuddling spiky haired staff saved from a life a drug addiction” publicity back story, leaves me a bit cold. Plus seen from outside, the restaurant is tiny, packed, and they can’t employ a fat waitress as she wouldn’t fit between the tables. I have long skinny legs and I could hardly squeeze to the bathroom. And it didn’t look cheap! Which is probably why, though I’ve known about it for years, I never bothered going. I knew it would disappoint.

May I publicly apologise to said Chef, Leandro Cristóbal for my narrow minded discriminatory assumptions. If he would accept it, I would happily bestow on him the first winner of “The 5th Floor Ugly Food” restaurant awards. The few that follow my blog understand that Ugly Food is a good thing. The triumph of flavour over presentation; Food you eat with your nose first, not your eyes; Peasant sensibilities over bourgeois bling; Simmer in a casserole over boil in a (sous vide) bag; Don’t be afraid of a brown sauce, flavour is often brown! Those that don’t follow my blog may now have some idea of my kind of food.

So finally I went. Already in ebullient mood from a visit to the recently restored and seriously enhanced Quinquela Martin museum in La Boca (possibly the best collection of figurative Argentine paintings in the city), I was ready to try another classic. First myth to dismiss. San Juan isn’t expensive. You have to divide the prices in half because all the dishes are large enough for two. Second, the “too cool for school” staff are actually very pleasant and efficient (given the place is packed on a Sunday lunchtime), interested and knowledgeable and prevented us making the fatal error of ordering two main courses. My only criticism is that if they had stopped us ordering two starters we could have made it to dessert! And the wine list includes 5 of my favourite lunchtime tipple, Pinot Noir, ranging from reasonable to pricey.

cafesanjuan1

There is a selection of Montaditos, tapas mounted on toasty bread. Given the quality of the bread basket and the sheer size of these tapas I felt more bread was unnecessary. However, the couple next to us, looking for a quick bite, shared one tortilla española with big, thick slices of marinated escabeche style aubergine on top (see pic above) and left happy. And for 45 pesos they should have been! We mistakenly had the same, La Doctora’s order, probably fine if you are sticking to the tapas proposition but it didn’t really fit my theory. And I felt the escabeche dominated the omelette and while that might have been smoothed out by the toasty bread I didn’t want to eat more of the bread. But did I mention the excellent bread basket and quality olives arrive FOR NO COVER CHARGE (very unusual in BA), and anyway I had ordered two dishes that I cook a lot myself so wanted to compare.

Rabo de Toro (oxtail, pic above), followed by rabbit. Two dishes that are easy to get right if you pay a lot of attention and even easier to get wrong. In the first the sauce can come out weedy or greasy, or stick and burn. In the second there is always the balance between extracting flavour and tenderness while tee-toeing round the risk of drying out the bunny. Both were perfect, though very different from my own, natural sauces rather than wine enhanced.

cafesanjuan2

The rabo came au natural, but was at least half a tail. Accompanied by oil-dipped and toasted olive bread (yes I told you you should previously avoid the bread based tapas). Frankly, by itself, the lunch of kings! A generous amount of sauce that could have exhausted your bread basket. At 90 pesos a “light” lunch for two. The rabbit was spot on. Plenty of lovely sauce flavoured with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, crunchy triangles of polenta with ham and herbs (and texture). We made a supreme effort, swigged valiantly at a very tasty (Alberto Roca?) Pinot Noir, and finished it all. But then we were stuffed which was a pity, as the desserts going past looked tempting and ample but we couldn’t stretch further.

We wandered down to Coffee Town in the San Telmo covered market for caffeine recovery.

coffeetown

I have to say it makes me happy to come across a celebrity chef who isn’t a fraud. It seems he promotes the same stuff he cooks. Big flavours that won’t bore you. Presentation wise, well it looks like a nice bowl of food, nothing wrong with that. So while Social Paraiso is damn solid and much more convenient finally the two are equally priced. As long as La Doctora promises to stay sober and drive the car (pobrecita) I’ll be going to San Juan but if she wants a couple of cocktails, I have no problem with SP.

Looks like I’m spoiled for choice now, something I couldn’t have said a few years ago. And as both work out around USD 50 for two, including wine, I only need a few more clients to ensure my happy lifestyle.

Cheers and keeping coming chaps, you get the super-concierge service and I remain well fed and content!

