Cows on Crack

Mar 4th 2010: Travel

A first attempt at a food post. I will skip over the famous arsado as I have not yet had any. However, as this recent NYT article proves, I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Which I probably wouldn’t anyway. (Palermo Hollywood is only two blocks away, btw.) Nevertheless, asado is on my ridiculously long list of treats I will reward myself with once I have survived my Spanish Intensive, capital I. Other top contenders are doing absolutely nothing, moving in and decorating my new apartment, and watching sweaty tourists passing by either from the convenience of my own balcony or from the cafe downstairs. And some Tango classes.

The one-word impression is that the food here is great. As long as you are not too picky in diversity. Buenos Aires is not only central European in looks but also in taste. The local Parrilla, which is pronounced in an (im)proper Castellano fashion “parisha” and is typically the small Argentine hole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant, alternates with Italian style pizza places, pastry shops, bars, and cafes. You have to really go out of your way to find the one visionary who in a grand dillusion decided to open the one unvisitied Chinese or Indian or Mexican restaurant. The U.S. attitude of “I can’t eat Chinese for dinner because I’ve had it for lunch already” will leave you starving on the side of the road on day one.

What Buenos Aires lacks in ethnic diversity, and I am not just talking about the food, it makes up in quality of what it does provide. The vegetables are fresh and tasty, the bread crunchy and hearty, and the cows here must not just be happy but totally high on crack. What has amazed me from the beginning, when I could barely say my name and was still overcoming the recovering from the 22 hour flight, is how amazing the cheese is. Yes, the cheese. It’s awesome. It turned the, by BA standards, decent pizza into a feast. And I have not been disappointed since. Friends have had similar ecstatic experiences with yogurt and butter, items that will be added to my personal food chain once I own a fridge.

Currently I am making a point of trying something new everyday by visiting different cafes or restaurants for dinner, getting the Spanish menu (my “hola” has gotten quite convincing) and ordering something completely unknown and foreign to me. It does help to be an indiscriminate omnivore.  The results have been mostly positive with the notable exception of the ever common grilled cheese sandwich, or tostada. As great as the cheese is, by itself on grilled toast just makes for a unexciting dinner. At least in a restaurant. My absolute cheese favorite, however, was a desert I ordered on a whim, instead of the usual espresso, called Queso y dulce (“cheese and fruit paste” – this is why, when it comes to food, we need to stick with names in languages we don’t understand). It’s literally a slice of soft cheese with a slice of fruit paste, in my case made from sweet potato, covered with a little bit of caramel sauce. Indescribably fantastic! For me, it is high up there together with my other sweet tooth pleaser, ice cream (like Bi-Rite’s). If you know me, you know this is quite a compliment. By googling the term I found that some Argentine restaurants in the U.S. also offer it. I’ll just hope it’s as good as it is here.

Other, non-(or-less)-cheese highlights included last night’s Champion risotto, a strange seafood salad, wok-fried “Zen healthy” spaghettis, and a carne sandwich, which joined the other entres on the English menu with its unromantically translated name “beef sandwich”. I guess the name is accurate, but really lacks the ooomph of the experience. Slightly marinated, grilled beef arrived in a big lump of slices in between two tiny halves of a mini baguette held together by a toothpick and an olive. Identified as a foreigner, I also got a small basket full of ketchup and generic yellow mustard condiments. Just in case I’d like to insult the country by having my hot dog and eating it too. It didn’t need condiments. It didn’t need even need the bread: the beef on its own was so tasty, I almost skipped the bread.

Price-wise my dinners rarely exceed the $10 mark (~40 pesos) and that also includes beer, tip and tax, the warm weather, being able to sit outside, and the fact that you won’t be hassled if you take a two hour dinner. A few photos are below. I have not been great about taking food photos though and it’s hard to capture the food well at night. Since this is an ongoing project, at least until I find my omg-I-will-never-eat-anywhere-else place, expect more food posts.

Posted in Travel by Ernst Bruening on March 4th, 2010 at 11:03 pm.

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