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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Chan Chan - Hipolito Yrigoyen 1390, Congreso

My last evening in Buenos Aires and what better way to mark the end of my year long odyssey of Spanish-learning and absorption of all things Argentine than some... 
Peruvian food. 

Despite having been to Peru, I first came across - and then whole-heartedly embraced - the delights of ceviche in Buenos Aires. In the depths of summer, when the humidity levels of the streets of Buenos Aires are beyond the pale, there is nothing more welcome than a plate of fresh zesty coriander-saturated ceviche. And possibly an equally zesty pisco sour.
I have sampled ceviche in an abundance of Peruvian restaurants in Buenos Aires. They seem to reside in clusters around Abasto or Plaza de Congreso; the latter is where Chan Chan can be found, tucked away on an unassuming side street; dark, grimy and litter-strewn.

Tonight I am meeting Ana, vivacious porteña pal who confesses to never having tried Peruvian food before. We meet inside, luckily I manage to get a table despite the substantial queue trailing out of the door (Chan Chan is no secret). Typical of many Argentines, Ana has a morbid fear of all things spicy, as well as being squeamish when it comes to the idea of raw fish, so I suggest she goes for (cooked) fish served with rice and huancaina sauce - an inexplicably delicious creamy, cheesy sauce, which also happens not to be remotely spicy. I opt for Causa de Salmón (a kind of terrine made from mashed potato, smoked salmon and avocado) as a starter and predictably choose ceviche as my main course.

Huancaina sauce and spicy dip
Causa de Salmón

At Chan Chan the meal always begins with salted roasted corn kernels, crusty white bread and little bowls filled with dips; one with the aforementioned delicious huancaina sauce and a slightly greenish dip, which if Ana's reaction is anything to go by is about as spicy as eating a handful of raw chilli seeds, though in actual fact is only mildly hot. The Causa is served up looking like a plate of food designed for - or perhaps by - five-year-olds; smiley face drawn with olives and prawn and flourishes of mayonnaise haphazardly squirted around the edge in playful abandon. It tastes good. Potato-y, salmon-y and avocado-y, as good as the sum of its parts; nothing more and nothing less. 

Next up, Ana's fish is rather monotonous in appearance, a colour palate that ranges from yellow to beige, but she is happy with her choice (and the non-spicy-ness thereof) and even ventures to try some of my ceviche which she also reluctantly admits to liking. The ceviche is excellent as always, wonderfully tender and with that satisfying texture and bite reminiscent of sashimi. And as far as I'm concerned, you simply can't go wrong with the combination of fresh coriander, lemon, onion and chilli. Ceviche has been my saviour when I have craved firey and potent flavours here so it is a fitting tribute that I find myself eating it on my last evening of my foodie days in Buenos Aires.

Fish with huancaina sauce
This is my last night in the Argentine capital, a low-key dinner with a friend. I have chosen this over a grand goodbye because I like to think I will see the people I have met in Buenos Aires again. Whether there, in London, or in other corners of the world, I hope to meet again for more good companygood conversation.... and preferably accompanied by good food too.


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

La Posta de las Cabras - Ruta Nacional 68, Km. 88, Salta

"This is possibly the most picturesque driving lesson anyone has ever had", I proclaim. Kate and I are on an abandoned airplane runway, over 2000m above sea level, arid red tinged mountains in every direction and not a soul in sight. We are in the tiny village of Cachi, in Salta province in the north of Argentina and I am teaching Kate how to drive manual in our Golf hire car. The lesson is going as smoothly as can be expected.

Fast forward twenty-something hours and we are en route to our next destination, Cafayate, Kate securely in the driver's seat shifting gears with aplomb. On the roadside to our right a sign pointing to a goat farm comes into view causing us to indecisively debate whether to make a stop. Ultimately we agree that the promise of adorable goats and delicious goat cheese is too much to resist, so Kate slows to a gradual stop and starts to do a three point turn although our lesson on reversing is still pending. Next thing we know we are squarely in the middle of the road blocking both lanes having stalled mid-turn and there is a car steadily approaching from our left. Kate chooses the flight option, flings herself out of the car while I clamber from the passenger's seat to the driver's seat as quickly as my legs will allow me. The approaching car has reached us at this point and I am aware of the glaring faces bearing down on me as I manoeuvre the car back in the direction of the awaiting goats. Kate climbs back into the Golf dazed and then we are laughing with relief.

Once safely parked, a semi-traumatised Kate sits at a table in the farm cafe and we do the only sensible thing: order cake. A baked ricotta cheesecake - made with goat cheese of course - and flavoured with orange. The goat cheese flavour is surprisingly subtle. Dense, moist and comforting, the cake takes off the edge of our recent fleeting moment of panic. Agreeing that it was worth the raised blood pressures, we vow to return the following day for more baked goods and possibly some cheese too, albeit in a (hopefully) less dramatic manner.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Nos Amours - Gorriti 4488, Palermo

After a several week long dining spree I am craving something simple, no overblown pretensions or superfluous flourishes. So it may seem odd that I opt for a French restaurant, but I have walked past A Nos Amours so many times, gazed longingly into the minimal rustic interior and wondered what it would be like to while away an evening in this corner-located restaurant. It’s not listed in any of the guide books but gets very positive ratings and write-ups on Guia Óleo (the Argentine Tripadvisor-style restaurant website) so we are here to investigate.

When we walk in we are all immediately content with the air and style of the place. It is  often hard to put your finger on what makes a place pleasing to be in, but A Nos Amours have managed it. Vast windows house the eight or so tables, chic music plays and a doorway allows a peek into the kitchen where the chef is visible, a vast mass of dreadlocks piled on top of his head turban style. A book has been casually placed on each table. We have a book about Jean Renoir, the French director, but being high-brow diners we are more interested in leafing through ‘Footballers Haircuts’, perched on the table behind us, a small photo book of the aforementioned haircuts, featuring mostly English players from the 80s.

A sizeable chalk board adorns the main wall scrawled with the ample and almost-illegible wine list. A second smaller chalk board is presented to us by a trendy lean wild-haired French man with the day’s menu. Three starters, four main courses. Take it or leave it. I am already in love with this place for not burdening me with copious choices. We skip starters and choose gnocchi and risotto, two of each, dishes I generally avoid in restaurants because I see them as easy to make at home, but I am erring towards vegetarianism tonight and the remaining two options are meat and fish.

The gnocchi is home-made, light and yielding a far cry from the standard heavy stodgy kind and is accompanied by a tomato sauce with courgette, mushrooms and carrots. The carrots are a little incongruous with the rest, but it tastes good nonetheless. Risotto is silken smooth with sautéed leeks, delicious unidentified herbs and a generous quantity of cream. “This is some serious gourmet shit” concludes Stefan (I did mention we are high-brow). And that it is. 

The wild-haired waiter takes away our empty plates and we consider dessert probabilities. Based on how delicious the mains were we are edging towards sharing at least one between the four of us. Expecting to see another, perhaps even smaller, chalk board materialise we continue sipping our Chardonnay, but we are barely acknowledged, the waiter a little too nonchalant. We begin to wonder disbelievingly whether there are in fact no desserts (we later see there are) and as the time edges towards midnight we conclude that we are tired and beyond dessert cravings. We do the international sign language gesture for la cuenta and make our exit once we have paid our dues.