Buenos Aires – My friend Max and I set off to do a little museum-going yesterday afternoon. Max is my Spanish teacher as well, and a good part of yesterday’s mission was to keep up a non-stop conversation for a couple of hours about museums, neighborhoods, art, and food – I think I managed pretty well. Our initial goal was the National Museum of Decorative Arts, one of my favorites. Unfortunately, its schedule yesterday had it not opening until two hours after our arrival. The Metropolitan Museum in the same neighborhood is closed until sometime in March for renovation. Neither of us felt like dealing with the crowds at Belles Artes or MALBA. We decided on Museo de Arte Popular José Hernández, which neither of us had been to. It’s a small, but interesting museum, displaying, not surprisingly given its name, popular art, i.e., art of the people (as opposed to the winners of some sort of beauty contest).
The museum is built around a small and nicely maintained courtyard planted with trees and grass. It consists of four display halls that I gather change their displays on a regular basis. As of yesterday, the first was dedicated to photographs and postcards depicting native tribes from around the country, most from right around the beginning of the 20th century, and most from the northern province of Chaco. The second hall was a display of craftwork, mostly ceramic and leather, from contemporary artists of the Buenos Aires area, and though perhaps somewhat more elegant, reminded me of the craft fairs held throughout the city on weekends. The third hall was probably the most interesting, dedicated to a cooperative of weavers from San Martin. The cooperative itself is a great idea, bringing together folks who have been weaving traditional styles for decades with the new generation who want to learn and preserve their family’s history and traditions. The final salon was dedicated to the Carnevale celebration held in the province of Corrientes, mostly a selection of costumes and accessories.
On the strength of a recommendation from a local food magazine, we headed off last night to Primavera Trujillana, Roosevelt 1627, in Belgrano, to try what was touted as the local food of Trujillo, Peru, where Henry is from, from a “modest dining room in the house of Marta Rios, a native of Trujillo.” It is indeed a modest setting, more or less a café with tables topped by plastic tablecloths, bright lighting, and a cook in the back who made it quite evident that he was put out by the whole affair – slamming dishes down on the pass-through for the waitresses to pickup and arguing with them loudly about what they had or had not ordered. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the food reflected his mood, something I find regularly in restaurants; in fact, when I first started in the business, one of the first things the first chef I worked with taught me was that “an angry chef makes angry food.” It’s something I’ve kept in mind to this day and find to be very true. We also chatted with our waitress, only to find that none of the staff are from Trujillo, though a couple are from Lima, and that includes the owner, who isn’t even around. It turns out she’s from Lima and has had a restaurant there of the same name for some 20 years and this is just a small branch in Buenos Aires of the same name.
The menu is odd. First of all, I have to just say, I don’t like hairy things in restaurants, and I don’t just mean the food. Here, the menu is a small cardboard bound affair with a binding strip of something furry. It just put me on edge. Then you encounter the plasticized pages of the inner menu, listing dozens and dozens of items. We began to get interested, only to have that interest squashed by our waitress who told us that the menu is just a listing of “possible dishes” of the day – and then proceeded to cut our choices down to 3 appetizers, 2 meat entrees, and 7-8 fish entrees, as the only things they were equipped to make that evening. I’m all for the concept of a daily changing menu, I just don’t like the presentation in this case. But we got over it, ordered all three appetizers – ocopa, papas a la huancayina, and a tamal, followed by a plate of ceviche mixto. We also decided to try one of the two listed cocktails, a trago de algarroba, or “carob drink.” It turned out to be a blended affair of carob juice, pisco (Peruvian unaged brandy), milk, and egg white. Frothy, vaguely chocolately, and very alcoholic. The food, overall, was just acceptable, clearly nothing special. We both liked that the potatoes in the first two appetizers were served warm – quite often they’re served nearly refrigerator cold. The sauce on the ocopa was particularly good. The tamal was, at best, edible, first off being made of coarse polenta rather than properly ground Peruvian maize, and second off having very little filling – a couple of chunks of chicken and one olive, complete with pit. The ceviche was okay, though the fish and shellfish didn’t taste 100% fresh, and the “mixto” part consisted of a couple of scattered shrimp and mussels. Given that Primavera Trujillana is only a few blocks from Contigo Peru that we both enjoy quite a bit, and have taken friends to many times, it’s simply not interesting enough to return to.