Another Stab at Southeast Asia

2006.Apr.26 Wednesday · 4 comments

in Restaurants

Buenos Aires – I finally found my way to Sudestada, Guatemala 5602, in Palermo Viejo, the much touted “Vietnamese” place that I mentioned back in my review of Green Bamboo. Once again, I have mixed feelings about this place. First, it’s a completely different style of restaurant. One reviewer referred to it as swish, and that’s not bad – it’s all hard square surfaces in grey, white, and silver. Waiters are dressed in matching black t-shirts with red plastic rectangles in the middle of their chests, and each wearing tan or beige pants and black tennis shoes. There’s a visible kitchen – not exactly open, as it’s behind a large glass window, with lots of gleaming stainless steel – actually pretty impressive for as clean as they keep it during the middle of service. Menus are large plastic laminated sheets with lettering in a font style that’s vaguely techno.

The food, unlike Green Bamboo, is not strictly in the Vietnamese line, despite the toutings of various members of the press or other diners, and that’s not surprising given the name. It’s a mixup of Vietnamese and Thai, with a little random “other” thrown in. Inexplicably, at lunch, the grill is not in operation, so an entire section of the menu is unavailable, leaving one limited to things like wok-based stir-fries, deep-fried items, and soups. And that wasn’t just happenstance, our waiter informed me that they just don’t start the grill up for lunch. To me that seems like a major faux pas – especially as listening in as the waiters went to various tables, it seemed like a large number of folk wanted to order grilled items. Easily three-quarters of the remaining menu is marked as very hot, and except for the stir-fries which are made done to order, there’s no room to change that, and several dishes that came out to various tables were clearly too spicy for the local palates (more in a moment). There’s a menú ejecutivo at lunch, with a strip of paper listing two choices each for appetizer, main course, and dessert – you are handed a paper punch with which to make your selections should you choose to go that route.

Sudestada - nem soSudestada offers water, soda, and beer, and to their credit, on the latter category, offers one “microbrewed beer on tap”. I’m not sure if Këlch, which I believe is from Algeria, really counts as a microbrewery, but the beer was good, a bit darker than most of the beers offered here, and with a fairly rich flavor; it certainly worked well with the food. Victor and I settled in with a round and ordered a few plates to sample. A plate of nem so arrived, and based on the description, and on what arrived, these are pretty standard cha gio springrolls, complete with mint, cilantro, sprouts, salad, and lettuce leaves to roll them up. I couldn’t find anything online on the name used, but that doesn’t mean it’s not correct, I just haven’t seen nem so used for springrolls before. These were definitely tasty, if a touch greasy. Despite assuring our waiter that we knew how to wrap these up, he insisted on explaining it, in detail.

Sudestada - meatballsI can’t remember what these were called on the menu, but essentially they came down to coconut encrusted, deep-fried, somewhat flattened, meatballs. They were quite good, the sweetness of the coconut balanced by a squirt of the lime served on the side, along with a lightly vinegary sweet and sour sauce. Definitely the better of the two appetizers, though I wouldn’t hesitate to order either again. A nice little salad of various herbs and I think a bit of bok choy accompanied them, which added a nice component to the dish.

Sudestada - ga xaoThis dish was as odd as it looks. It is one of the various versions of ga xao, which is a chicken stir-fry. I’m fairly certain that the particular combination of items doesn’t fall strictly within traditional Vietnamese cooking – this was a mix of chicken (very little of it), a lot of squash, mushrooms, red bell peppers, lots of onion (in two forms, both stir fried in pieces, and crispy strands scattered throughout), and bits of free-form rice paper puffs. The whole thing was done up in a sickly sweet caramel sauce that could easily have made it a dessert with other components. A quick request to the waiter for a bit of fish sauce handled providing some salty balance to the dish, but, that should have been done in the kitchen. This was similar to what I found at Green Bamboo; and it’s quite common in Vietnamese cooking to use a caramel sauce, but part of the cuisine is mxing the caramel with the fish sauce and some chilies, all to provide balance – both restaurants seem to have stopped at the caramel. I noted that at the table next to us, the two young ladies there each had different dishes, but made the same comment and asked for salt – had they only known about the joys of fish sauce…

Sudestada - mixed stir fryI have to admit to loving the presentation on this dish. It also seemed to be quite popular around the room, though it may be that it was on the menú ejecutivo and that’s why so many tables were getting it. This is very basic stir-fried rice, with bits of meat, chicken, and shrimp, and lots of vegetables in it, but it’s all packaged up in a very delicate, crepe-thin omelette. This is one of the dishes that was listed on the menu as “very spicy”, and Victor found it to be so, though from my perspective it barely hit the scales of chili-heat. Still, it was quite good, and they certainly didn’t skimp on quantity – on any of the dishes for that matter.

Sudestada - budin de bananaWe decided to split a dessert, and personally, I love banana based desserts, so I opted for the budín de banana. This, at least for me, was the highlight of the meal (strangely, the same experience once again at Green Bamboo), with a rich, flavorful banana cake below, and great banana and vanilla ice cream, and all drizzled with a wonderful caramel sauce.

Overall, I liked the place. I might give it a few more points than I gave Green Bamboo just for creativity; but then, Green Bamboo’s food definitely has a more Vietnamese focus and traditional style. For really good creative Asian food and quality I’ll still stick with BuddhaBA or Osaka. By the way, the owner of Sudestada has just opened up a second restaurant kitty-corner from his first, called Standard, serving “Argentine comfort food of the ’50s and ’60s”. I’ve added it to my list to try.

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