“Things only have the value that we give them.”
– Molière, 17th Century French Writer
Buenos Aires – There’s a two block strip along the south side of the Recoleta cemetery lined with restaurants. They tend towards the expensive – it’s the trendy part of the wealthy section of the barrio. Tree-lined streets, seating outdoors in good weather, touts trying in Spanglish to entice tourists to dine. The big differences between this “tourist trap” and that of Puerto Madero are two – first, more if not most of your fellow diners here will be locals, and second, though just as expensive, for the most part I find better value – higher quality, more interesting food. I’ve enjoyed dinners at Lola, lunches at Munich, coffee and people watching (though not the burger) at La Biela, and only once had a bad food experience, at H.J. Bean’s, thankfully closed. Yesterday lunch I headed with a new visiting friend from Chicago, a food writer, for lunch at Munich. It was a gloriously beautiful day and we wanted to sit outside, which unfortunately it turns out, Munich doesn’t offer. He wanted to try porteño cuisine, so we decided to take a chance on one of the several parrillas lining the strip.
Though empty, so were most of the places – we were early for lunch (though I’d note, this place remained pretty much empty throughout lunch), and we grabbed a table in the open air tent out front of Clark’s, Junín 1777, 4807-2725. As is common at this grouping of restaurants the first question we were asked was if we wanted English language menus – declining, we settled in to peruse. The choices were turned over to me, with a request only to sample a variety of local cuisine. Dangerous and daring move on his part… though I went safe, if not a usual suspect by starting us off with a bottle of 2004 NQN Malma Malbec from Patagonia – ripe black plum fruit, nutmeg, just a touch of candied violets, and perhaps a dash too much oak for my tastes, but not overdone.
We started off with my favorite classic to introduce visitors to, the provoleta. What can be wrong with a slab of grilled cheese? In general, nothing, though I was holding my breath hoping that this wouldn’t be some odd take on it. And, as it turned out, it was good. Clearly double cooked, but still tasty – it had been grilled on both sides, but notedly then cooked in a small dish in the oven to reheat it, which, given that it was a little thick (nearly an inch) for the standard provoleta the center hadn’t quite melted all the way through to that gooey goodness that I love, but not bad.
Next up, of course, some sort of sausages and innards. Decisions, decisions. So many good sausages to choose from – well, at least the usual three – chorizos, salchichas, and morcillas – I opt for the classic chorizo, because on the other half of the platter I’m going to go out on a limb. The chorizos smoky and hot, quite good quality, up there among the better ones I’ve tried. Ahh, but now the “parts” – this is a food writer after all, time to be daring. No ordinary kidneys, sweetbreads, livers, or hearts… I’m headed for chinchulines, those grilled and coiled small intestines of a calf… when, there I spot it, chotos, a specialty of Uruguay, here on a menu in Recoleta… those self-same small intestines, only from a kid, a baby goat, and braided into a cylinder that has the look of something out of a science fiction film. These, tasty, but not cooked quite as well as I’d have liked, not so underdone as to have to send them back, but they could have used a bit more crispiness on the outside. Our waiter gives a short discourse on that they don’t turn out as well when cooked a la parrilla as when cooked in traditional Uruguayan style where they are roasted in un horno de barro, or mud/adobe oven.
Our waiter brings us a palate cleanser in a martini glass. He explains that with the heaviness of what we’d started with he felt we needed something before we launched into the more elegant main course I’d selected, on his recommendation, to share. The sharp flavors of lemon sorbet and a splash of red vermouth do the job, and we prepare to tuck into a platter of Lomo Clark. He’d misunderstood my request, though I didn’t realize it until later – thinking that the chef had very smartly split one order for us to share, he actually brought two orders of the same dish – at least I think so – perhaps he split the meat and just gave us each full portions of the decorative elements. This was excellent, and one of the better preparations of lomo that I’ve had here – the lomo topped with panceta and mushrooms and enveloped in an empanada crust, accompanied by a ragout of panceta, mushrooms, and red wine, two mashed potato puffs stuffed with sour cream, and a bit of a mayo based herb dressing.
We decided to leave dessert until later, a stop off somewhere at a heladería for a cone. Lunch coming in slightly pricey given what we had, but really not bad for the quality – around 120 pesos ($40) total, including wine. We moved on to an afternoon of wandering and sightseeing.