“Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside.”
– George Bernard Shaw, Essayist, Playwright
Mar del Plata – Dining out in Mar del Plata proved to be an interesting experience – much of it expected, some of it not. Of course, having decided to head there at last minute on the day of New Year’s Eve, and due to my screwing up which platform our bus was leaving from, we ended up on a later bus and arriving at our hotel at nearly 6 p.m. We met up with a friend for a brief wander and introduction to the center of town, noting numerous restaurants, and for unknown reasons, not enquiring at any of them if they had space for the evening. On our return, the hotel staff was not at all encouraging, assuring us that every restaurant in the city was booked for the evening and there was simply no possibility of finding somewhere to eat, even in the food complex that is the central puerto. That turned out not to be an issue anyway, since after half an hour of trying to get a cab, we simply came to the conclusion (which later proved correct) that virtually every taxi driver in the city was taking a few hours off to celebrate.
We walked back to the central area, and found that besides pizza and sandwich shops, with queues down the block, almost all of the restaurants had closed up for the evening. The few that were open were booked full. We finally found a small cafe, La Fontaine, on the corner of Entre Rios and Bolivar, where we scored a table for the oddly planned NYE menu. They had two prix fixe selections, a choice of either a chicken and potato salad followed by suckling pig accompanied by an ensalada rusa; or an ensalada rusa followed by a chicken accompanied by a second ensalada rusa. For those wonders, they were charging 42 pesos. But only one person at the table had to order one of those. The other person(s) had the option of ordering anything off of their menu that they wanted – not that it was extensive. So, we ordered a bottle of bubbly (Chandon) for the celebration, the suckling pig option, and another dish, which came accompanied by yet another ensalada rusa. Everything was served room temperature – they were simply filling plates off of platters they had lined up in the kitchen. Oh, yum. But we got to toast in the New Year sitting at a table, with more or less food in front of us… and then we threw them for a loop and asked for dessert, which turned out to be an excellent bread pudding topped with whipped cream. A bit of wandering and watching fireworks and dodging firecrackers in the central plaza, and back to the hotel for sleep.
Next day arose with cloudy skies and cool temperatures, along with a bit of sprinkling rain. Though we took along our beach towels, we didn’t hold out much hope for a day on the sand. We started with a walk along the rambla, “window shopping” at the various tents and booths set up along the way, checking out the occasional sand sculpture, and made our way from the beach close to our hotel to the Torreón del Monje, which hasn’t been used by monks in over a century, though I doubt the full last hundred years it has been occupied by it’s current slew of cafes and a discoteque.
From there, we grabbed a cab to the puerto, where we checked out the various offerings at the food court-like central plaza (only about half of the eighteen venues were open, it being New Year’s day). We ended up settling in at Mediterraneo, “Loc. 5” in the puerto, where we dipped into our first plate of rabas, or deep-fried squid rings, of the vacation. A bit on the oily side, but the squid was nice and fresh, and with plenty of lemon to accompany it. The space is borderline cafeteria style, though with waiters dishing things up and rushing them to the table.
We continued on with a shared paella – which looks really pretty, but was a bit, well, understated in flavor, as in, it really didn’t have much of any. Still, it was filled with fresh seafood, and the lack of seasoning and bland rice were just pushed aside and we nibbled on the various shellfish and vegetables that were interspersed. A little bit of zip and it would actually have been a quite good paella. We decided to pass on desserts, and moved on to an afternoon of planned beach attempt… as noted in my last post, we gave a shot at the local gay beach… which turned out to be 1) not where we’d been told, near to the lighthouse, which was a hefty drive on it’s own, but another 30+ kilometers along the shore… a heck of a taxi bill – and, of course, about the time we later got back, the friend who’d recommended it sent a text message saying, “oh, did I mention there’s a bus that goes out there?”; and 2) though it appeared to be clearing up, the weather reversed itself and started to storm, about the time we got to the beach… and of course, after the taxi had disappeared into the mist… but we met a nice couple who we later spent part of the evening with, chatting about things to do locally if the weather didn’t clear up for the next day…
And that led us to a visit to a restaurant we’d spotted the night before, Per Te, Moreno 2211, that was interestingly one of the few non-puerto restaurants we spotted that specialized in seafood. We dug into another platter of rabas along with one of calamarettis, whole baby squid deep fried. The rabas were actually less good than the lunchtime spot, but the calamarettis were superb. The breading was a little less cohesive, but the flavor was great.
We followed up with a cazuela de mariscos and a platter of abadejo en crema de camarones – a mixed seafood and tomato stew and a baked filet of fish topped with a creamy shrimp sauce, the latter accompanied by really good cheesy mashed potatoes. There really does seem to be an emphasis in Mar del Plata on fish topped with cream or cheese sauces. Almost all the dishes we spotted, with the exception of things like paella and cazuela, were prepared with some version of a sauce like that.