Buenos Aires – The buffet is strong in the traditions of my people. We believe deeply in not only a wide range of selection, but in “all-you-can-eat” for a set price. Preferably a small price. It’s not unusual when I visit family that the choice of a restaurant will be based on whether or not there is, at the very least, a salad bar, and preferably a steam table. A cook standing there making eggs to order, or slicing a roast beef, makes it a fancy occasion. Buenos Aires has a very large Jewish population (one of the largest of any major city actually), and so it’s no surprise that someone would create a buffet.
Cocina & Cia, Santa Fé 2461, in Barrio Norte was a couple of minute walk from my apartment. Today was one of those days where I just couldn’t get myself up and going, so lunchtime rolled around before I’d finished my coffee. I’d read a couple of diner reviews of the place, the general consensus was that for steam table/salad bar food, it wasn’t bad, but maybe a bit pricey. Fourteen pesos, or just under $5, for “all-you-can-eat” just isn’t pricey in my book. Maybe at dinner time it’s higher. But then, maybe the diners doing the reviewing don’t understand the concept of really eating all you can.
The place is big. Really big. There are two levels, and I’d guess they can seat well over 200 people at a time. It was only semi-busy when I arrived just shortly after opening time, but within half an hour it was nearly full. Clearly they’re doing something right to attract that number of people. There is a menu, but nobody seemed to bother to consult it, people were there for the buffet. There’s a large cold table with pre-made salads, ranging from several green salads, to other vegetables, to beans; there are terrines, soups, and there was a large tub of chopped liver (chicken livers are hard to find here, even in the bigger supermarkets, which is strange, because every part of the cow, pig, and lamb is available, but chickens, no innards). I heaped a plate with a reasonably balanced selection – clockwise from the top: fish terrine, hummus, chopped liver, roasted brussels sprouts, chicken-vegetable terrine, unidentified bright pink terrine (couldn’t figure it out), and an ensalada rusa.
Ensalada rusa, or “russian salad” is common throughout Buenos Aires. It very commonly accompanies milanesas, and is very popular. Essentially, it’s a mix of finely diced potato with peas, carrots, and sometimes a little sweet potato, all tossed with mayonnaise. It’s a little bit bland in general, but it is the local version of potato salad.
A second trip was to the first of two hot tables, this one laden with various pastas, potatoes, vegetable purees, and other vegetables, essentially side-dishes. I adorned my plate with, once again from the top; potato kugel, potato pirogi, meat-stuffed zapallito redondo (local round zucchini – see July 11th’s post), pumpkin puree, and swiss chard canelloni.
There was a second entire table devoted to such things as roasted chicken and other meats, and fried fish. I loaded up with the former, which, for lunch, turned out to be quite sufficient and I never made it back to the meat table. There’s a final dessert table covered with various local, middle eastern, and European Jewish finales. Given last night’s sugar binge, I opted to ignore its existence, but it looks worth a return. Was the food amazing? No. But it was well-prepared, well-seasoned, and reasonably authentic (definitely based in classic Jewish cuisine, definitely not kosher), and was as good as any steam table/salad bar restaurant has a right to be.