Olaya, Humboldt 1550, Palermo Hollywood, 4843 1751

Fukuro Noodle Bar, Costa Rica 5514, Palermo Hollywood, 15 3290 0912

Social Paraiso,  Honduras 5182, Palermo Soho, 4831 4556

Cafe San Juan, Av San Juan 450, San Telmo, 4300 1112

 

Tarquino. The best restaurant in Buenos Aires?

Last Tuesday was my birthday. I decided to splash out. A nice meal for 2 at what I had been assured was the best restaurant in Buenos Aires. This of course made me very nervous. Not about the money you understand. No, about the potential for disappointment. If you follow my blog you will be aware that my dalliance with “top end” cuisine in BA has hardly been a resounding success and given the self perceived anonymity of my early blogging I didn’t hold back with castigations. Now I am a little more involved in the food scene and a little more public and a lot more determined to remain in this fair city, I wonder whether I could go back to say Paraje Arevalo (they might just have had a bad night) or Hernan Gippioni (it could of been a one-off aberration to try and deconstruct a Favaba Asturiana), without them deciding to poison the weasel Englishman?

My nerves were further compounded by the fact that I have recently become the only English integrant of a group of fine fellows ( the Buena Morfa Social Club) who appear to dedicate an unusual amount of time to thinking about what they are next going to eat, eating it, and then reviewing it in some detail or to be honest in fanatic detail or occasionally irritating detail if you have forgotten to turn off Facebook notifications to your mobile phone. But through this group I have already discovered someone who really does provide French country cooking, another who makes world class chocolates and another who makes Osso Bucco empanadas. Not bad for a few weeks membership.

The problem with this group though is it comprises not only foodie enthusiasts but also a lot of chefs, caterers, ingredient and wine providers and restaurant owners. And judging from one owner’s feedback when a number of integrants criticised his reasonably famous steak restaurant, a little negativity could lead to a full blown drama. Albeit, to give the owner his due, the comments were taken very seriously and his staff were clearly called to account on that particular matter.

So this BMSC had unequivocally recommended Tarquino and guess what, head chef Dante Liporace is an active member of the group. Plenty of room for my little birthday dinner to lead to offence then! When I posted on their Facebook site that I was going the Chef liked my comment. Obviously he had never read my blog! It worked out well though as the Buenamorfenses get a special deal but only for very few of them per night. They were already over their quota but as it was my birthday Tarquino kindly extended the same terms to La Doctora and I. And what a deal it was! I didn’t spend a third of the cash I had stuffed my pockets with, determined not to deprive myself of anything on my birthday night. Which is excellent because it means I can use the residual to go back again, which I assuredly will.

So why do I worry about going to smart places here? Because gastronomy generally reminds me of London 20 years ago, where you ate pretty badly in most places, most of the time. Worse however is the fact that the chefs are frighteningly technically competent. Amazing presentation, spheres and foams, orbs and gels, sous vide and flash chilled…but half of them have never spent enough time eating in decent restaurants to understand that the more complicated the technique, the more you have to ramp up the flavour.

Well this Dante guy actually does. He genuinely understands flavours. His dishes leave you with an aftertaste in the same way a good wine should. And to be fair, while he uses a fair amount of molecular gastronomy techniques, a lot of what he ends up serving could be described as modernised classical. And we didn’t have one dish that could have been described as bland.

Neither did he make the common mistake here, of serving us a sub standard offering because we were paying a sub normal price. In fact I was surprised by the generosity of the portions and the unexpected fact that a very decent cabernet was included in the price.

I didn’t take a camera because I don’t care how food looks. I for one don’t eat with my eyes. Nothing is more misleading in the world of molecular gastronomy or perhaps anything to do with food, than photos. It was all pretty enough though, one desert verging on spectacular, presentation wise. More importantly, the flavours were clear and subtly amplified.

Our menu had 2 choices per course which made life easy. We had one of each. I still can’t tell you which I preferred but they were big enough to share without remorse.

Playful, is a new foodie word that can mean anything from the chef is a moron who should have been a conceptual artist of the type that you have to read an essay to understand each work, to he scattered a few petals over the top and called it “Spring”. Dante is playful in his starters although we were already predisposed to like him due to a fine bread basket served with an intense garlic puree dip. He deconstructed a classic cheesy porteño pizza and served it in a glass as a warm foamy mouse. It worked, much better than the original. The other starter was a “playful” take on Duck a l’orange. Tender and well seasoned (though surely sous vide) duck, a totally classic and not too sweet sauce, and a playful orange budin (sponge cake) served as a semi kind of foam. Damn good.

