You Takes Your Chances

2006.Aug.10 Thursday · 3 comments

in Life, Restaurants

“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.”

– Charles Franklin “Boss” Kettering, electrical engineer, inventor of the electric starter and lighting system for automobiles

Buenos Aires – Many of my local friends, Argentines and expats alike, think I’m nuts for wandering about in areas of the city that in their view, no one in their right mind goes to. First, let me say, I’ve never asserted that I’m in my “right mind”, not even being sure what that would be. Second, more often than not, I’ve found that their view of the areas that I’m headed into are based on rumor, or an incomplete picture based on some once upon a time news report or story, or, especially with the Argentimes, a memory of what it was like when they were growing up. Twenty, thirty, forty years ago…

Flatiron style building in La BocaNow, I have no doubt that wandering about in La Boca, the old port district, solo and late at night, is unlikely to be the smartest thing to do. On the other hand, given the recent spate of robberies in Palermo, and shootings in Belgrano, it seems that maybe the supposedly nice areas of town are the dangerous ones to wander about in. Regardless, I was wandering with my friend Mickey, and despite the overcast day, it was daylight. Besides, the two of us at 5’6″ with our shaved heads no doubt make an imposing sight… and we were out to both explore, and to check out the truth of a restaurant’s claim (or perhaps only tour guides claim this) to being the “most authentic” porteño restaurant in the city. Whatever that might imply. We did stumble across this building near to our destination that immediately reminded us both of a small version of the Flatiron Building in New York, and then revised our thoughts to the smaller “no tell motel” that used to be over in the meatpacking district of the same wedge design.

I’ve been hearing about El Obrero, Agustín R. Caffarena 64, since I first visited Buenos Aires. I’ve heard the assertion to “most authentic” more than once. I’ve also heard that it was discovered by tourists and tour guides a few years ago, and that the experience has gone from authenticity to whatever catering to the tourist crowd would be called. Let me say, the former claim is far more accurate, at least at lunch time. The food, no question, is about as classic porteño as you can get. So is the service. So is the lunchtime, clearly local neighborhood crowd. It may be that at dinner time (at which time there’s probably no question you want to arrive and leave by cab, this being located on a side street in a semi-deserted warehouse district) the crowd is more touristy, but I don’t think there were any other tables of non-locals in the place while we were there. Interestingly, although the restaurant has a phone number, they take their reservations via one of the owner’s cellphones (15-5665-7213).

El Obrero - mussels provencaleWe plopped down at a table still covered with the residue of the previous customers, and waited the requisite ten minutes or so until our waiter got around to us, clearing the table and resetting it with practiced ease. Worn, plastic covered menus that have probably been in use for decades were presented. Nothing on the menu is a surprise, it’s a menu that any local could probably recite without bothering to glance at it – parrilla, pastas, salads, and a few Mediterranean influenced fish dishes. We noticed quite a few tables with small pots of steamed mussels on them, so ordered a pot to whet our appetites while we perused the menu. Why we were perusing I’m not sure, we both the know the menu listing as well – perhaps we were looking for one item out of the ordinary.

El Obrero - provoletaNot, of course finding such a thing, we moved on to try a couple of classic appetizers. Some quite good, well cooked chorizos were brought to the table, smoky and mildly spicy. A completely delicious provoleta – clearly cooked right – you can see the little drippy bits where it reached out its little cheese fingers for the coals as it cooked, nice and smoky and topped only with a touch of oregano and salt (possibly a shade too much of the latter) – no fancy pepper, tomato, multi-herb toppings or stuffings here. The cheese was soft and runny on the inside, and crispy on the outside – clearly good qualitiy provolone.

El Obrero - asado de tiraWe moved on to a couple of straightforward parrilla items. One of the best asasdo de tira’s (crosscut ribs) either of us have had – and cooked exactly as we’d requested, medium rare – well seasoned, tasty, and served with an excellent housemade chimichurri. A mixed review for the entraña (hanger steak), usually my favorite cut – the meat itself beautifully cooked, delicious, but they hadn’t trimmed the silverskin (the somewhat rubbery layer that covers some cuts of meat like this) off of either side of it, which required a bit of work to remove as it’s a little too chewy and unpleasant to bother with. El Obrero - entranaObviously intentional, and perhaps that’s a more traditional way to cook an entraña, and in the end, the meat underneath well worth it, but just a bit of extra effort. Maybe one of my local readers can tell us more…

After lunch, and declining our waiter’s offer to call us a cab, we headed out into a slight drizzle to check out the rest of La Boca. Enroute to the touristy area, we found this building at the corner not far from El Obrero. Hard to see in this photo, but the building has some amazing arched windows and beautiful architecture. La Boca - Usina de la MusicaA little bit of online research this morning determines that this is the former main electric plant for the city, built in 1916, and bought by the municipal government less than a year ago for five million pesos. A planned thirty million peso renovation is to turn this into the city’s main classical music auditorium. An odd location, no doubt, but part of the renewal of the area and one that will no doubt bring both pluses and minuses to the neighborhood. You can bet that’s something I never would have wandered across sitting at home…


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Paz August 11, 2006 at 15:25

It’s good to explore. One can miss out on the best of things when listening to rumors and incomplete stories about places and not daring to venture out of their comfort level.

Food looks good.

That building is reminiscent of the NYC Flatiron building. Cool! 😉


asadoarg August 16, 2006 at 17:38

Nice provoleta!

I’ll buy you a lunch, dinner, beer, wine or whatever if you can find a place that trims entraña. Tourist-trap restaurants excluded. Chewy and takes at least 30 rapid cuts in order to break a piece free, and hopefully when that happens it isn’t launched into your lap, but I think it grows on you after a while. Plus I don’t think there is anything else on this planet that can keep the juices sealed on a steak.

dan August 16, 2006 at 19:50

I can give you lists of them here – El Trapiche, Parilla Peña, El Yugo, Pichi Huasi – all of which are not at all touristy, all of which do great steaks, and all of which trim their entraña. I don’t, by the way, mind a bit of thin “silverskin” as it’s called in the U.S., on it, but this was a thick, tough membrane that was near impenetrable – however, once I figured out how to insert a sharp knife underneath it, I was able to separate it from the steak. But then, to each his or her own! After all, there are parrillas out there that still cook steaks, what’s it called “a la cuero”? – still attached to the cowskin. Being follic-ly challenged myself, I decline to eat anything that has more hair than I do.

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