, Special Edition: Argentina!
Atlanta Bread Company: This was a fairly poor choice out of my potential options to kill time while waiting for the plane. Nothing wrong with the service or the price for what I got, but what I got was a cheese danish and chai; both sweeter than they needed to be, and the chai had a faint chalky texture that made it abundantly clear it was made with a mix rather than steeped.
American Airlines: I was pleasantly surprised with the presence of a vegetarian option, and I love pasta. While the consistency was still what one expects from Chef Boyardee (not too surprising given it’s airplane food), it was warm and had an okay flavor. Also a brownie (less sweet than expected, which was appreciated; although perhaps the airport snack affected my palate?), salad (nice and fresh), cheese (not great, but packaged) and crackers (also unremarkable). Service was fairly attentive, and the location and view were incredible, but I don’t see myself regularly spending a hundreds dollars for food of such middling quality.
American Airlines Again: We had a croissant (pleasantly warm), orange juice, and yoghurt... nothing else remarkable about this meal but location and price.
Il Fratello: The service was friendly, but not very prompt. Upscale price for upscale food and location (although it still translated to $20 or so after conversion). They charge for “table service” here - bread, butter, and whatnot. I can’t decide whether I prefer it this way or when it’s supposedly free... when “free” it then becomes an operating expense of the restaurant, which makes the restaurant slightly more expensive (if they recoup costs). I didn’t try refusing, I wanted bread or crackers with most meals.
The caprese salad included olives, which added a wonderful acidic dynamic to the familiar basil-mozzarella-tomato combination - will try next time I make it. It was all wonderfully fresh-tasting. The pumpkin-ricotta ravioli in mushroom-gruyere sauce was nice, but not as well-spiced as I’m used to pumpkin being. The lack of flavor variation started to drag the meal down by the middle. Most places serve bottled water, so I had my first try here. I forgot the phrase for if one specifically wants tap water.
City Services: Speaking of which, I brought a bottle, filled it from the tap, and carried it around the city with me. No ill effects; I have a great immune system and/or Buenos Aires is also buena agua. (Unlike their air quality...)
Empanadas: These small turnovers are cheap, tasty, and available everywhere around Buenos Aires.
Hotel Mariposita: The included breakfast is far smaller than I’m used to from hotels, but apparently standard for Argentina. One hot drink (I go for tea), two medialunas (croissaints), fresh orange juice, and two slices of toast with butter and jam. Obviously not filling, but a nice start. Service is very personal, I’m the only one there most mornings. They went between a few different brands of medialunas during the course of my stay; I really enjoyed one type that was dense and crispy.
El Colonia Bar: Being a single diner in a crowded restaurant, I sat at the bar for this one. Both the servers were friendly but definitely not prompt. Tricolor tarta was a good idea - layers of spinach, pumpkin, and ricotta cheese - but I was again disappointed at the lack of spices, especially since pumpkin is a rather bland fruit on its own. Coffee here is served in tiny cups, probably two shot glasses’ worth, but it was dark and full and gave a pleasant buzz to the morning. Spanish tortilla is closer to what I would think of as an omelette - in this case, onions and potatoes held together by egg. It was fairly basic but a very good flavor, with tiny sweet notes every time I hit another slice of onion. They unexpectedly brought by a glass of (I’m assuming) tap water, too, so they get props for service there. Something about the arrangement of tables, the things behind the counter, the display case, and everything else made the whole place seem pleasantly familiar.
La Esquina de Garufa: This was an exceptionally mixed experience. The waiter was friendly, prompter than most and dressed fancily, the location was prime (right on “main street”), the decor was nice, the radio was playing tango, and many of the dishes were upscale. There were also quite a few lowbrow dishes, the bartender was in a t-shirt and jeans (and later threw a bottle into the street outside), and there was a television playing FX. I had a bland caprese sandwich, fantastically aromatic garlic fries, fermet branco (medicinal-tasting liquor an Argentine friend recommended) with Pepsi (strange but nice), and tried finishing off the meal with a panqueque (crepe) con dulche de leche (the Argentine variation on caramel). Unfortunately, it ended up being just a monotone sweetness with nothing to strongly recommend it.
