Knock Three Times…

2006.Aug.11 Friday · 3 comments

in Restaurants

“I also remember the delicious smell of the big loaves of bread baking in the family bakery’s wood-burning oven. I have loved the smell and taste of fresh bread ever since.”

– Georg Solti, musician and conductor

Buenos Aires – The instructions were both explicit and vague at the same time. “Just after 12:00, go to the corner of Cabrera and Arévalo. Look around for a building that looks like maybe a big garage, or something like that. Find the orange door. Knock on it. If no one answers, knock again. And again.” Oh, the intrigue!

Delaying my rendevous with the fates, I dallied along the street, poking in to various antique and junk shops, finally arriving at the appointed corner at 12:30. I looked around. Pretty much half the buildings looked like a big garage, or something like that. Ahh, but an orange door… how many orange doors could there be. I began a systematic stroll, a half-block in each of the four directions, and halfway through my searching, spotted a bright orange double door, with likewise bright orange security gates in front. The gates were open. I approached. A small white card attached loosely to the door fluttered in the breeze… Golpee Fuerte… Knock Hard. My friend Heather hadn’t arrived, she who was to accompany me through these puertas naranjas. [Moved to Arevalo 1478 and is now called Arevalito]

While I stood there waiting, a trio came out of the doors; two young men, followed by a woman with blazing red hair. They looked me up and down, I looked them up and down. The two men walked to the corner and stood, talking earnestly in quiet tones. The woman appraised me and then coolly walked over. “Yes?” she asked. “Is this… it?” I responded. “Yes,” she replied, “it’s a bit cold in their today, we have no heat, so we came outside to enjoy the sunshine.” The requisite kiss on the cheek, she introduced herself as Carmen, and called one of the young men over… “this is Juan.” Smiles all around.

No, this isn’t some Dashiell Hammett mystery. It’s lunch. What else do I do with my time? I’d heard from a local tour guide about another restaurant de puertas cerradas, and we were here to check it out. Carmen, owner and chef of Providencia, as well as Los 7 Panes bakery it turned out, and I chatted about the whole theme. She and Juan promised to attend a Casa SaltShaker dinner one night soon. I asked her a bit about their place, with a twinkle in her eye she told me I’d understand all once we came in. Heather arrived, and we entered. We didn’t even have to golpee fuerte, the doors were open. Providencia, Jose Cabrera 5995, 4772-8507, isn’t exactly a puertas cerradas. It’s just an unmarked bakery and restaurant that folks in the neighborhood know about, and folks from outside the zone, especially those in the vegetarian community, are just finding out about. The place filled up quickly, and soon had the air of hanging out at some small artists’ venue on the Lower East Side.

Enter, and you’re in a big concrete garage, indeed. One end of it has been converted to a bakery and kitchen, a large and small communal table are situated right in front of the serving counter of the kitchen – it’s all open, you can watch everything. There are racks and racks of freshly baked breads, and then on the kitchen counter, an array of vegetables, herbs, and spices, and a team of cooks busy working on making both food and more bread. There’s a separate room on the far side from the kitchen, not in use at the time, but clearly setup for more tables when needed. We sat at the large communal table and were presented with the menu, which I gather changes to some extent on a daily basis. Turns out that Los 7 Panes is a bakery for numerous area restaurants, and deliveries of bags of loaves were zipping out the door regularly headed to one or another. They’ll also sell direct to the public, but of course you have to know all about the orange door.

Providencia - tarta de berenjenaThe restaurant, which is currently just open on weekdays for lunch, offers freshly made vegetarian fare. First we dug into a platter of slices of wonderful seed bread, onion focaccia, and rustic country bread. Carmen assured us that the portions were quite big, so we ordered three plates to share – other than soup, there’s nothing that’s clearly appetizer or main course. First up, a fantastic eggplant tart. Silky smooth, nearly the texture of softened butter, seasoned with caramelized onions, a mix of spices and herbs, and topped with rings of sesame and poppy seeds. All on a flaky pie crust that had just a touch of sweetness to it. Quite possibly the best vegetable tart I’ve ever had. A bit of salad accompanied it – despite being an appetizer, it would, by itself, have been sufficient for lunch for one person.

Providencia - masa crocante rellenaLuckily, we were two persons, and gamely moved into our masa crocante rellena. It may not look like much, it may not look pretty, but a brilliant idea and delicious as well. A thin, large circle of just made whole wheat pasta dough is fried, to give it a nice browned surface. It’s then folded over a filling of ricotta, various sauteed greens, roasted peppers and tomato. The whole thing is topped with grated parmesan and herbs and browned in the oven to let it come together in a melty, delightful whole. I love pasta, and have never seen anyone treat it this way – excellent!

Providencia - cazuelitaA cazuela is a casserole, named for the dish it’s in, that goes by the same name. A cazuelita is the same but smaller, though still, in this case, a hefty portion. This particular one, a stew of beans, chickpeas, potatoes, and vegetables underneath a mashed potato crust – more or less a vegetarian shepherd’s pie. Very tasty and well seasoned. The first two dishes were the real winners for me, though I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one either. Looking around the table at the way folks were digging into their food, I’m guessing that the same could be said for the rest of the short menu as well.

Providencia - pear puddingThough sated, we decided to split one dessert, just to try something. One of the day’s specials was a just out of the oven pear pudding – more or less a steamed pear torte. We liked it, but… there was a certain air of “being good for you” about it, that hadn’t come across in the other dishes, which would easily have satisfied any but the most hardened of carnivores. This one, good as it was, tasted like something that was supposed to be “healthy” – maybe just a little too dense and whole wheat-ish, or perhaps the sweetener used, I’m not sure.

Obviously, I liked the place. We both did, and have plans to go back again. Definitely a winner for a great vegetarian lunch, and I look forward to next spring when Carmen plans to open up a couple of evenings per week as well. As she says, they’re a little stuck on certain days, and after the sun goes down – the only heat in the, well, garage, comes from the bakery ovens, and it can get a trifle chilly. I ambled back down the block, clutching a loaf of the seed bread that I’d bought (which Henry has declared inedible because it’s not soft, bland, white bread – how is it that we norteamericanos have the reputation for being flavorless white bread fanatics? The stuff is beyond popular here.). By the way, loaf of bread included, we left Providencia for just over 20 pesos apiece.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Paz August 11, 2006 at 15:29

Very nice! I’d love to try that pear pudding.


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