Main course wise we had beef cheek and Surubi, a meaty river fish. Both excellent. Well sauced, well accompanied. Proper flavours.

And then a twist on traditional argentine puddings for dessert. My only criticism of the meal, my orangey spheres were not as intense as the olive spheres served previously with the bread and therefore a bit pointless.

Obviously it was my birthday and as it didn’t seem we were spending enough (the menu was about £16 per head including wine) it was time to speak to the sommelier. A couple of late harvest sweeties to go with the very fine illy coffee. They had 2 by the glass. We had both. Both excellent.

All in all, nothing not to like. We had the last table, so were sat by the swing doors to the kitchen, but that didn’t bother me. The waitress was excellent, professional and attentive without being condescending (another trait in self professed fine dining establishments that I find intensely irritating). I have to mention that in terms of apron design, the waitresses wear a kind of sexy haute couture version. Looks great on them, wouldn’t look so great on me, but definitely enhanced my enjoyment.

Coffee came with macaroons…perfect.

Yes, this probably is the best restaurant in Buenos Aires. Don’t worry about the fancy techniques, they actually add to the flavour for once. The guy is a peasant at heart (and having spent many of my best eating years in the South of France there is no greater compliment) but with an impressive technical ability. You won’t leave confused or short changed!

How he is only ranked 1,600 out of 2,308 restaurants in BA on Tripadvisor defies imagination. Maybe he needs me to do his PR? After all, if I believe in something I can normally make it happen.

And I believe in this. Proper eating in Buenos Aires! The scene is changing. Tarquino will be the first of many. In 5 years, BA will count as one of the foodie capitals of the world. New things are springing up every day. Who can deny that from grey overcooked “British” food, London now serves some of the most vibrant offerings to be found in a capital city. So given that BA is a city of immigrants, there are plenty of roots to go back to.

Get yourself out there, albeit with a healthy sense of criticism and support it. Life is definitely getting better.

 

 

 

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.

 

Winter Warmer!

Ok, it’s not winter yet but I have lost all resistance to the cold.14 degrees C might seem surprisingly pleasant in London but I can assure you that after 5 years acclimatising to sunnier climes, 14 degrees here seems to herald the next ice age. I’m chilled to the bone and wondering what to eat. Warming comfort food is a priority.

Luckily brassicas are at their best and most robust at the moment. Time to celebrate that dish so maltreated by English dinner ladies thus despised by English school children and therefore largely ignored by the adult population. Cauliflower Cheese. And what could be simpler? A big cauli, cut into substantially sized florets (cut down the through the centre of the stalks of each floret to even up cooking times), blanch for a couple of minutes (or up to 4 if you really prefer little crunch from your cauli), whip up a bechamel (remember cold milk into hot roux or visa versa will ensure no lumps), lob in a nice sharp cheese (grated), dissolve whisking gently, pour over your drained and dried cauli and into a hot oven for 20 minutes.

BEFORE THE OVEN

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Tips. I find roasting brings out the sweetness of cauliflower, so I roast in an steel pan at a very high heat (250 degrees C) for a shorter time. It doesn’t bother me that a few wisps above the sauce line blacken slightly. If you have thrown some raw tomatoes in at that point (halved cherry ones are good) it gives them a nice texture too. Full flavoured cheese is always a problem here but a mature fontina del campo does the trick. Save some lumpy slices to throw on top before roasting or some thick slivers of Parmesan or Reggianito. For something richer soft blue cheese also works. To make it a standalone dinner dish, add some crisped lardons of smoked pancetta before you bake. Finally, the cauliflower will always give up some liquid that waters down the sauce. Adding a cup of creme to the béchamel makes a sauce that will absorb / incorporate this liquid smoothly.

AFTER

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So forget the miseries of your youth and give it a go. A big cauli, a litre of béchamel and quarter kilo of cheese will easily feed four.

Maybe we should start doing comfort food evenings at The 5th Floor? This would certainly warm the cockles of your average Argentine! Or include Bed and Breakfast in the package for the expat crowd who want to escape back to their own culture for a night or two? What do you think?