Scuzi: The sparse table service, noise, and huge volume of people coming through (including the occasional busker) did detract from the meal. Also, the olives had pits. But it was still an excellent meal. The calzone calabria was absolutely huge, giving me a good reason to skip dinner. The Quilmes Cristal beer was citrusy and refreshing. And when I tried the flan con dulche de leche, it was just perfect - creamy, smooth, sweet, and lightly smoky.
Cafe Bernardo: Neither the salad nor the noqui (gnocchi) were anything special, but the service is very friendly and (by comparison) regular.
El Palacio Español: Easily my most expensive meal in Buenos Aires, this place was absolutely wonderful; my only complaint was was my own fault; everything came out hot, and I burned my tongue. The creamed spinach, glazed sweet potatoes (which I mistook for gulab jamun when they came out - had a loverly experience with such recently), asparagus in parmesan, and pumpkin soup were all quite nice. I would have gone for dessert if I still had room. The paperbag tea was underwhelming in comparison, but still served. The whole thing didn’t really tie together as a meal, but lots of individual items jumped out at me as things I wanted to try. Being a hotel restaurant, the surroundings were also opulent: Light fixtures, old paintings, pillars, ferns, and whatnot.
Cafe Bernardo (again): The “completa” salad is great - Hard eggs, green beans, shredded carrot, tomato, beets, celery, and mixed greens. Wonderful variety of flavor and texture, with the occasional tough bean. The breaded mozzarella (with bits of red pepper in the batter) with fries is basic but good, and far more than one person should eat, let alone as a “side”. The flan was smaller, came in an ice cream dish, but still perfectly balanced.
Cafe Müsel: Bitter coffee, empanadas clearly storebought and possibly out of the freezer. Still appreciate the treatment, low price, and the fact that they unexpectedly included free cookies and water.
Aires Criollos: I’m just going to stop mentioning slow service unless it’s better or worse. It was that way everywhere. This restaurant had an attractive cowboy theme and offered the famous mix grill I was told to try. Curiously, the country radio is definitely from the U.S., down to the ads being in English for U.S. stores. I tried a whole bottle of Malbec wine - but it came in a beer-bottle size. It was dark and a touch sour. I’m obviously not a frequent wine drinker, barely halfway through the bottle I started feeling sleepy. They also started the meal with breadsticks and pate, and cheesy biscuits that seem to have stolen the recipe from Red Lobster.
I’m not a good judge of meat, but everything seemed well-done. The grill came out with three small bowls of sauces: Onion relish, tapenade, and herbs in oil. Most of the sausages were unpleasant on their own, but a touch of wine or one of the aforementioned sauces blended rather nicely. The only sausage I liked for its own flavor was, I’m assuming, the blood sausage - probably also the worst for me. It was warm and creamy, and used a spice I identify as Indian - perhaps marjoram? The grilled vegetables with oil (white potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, and onion) were all wonderful, although the zucchini felt gritty.
Starbucks: Stuffed, expensive. Tomato and cheese sandwich was soggy - being edible is the only thing it had going for it. For all we mock it, the coffee was surprisingly good - The latte foam cut the heat and bitterness of the coffee to turn it into a pleasant burn.
Bar el Federal: I can’t think of the last time I had a restaurant that served peanuts as a snack. Nice and a little nostalgic. Nothing amazing about the chicken sandwich, wasn’t expecting to find waffle fried down here, let alone a pile of them. Dessert was queso blanca co dulche de batata - white cheese with sweet potato paste. It could be simulated with cream cheese and tamarind; would not normally be my first choice of desserts, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with my foray into the unknown.
