Kafta-esque

2005.Jul.28 Thursday · 10 comments

in Life, Restaurants

Palermo SoHo cafesBuenos Aires – The area I wandered into last night in search of Vietnamese food looked charming, so I thought I’d return during the day. I found myself in SoHo, Palermo SoHo that is, but much the same as the one in New York, this is the current chi-chi name for this section of Palermo Viejo, or Old Palermo. Home to myriad shops and cafes de moda (in fashion), this is a major tourist destination. I found myself hearing a steady stream of more American English than anything else – the backpacks and cameras were a bit of a clue as well.

Palermo SoHo homesThere are some great little side streets to explore as well. Small, attractive, one and two-story homes line the streets. Many are for sale or rent, and a quick look in realtor windows shows the trendiness of price increases as well. At the same time, markets offer some of the more “ethnic” items to be found – things like chivito (baby goat), Middle Eastern and Indian spices, and interesting fruits and vegetables. On the far western edge of the neighborhood is the “Arab” section, however, based on the restaurants and shops found, the population seems to be more Armenian than anything else. Certainly Arab and Muslim influenced, but until 1991, part of the Soviet Union. [Edit: Actually, a bit of research later on revealed that this area’s original inhabitants were virtually all Armenian and Greek.]

On one such side street I found the restaurant Sarkis, Thames 1101, which I’d vaguely heard had some of, if not the, best Middle Eastern food in the city. It’s not a small place, easily seating 150 people in a large L-shaped dining room. At lunchtime it wasn’t crazy-busy, but there were certainly a fair number of business and family lunches going on, as well as a couple of solo folk like myself. I let my waiter guide me through the menu and make recommendations, and he did a great job! It was a bit too much food for lunch, but then, I’m trying for that Buenos Aires routine, with my mid-day meal being the biggie.

Sarkis empanada lasmayinFor a first round, a fairly large dish of tabouleh, the classic grain, green onion, cucumber and tomato salad. The version here is a little heavy on the onion end, but quite good. This was accompanied by an empanada lasmayin, commonly known as the “Arab-style” empanada. At Sarkis, this is a grilled pita bread folded over a filling of a paste made from beef, pimientos, olives and a touch of spice. The lemon served atop brightens up the flavor perfectly.

Sarkis kafta corderoFor my main course, my waiter recommended the kafta. My past experience with this dish is that it tends to be somewhat lumpy, vaguely sausage shaped pieces of ground meat and spices molded around a skewer and charcoal grilled. They’re rarely interesting as a main course, and usually not all that interesting as a snack. I was given a choice of lamb or beef, and because it’s more traditional, and something different in Buenos Aires, I went with the lamb. What arrived was a huge platter piled with two huge lamb “brochettes”. Yes, it was ground lamb and spices wrapped around a skewer for charcoal grilling. However, it wasn’t tasteless, it was fantastic. It was topped with a thick, creamy, lemon yogurt mixed with fresh mint and parsley, and was sitting atop a crispy, broiled, open pita soaked in the lamb drippings, and plenty of chopped raw onions. Big as it was (really, enough for two people for lunch), I couldn’t stop myself from finishing it all.

Sarkis baklavaMy meal ended with a thick, properly made, café oriental, essentially very dark espresso with sludgy coffee grounds in the bottom. This was accompanied by one of the best baklavas I’ve ever had. Fresh tasting, delicate, with a rich nut paste in the center and doused in perfumey honey, it’s a don’t miss item! My waiter brought me a complimentary glass of champagne to finish off the meal, and I waddled off into the afternoon for the sum total of 37 pesos ($13).

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

mlperlman July 30, 2005 at 12:40

Hi Big Bro, I think it looks like you are having an amazing time. I would love to see you and meet all your friends. But oh well guess that won’t happen. I remember you had previously (maybe back in feb.) done some wondering and looked at some of the old jewish areas. At least I thought you had done that, wondering did you write anything about any of that? I was showing Jeremy pictures and we were talking about if there were any temples or jews and what you learned about them. This is fun with your website and our version of travelling with you. Boy do you make me hungry sometimes though. We love you. talk to you soon. Your little sis

dan July 30, 2005 at 17:08

Awww, welcome to the blog! I did write up a little bit about the Balvanera neighborhood (you can search on that), but the “old” jewish neighborhood is a bit different here. Because of past concerns with security issues, including attacks that used to occur under past administrations, virtually all the synagogues and such are restricted to members. You can’t even attend sabbath services here if you’re not a member, unless you get a certifying letter from your own home rabbi basically vouching for you. Most of the synagogues here are either orthodox or conservative (so your certifying rabbi must be as well), and they’re not at all lenient about their rules – not exactly welcoming (not that I don’t understand the security concerns – in fact, many synagogues here have concrete barriers in front of them to prevent car bombings, despite it having been over a decade since the last time there was an issue.) It’s pretty interesting given that Buenos Aires has one of the largest jewish populations of any city in the world!

Amy August 3, 2005 at 18:12

Dan — I could introduce you to the head librarian of the Seminario Rabí­nico Latinoamericano, if that would help!

dan August 4, 2005 at 11:11

Thank you, and that might be interesting as well. I have a rabbi friend, conservative, back in New York who would certainly write me the letter. It’s more of the complete lack of welcome and insular community that bothers me. Even if I were to have the letter, I have the feeling I’d still be pretty much treated as an outsider for a long time.

gnk September 8, 2007 at 20:39

Hello everyone. I was looking for a place to have dinner this evening and I found this write up. I’ve decided to try Sarkis. Thanks for the recommendation.

I also wanted to add to the synagogue discussion. I’ve been in BA for two weeks now and will be here for another two months. Last Friday, my boyfriend and I (I’m a guy, by the way) attended Shabbat services at a reform synagogue called Mishkan in Belgrano, on Calle Sucre. I lived in Mexico once and my experiences there with synagogues led me to call the place first, regarding the security procedures. I spoke with the secretary, Betty. I told her that my boyfriend and I were visiting and that we wanted to attend Shabbat services, as a spiritual and cultural experience. She informed me that we were more than welcome.

When we arrived, security was “tight” as expected. The guard asked us for identification, spoke with us briefly about what we wanted to do and I explained. I guess as two gay guys from the US, we didn’t appear too threatening. He let us pass right through. Everyone was so nice and very kind and welcoming to us (except for one old man who glared at us the entire time). It was truly a wonderful experience.

I plan to attend high holy day services here next week.

Afterwards, we walked to Sucre for dinner. That’s another story however.

I also plan to eat chez Saltshaker soon.

dan September 10, 2007 at 09:14

Welcome to the conversation! Let us know how dinner at Sarkis (and Sucre) are.

I’m glad you found the reform congregation out there – since this original post, which is a couple of years old now, I’ve found some connections in the local Jewish community as well, and this is a very good recommendation!

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