Buenos Aires – A few things, from the last few days…
This is just oh so wrong. According to the deli I got it at, this squashball sized bread roll is a knish, or knitche as they had it labelled. It’s basically an empanada wrapper twisted into a round shape around dried out, unseasoned, mashed potato. Yonah Schimmel would die on the spot, if he’s not already dead. If you’re going to imitate food from another culture, at least taste what you’ve made – even if you don’t get the imitation right, don’t you at least want it to be good?
Several folk had recommended the Richmond Café, Florida 468 (in the midst of the pedestrian mall), as a great, old style coffee shop, rivalling Café Tortoni. It’s got a similar old world feel to it, is in better shape, and given that it’s in the heart of a touristy shopping district, was surprisingly filled with more locals conducting business than tourists. Possibly the best torta de ricotta I’ve tried here – fluffy, delicate, flavorful, and a huge slab. Pretty decent coffee too. Well worth dropping in for a cup and a pastry. [It’s a shame, but this century old cafe was closed in August 2011 to make way for a new Nike store.]
Michael’s been recommending a relatively new Chinese restaurant in the Centro area, Dragon d’Oro, at Montevideo 352. So a trio of us trooped off there yesterday to sample the lunch wares. We overdid the ordering, to sample a variety of things, starting off with: three soups – agripicante, wonton, and fish ball, all quite good; this delicious plate of smoked pork – slightly “gloppy” sauce, a bit too much cornstarch, but great flavor; and a plate of decent, but for me, underseasoned, potstickers (raviolis china a la plancha). [This place has closed.]
Four main courses was also a bit over the top, and we didn’t finish them. A plate of fideos crocante mixto definitely didn’t have fried noodles – they were more the crocante out of the package type, topped with a mix of beef, chicken and shrimp. Decent flavors, but disappointing texture. This kung pao chicken came highly recommended, and was probably the best version of it I’ve had here, though lacking a bit in spice. Michael swore it’s had more spice on previous visits, so it may just be variable depending on who cooked it that day.
This dish was the winner of the lunch, at least from my view. Though listed as poco picante, it was anything but – quite spicy, and vinegary, and really excellent. It’s shredded pork “trilla yu xiang” style. Now, trilla in Spanish means something which is beaten or threshed, sort of like grain, and I’m guessing it’s just a mistranslation on the menu. Why should Chinese menus translated into Spanish be any better translated than into English? Yu Xiang style I discussed a couple of weeks ago – basically a spicy hot bean sauce with lots of ginger and garlic. The vinegar was a bit surprising, but then, I’m sure there are many local variations on all sorts of dishes. We also had a plate of vegetable mee fan, a bit short on the vegetables, and a bit oily and flavorless for me.
So, mixed thoughts – some real high points on the food, and some mediocre as well. The room is comfortable, and really large, and painted relatively bright yellow. With the exception of ourselves, all the other tables that were occupied, maybe eight of them with roughly 30 people, were occupied by Asian folk, which can be a good sign. Inattentive service was raised to new heights – our waiter kept walking away in the middle of our ordering – he’d listen to one dish and then just leave, wandering back occasionally to get another dish, and even bringing one or two before we finished ordering. Food came out truly at random – my soup arrived after the first main course, the potstickers arrived after all four main courses. I noted that he, and the other waiter, were paying far more attention, and actually chatting with, the tables of Asians – we were definitely the foreign folk, despite Michael’s regular dining there and being recognized by the waiter (who he says is always like this). The other waiter seemed friendlier, but hard to tell, since we didn’t directly interact with him. Overall, I give it decent marks for food, but really poor marks for service. It’s also a lot further away from home than Shi Yuan, which I think has equally good and maybe better food, and certainly a far more comfortable and friendly ambiance.
I hadn’t planned to go, but Grant over at What’s Up Buenos Aires offered us a couple of tickets to last night’s Gloria Gaynor concert. The self-proclaimed Queen of Disco came to town for a one night only show. I figured it’d be fun, and something quite new for Henry, so why not? The box office screwed up and put aside two tickets on opposite sides of the room, which kind of set us both into a “mood”. In the end though, enough folk didn’t show for this sold out event that we found two seats together. She gave a great performance, bringing the theater to its feet with extended renditions of I Am What I Am and a finale of I Will Survive. Her Spanish made mine look impressive, with grammar and word choices that were so bad that at several points people shouted out corrections to her, and she launched into a couple of religious talks about her life being saved by Jesus and how we should all accept him into our hearts, that I could have done without. The show was lit badly – though the staging part was decent, there were a dozen moving pinspots that spent most of the time pointing out into the audience and flashing, and then, two banks of eight floodlights each, mounted above the front of the stage and pointed directly into the orchestra seating, on for easily a third of the time – blinding, and for no good reason – people were holding their hands over their eyes. Nonetheless, we had a good time.
Some notes on theater here – and I’ve found this at several events we’ve been to: 1) like many things in Argentina, nothing starts on time, and the locals just don’t show up when things are scheduled. At 9:00, start time, the theater was maybe 20% full. At 9:30 when folks started waves of stamping their feet, clapping, and hooting for the show to begin, it was maybe 50% full. At 10:00 when the stamping and hooting reached a fairly fevered pitch, we were up to about 75%. The show began at 10:10, with people still wandering in. In fact, people were still coming in at nearly 11:00, when the couple who’s seats we were occupying breathlessly arrived, pissed off that the show had started without them. Luckily there were nearby seats and they took those so we didn’t have to move. The show ended at 11:15, even including an encore. It seemed a bit short, and clearly not just to me, there was more hooting and stamping, but the lights were brought up and the curtains closed and she’d left the stage without so much as a final bow.
2) People smoke in theaters – both live performance and movies. It wasn’t too bad last night, a bit more scattered than I’ve seen at some performances (like when we saw The Producers and it seemed like a third of the room spent the entire evening lit up). There are “smoking prohibited” signs all over the theaters, but some folk just don’t care, and nobody stops them. 3) Despite numerous signs that photography was not permitted, there were flash shots being snapped off all evening long – I’ve seen that in other live performances, including plays, which is just annoying – at a concert it isn’t annoying, just interesting. 4) In that same line, camera phones were ubiquitous and people all over the room were holding them up and taking pictures. 5) I just have to say this – cell phones are not substitutes for cigarette lighters. I don’t mean in regard to lighting up a cigarette, but you’ve never seen anything quite so hysterically funny as a sea of people lighting up their phone screens and waving them back and forth in the air during Killing Me Softly. Little blue and green squares of light undulating through the air just don’t do it.
6) Cell phones are so built into the culture here that people decline to turn them off. It’s a regular thing that they ring during movies and theater, people chat on them, instant message on them, and truly don’t care if they annoy anyone around them – which they probably don’t, as their seated neighbors are probably doing the same thing. It took me months to convince Henry that at least turning his to vibrate during movies was polite, and months more to convince him that we might both actually enjoy them more if he watched them rather than spending the whole film instant messaging and then asking me what was happening on the screen every five minutes or so. But everything is so geared these days to immediate contact that he can count on that turning off his phone for the two hours of a film (or at night while we’re trying to sleep – Friday and Saturday nights are count-on-able for series of messages all night long) will have a dozen or more messages from his friends when he turns it back on, each one more frantic because he hasn’t responded. I get the same from local friends as opposed to expat friends – if I don’t respond immediately they message or call again – I had a woman yesterday wanting to make a reservation for one of our dinners – in the space of half an hour she e-mailed me four times and called three, by the last she was hysterical that I hadn’t responded and confirmed her reservation – for a dinner five weeks from now – oh, and she never left her phone number on the three messages.