“Sensationalism is like going to a buffet; sometimes people like to go and sample everything that’s there, but you do have people who go just for the dessert tray, so they go to the salacious and they go fill themselves up just on that.”
– Montel Williams
Buenos Aires – Most of you know my proclivity for a good buffet, or tenedor libre as they’re called here. It’s in the genes of my people. We can’t resist a spread of food. For several weeks some friends and I had been thinking about going to what we had understood was a sort of underground dinner offered by the Sephardic Community Center here – good, Mediterranean Jewish food. We didn’t know we were in for a buffet. And it was quite a different experience from the usual.
The community center, a large building at Gral. J.D. Perón 1878, in Once, is home to a large number of activities, from religious to social, classes to performances. Twice a week, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, they offer an open dinner to the community. Reservations for parties larger than two are pretty much required (4371-7151). The dining space, indeed underground, in the basement of the building, is called Club Oriente, and they’ve been offering some sort of dining program since 1947! It’s a simple basement room, painted white, some photos and posters and plaques on the walls, tables scattered about and covered in white tablecloths.
The open buffet is 30 pesos, plus beverages. You start, if it’s your first time, by taking a tour with David, a delightful Syrian Jewish man and the host of the evening. He will walk you past the cold buffet and explain all the dishes. Then it’s off to the kitchen, to poke in pots and sniff in the wonderful melange of smells from a dozen of them bubbling away on various burners. A team of cooks is busy preparing a variety of dishes – savory and sweet, and turning them out as fast as they’re able.
We loaded up on cold appetizers – an array of salads from a quite good tabouleh, to sun-dried tomatoes in garlic and herbs, to hummus, to olives, beets, peppers, and a wonderful dish of brussels sprouts sauteed in hot peppers flakes. My favorite, however, was a truly amazing babaganoush – non-pureed – smoked eggplant, cut in slivers, and mixed with tahini (sesame paste), onions, garlic, and herbs – absolutely spectacular. I went back just for seconds of that. While we were eating our cold appetizers the waiter brought a plate of kebbe – bulghur wheat stuffed with meat, and Middle Eastern style laymayins, the latter definitely the better of the two, but both quite good.
Then, it was off to the kitchen, where one of the cooks ladled up plates of various dishes of beef and lamb cooked in stews of different beans and spices, wonderful stuffed cabbage with a lemon tomato sauce, beef and rice meatballas cooked with potatoes, and an amazingly good dish of meat and rice stuffed whole small zucchinis stewed with dried damson plums (damascos). I’d have been happy with just that and the stuffed cabbage. But, we were not to be left to our own devices after leaving the kitchen, no… Our waiter showed up with freshly grilled kofta with grilled onions and tomatoes.
We bowed out of dessert, and asked for the check – but they were not to be deterred. Bowls of fruit salad, freshly cut, showed up, along with a plate of just baked pastries, some filled with sugary walnuts and others with pureed dates. We sampled nibbles, but simply couldn’t keep going.
An experience worth checking out, and obviously, something quite different from the norm. Make sure you go hungry!