“Seafood?” “I dunno…”

2006.Feb.16 Thursday · 0 comments

in Restaurants

Buenos Aires – “Where do you wanna eat?”

“I dunno. Where do you wanna eat?”

“I dunno. Where do you wanna eat?”

“I don’t really care.”

“I don’t either.”

“Me neither.”

Believe me, this witty repartee sounds just as stupid in Spanish. I’d started out the other evening with the best of intentions – it was Henry’s sister Sylvia’s birthday – we invited her in from La Plata to take her out to the restaurant of her choice. After a bit of wandering around and window shopping, the question was put to her. She doesn’t know Buenos Aires well, so an initial reticence to answer was not surprising, but having taken that into account, I’d asked what type of food she’d like. “I dunno.” I ran down a list of possible cuisines – Argentine, Peruvian, Cuban, Bolivian, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese… “I dunno.” I tried, “Would you like meat, chicken, fish, or pasta?” figuring that a simple range of choices might help. “I dunno.” Henry was no help either, chiming in with much the same. And, of course, being decisive is useless. “Okay, let’s go to X.” “No, I don’t wanna eat that kind of food.” I finally got a “mariscos”, or shellfish, out of her, we hailed a cab and launched our way towards a little seafood eatery that my friend Heather had told us about. Halfway there Henry piped up with asking whether or not it was an elegant room for his sister’s birthday. While not entirely sure, I was fairly certain it’s more of a neighborhood eatery than a “dining” experience. Change of course (with a long discourse of approval from our cab driver, who carried on and on about our second choice, promising us an amazing dinner), and we were off to another part of town and Spanish seafood. Do remember the seafood part of it, that was key, okay?

Avenida Mayo 1199Plaza Asturias, Avenida de Mayo 1199, is one of the top rated old-line Spanish restaurants in the city, by more than one rater. It’s also a semi-elegant (white tablecloths, nicely dressed waiters, good ambiance other than somewhat overly bright lights), very large (easily seating 150 people) spot located in a beautiful corner Beaux Arts building. From outside you could be excused for thinking it’s nothing more than a fancified cafeteria, but you’d be mistaken. While a place like this may never garner rave reviews for its decor, creativity, and presentation, if you want some solid, home-style, family food from Spain, you won’t be disappointed here – but stick to the Spanish side of the menu, what we ate from it, and what others were eating, was being downed with gusto; where they stray into local cuisine, i.e., the parrilla menu, which is stuck in the back of the menu book and clearly there for the folks who just won’t eat anything else, you’d be better off avoiding. After all, the region of Asturias is known for its seafood.

Plaza Asturias - jamon serrano, shrimp cocktail, and sherryWe, of course didn’t. Remember the whole seafood thing? We did start with a small tapas plate that arrived as a gift from the kitchen – a delicious mound of boquerones (vinegar cured anchovies) and olives, accompanied by shots of slightly over the hill sherry. From there, of course, in keeping with our theme, we found ourselves surrounded by a selection of jamón serrano, grilled riñoncitos, grilled mollejas, and, oh, yes, a shrimp “cocktail”. The first item, of course, is my favorite ham in the world, and I was happy to see the room literally festooned with curing hams. It had excellent flavor, though was sliced a trifle thick, making it somewhat chewy to eat, though I’d still order it again in a heartbeat. The grilled kidneys and sweetbreads should have been left in whichever animal they came from. They were as dry as dust, without quite as much flavor. Meanwhile, we were surrounded by diners happily eating their way through heaps of garlicky prawns, grilled octopi, and bowls of seafood soups. We did get a touch of seafood in the shrimp cocktail, though it was the strangest (though tasty) blend of baby shrimp, apples, and hearts of palm, all dressed in a housemade salsa golf (mayo and ketchup, more or less).

Plaza Asturias - cazuela de mariscosAhh, the seafood. We did really get to it, though it took a bit of pushing on my part. I swear, they were both going to order a couple of steaks. Seafood, remember seafood? I do wish I’d gotten a photo of the beautiful, large, earthenware casserole of cazuela de mariscos that was whisked to our table, steaming and overloaded with goodies from the ocean. But before I could get my camera focused (and it’s automatic), our waitress had dished out portions onto three plates, covered the casserole with a plate, and zoomed on to another table. It still looks yummy. And it was. Rich shellfish broth, mildly garlicky (they could have gone a bit heavier on garlic and herbs, but then, this is Argentina), and packed with squid, octopi, shrimp, mussels, and clams, all cooked to a meltingly tender texture. We each made it through two plates-ful, and there was still more left in the pot! Much as I’d have loved to try other dishes, I’m glad we only ordered one main course. But I’ll be back for the wonderful looking paella valenciana, or a heap of those garlic langostinos, or, if I’m going to have meat, did they have a Fabada Asturiana, a specialty of the region…?

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