Not Just by the Numbers

2006.Sep.13 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Restaurants

“Some things are being destroyed, because the Italians are just as tired of their basic food as the Americans and French were 20 years ago. So they’re reinventing to avoid palate exhaustion.”

– Mario Batali, Chef

Buenos Aires – I’m not quite at the point of calling it a trend, but there’s definitely a current fad for naming or renaming restaurants here with their street address. Somehow or other there’s an air that it’s hip and cool to have your place known by a number rather than a name. Personally, I think it’s laziness in the creativity department, but I’m willing to let it slide if the creativity is applied to the substance, i.e., the food and ambiance. I’m keeping my eye on the movement, and we shall see what we shall see.

I’d set off yesterday to meet up with my friend Barbara and check out another off my list of vegetarian dining spots. We arrived at the casón in question, only to find that it appeared closed. Not being daunted by such appearances, we pressed the buzzer and waited. Footsteps approached, the handle turned from inside, but then turned back, and the footsteps receded. A few moments later, as we shifted about uncertainly, the footsteps returned and a key was turned in the lock from inside (wouldn’t want to be caught in there if a fire broke out…) and the door was opened by a slightly scruffy young man in kitchen apron. We enquired about lunch and he launched into a rapid fire, hand-waving discourse, the gist of which seemed to be that the chef has just stopped showing up on Tuesdays, so he, the cook, doesn’t have time to prepare lunch and dinner by himself, so they simply stopped opening for Tuesday lunches and he manages to get the food ready for dinnertime. We’ll return, as the menu looks interesting (Indian vegetarian), but I think we’ll call ahead…

So, we found ourselves at a nearby numbered venue that she’d had tried before, 702 de Gallo deli Restó, at, not surprisingly, Gallo 702, corner of Lavalle, in the Abasto neighborhood, (4861-0472) [This place closed in late 2011.]. It’s a high-ceilinged, airy and light feeling kind of corner restaurant. Black lacquer tables, black clad servers, and light jazz music playing in the background. A gleaming bar runs along one wall. While not empty, it wasn’t exactly packed with folk for lunch. The menu, leaning towards Italian – pizza, pasta, and risotto – with a smattering of local porteño dishes as well – prices inexpensive, and several prix fixe options are offered as well. They have a nice, non-usual suspects wine list, and offer the entire twelve varietal range of the Rodas Colleción wines by the glass, my “house” wines for my own semi-daily imbibing – actually, by the glass is a misnomer, as they actually offer them by the quartino, a common Italian approach to wine service that offers a ¼ liter (one-third of a bottle) in a small flask, along with one or two glasses to share it.

702 de Gallo - PinchosWe started off with a small sort of tapas plate – or, as the short listing of selections shows up on the menu, pinchos, a term meaning bar snack or appetizer, but one I haven’t seen used here before, it tends to be used more in Spain. All of the various selections sounded interesting, but we were still leaning towards the vegetarian world, and besides, a nice fresh mozzarella (very fresh, and quite good), tomato, and basil snack on a skewer, with a little balsamic dipping sauce, hit the spot as an appetite whetter perfectly. We also got a basket of good bread along with butter flavored with parsley and garlic, a nice treat and change from the usual plain butter… or nothing.

702 de Gallo - tomato mozzarella risottoApparently not having gotten quite enough of a good thing, Barbara opted for a bowl of the tomato and mozzarella risotto. Creamy and al dente, just the way a risotto should be, this one was made with roasted until burst cherry tomatoes, more fresh mozzarella, and sort of a salsa rosada, or mixed tomato and cream, finish to it. Packed with fresh herbs and well seasoned, it was excellent. If I had a quibble it was that the sauce made it just a touch soupy – but not badly so.

702 de Gallo - mushroom risottoAs any regular readers of this blog know, I can’t resist a good mixed mushroom dish. So spotting that one of the risotto offerings contained pan-roasted portobellos, pine mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms, I was ready to put the kitchen to the test. They came through with flying colors. The risotto was dead on what it should be – plenty of all three mushrooms, and roasted brown to concentrate their flavors, lots of parmesan cheese, and a decent amount of black pepper. I think I finished the dish in under five minutes, and it was a hefty portion!

702 de Gallo - tarta de ricottaThough full, the food had been so good that we couldn’t resist sampling a couple of desserts. A few extra jumping jacks and situps clearly in the offing. This is the extraordinarily rich tarta de ricotta, a dense as a hockey puck disc of baked ricotta cheesecake. A bit of light and dark caramel sauces grace the plate – clearly they get into a bit of fun presentation, especially on this dessert. I have to admit to getting more and more impressed as we ate. Oddly, though, I will say that our espressos arrived before the desserts did – very unusual for a restaurant in Buenos Aires, where coffee is always, I’d thought, served after dessert.

702 de Gallo - berry cheesecakeThis dessert bordered on disappointment, but only because everything else had been so good. First of all, it’s not what I think of as cheesecake, instead being a light, airy, sort of whipped gelatin and cream cheese dessert that makes me think of a hospital cafeteria. It’s a type of cheesecake that never fails to strike me as simply wrong, because I grew up on those dense, rich, baked cheesecakes… Kind of like the tarta de ricotta above. In fact, given that the mixed berry topping was excellent, and made the dessert, my immediate reaction is that they should toss the cheesecake and just serve the tarta de ricotta with the berry mix. Now that, would be sublime dessert.

I noticed that Thursdays and Sundays 702 offers a tenedor libre, or all you can eat, pizza fest. If their pizzas are as good as their other dishes, this place is going to become a favorite spot very quickly!

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