D&H Chinese Restaurant: “Chinese” salad was just slices of carrot, cabbage, and vinegar. Passable, but not exciting. The egg drop soup was huge: lots of onions, slivers of green bell pepper, carrot, and mushroom. Very flavorful. The jasmine tea was fragrant and almost fruity - perfect. Probably overdone, but I’m not a tea purist. Seeing what I was ordering, the waitress was kind enough to warn me that the “ravioles” had “carne”. No chopsticks, but no worries. Silk tofu falls apart at a touch - comes with carrot, zucchini, green bell pepper, onion, and brown sauce. Nothing complex, but filling and tasty. The “sachima” reminds me of a rice krispy treat: Cube of crispy noodle stuck together with some kind of sticky glaze, with a raisin on top. Just like the previous dessert, not my thing, but not disappointing.
Via Barioloche: In-”flight” dinner was turkey, a nicely seasoned potato salad, bread, barely passable shepherd’s pie with gristle and reconstituted potato mash, and a flan that was disappointing after the previous two heavenly examples (but still okay).
El Fortin: This buffet seems somehow simultaneously a good service idea and a ripoff. A bit expensive for locals, but cheap by exchange. They barely serve anything, but they were very attentive for the few things that were required. It’s an excellent layout for moving masses of people. Minimal but appropriate decor. Unlike many buffets, it also looked (and tasted) like a quality spread, even moreso for dedicated carnivores. I’ll expand on the mamon en amibou, aka candied papaya: A slight brown spice taste, a firm (but no longer crunchy) texture, and a sickly honey sweetness. Unless you’re specifically looking for sugar or a papaya fiend, I’d skip it. But I did enjoy the restaurant on the whole.
Complejo Americano: They were confused by my ordering two salads, and I don’t blame them - it was a little odd, but I don’t regret it. Arugula and parmesan salad was tasty, the “Tres Fronteras” (so named for the border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay) was also a good mix of flavors (radish, lettuce, tuna, tomato, and green beans - they seem to have a thing for green beans in salads down here), the cheese empanada was okay, I love fried yucca but the portion was too much of a monolithic flavor for one person, and the caiparinha had a great kick and flavor. The surrounding decor was intriguing but didn’t match together. I tried another queso and dulche, and this time it tasted like they used havarti cheese.
Piza Color: Tried the “regional” sampler plus an empanada with a local fish, and tried agua con gas this time. The corn souffle is like a moist corn bread; I noticed they use corn oil in several unfamiliar places here. Manioc pie is kind of blah, and one has bones. The Paraguay cheese souffle is very good, hard to go wrong. The pork in lemon sauce was very tender and fatty; no lemon sauce to speak of, but comes with lemons. Mbeyu is a gummy pancake with barely any taste; I rolled it in the oil and garnish on the plate, making it okay. I avoided ordering the chocolate volcano, apple pie with ice cream, or anything else I’d expect to find at TGIFriday’s. Dessert was mango and passion fruit mousse - tart sauce, little bursting jewels of fruit, very good.
Cafe Bernardo (last time): Enjoyed the completa salad again, also had cheese ravioli with scarpini sauce. It had a good taste but not as herbal or complex as I would like. The flan rerun was still tasty, but obviously didn’t have as much care put into presentation as last time, which was a little disappointing.
Tango Piazzolla: The service was excellent but punctuated, in part by necessity of it being a dinner show. We were offered a starter, an entree, a dessert, and a drink. There was also a bottle of wine for the table, but I was the only person at the table. In retrospect, I think I should have taken it with me. The pumpkin soup was excellent, although I’ve since been told that pumpkins aren’t in Argentina... I have no idea what I actually ate. It had very nice parmesan and spices, though. I tried the genuine Argentine steak well-done (which still came out rather tender), with rosemary potatoes. And dessert was composed of three mini-flans (caramel, chocolate, and orange) with a rather artistic orange decoration made of hard candy.
The performance was wonderful, and the singers were mostly good, but the orchestra was absolutely excellent. The bandoneon player is a maestro.
Club Federal (again): I don’t remember what the name of the salad was, unfortunately. It was composed of walnuts, ringlets of shredded cheese, shredded apple, and shredded carrot. Not what I expected, no lettuce at all, but surprisingly good. The cheese omelette, on the other hand - started off good, but got boring in short order.