The Food’s the Thing

2007.May.06 Sunday · 8 comments

in Restaurants

“Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.”

– Robert Motherwell, Painter, Printmaker

Buenos Aires – Martín Baquero’s cooking is simply impressive. That’s it. I should stop now and just post the pictures. Maybe with the names of the dishes. Of course I won’t, I can’t stop myself from commentary. It started with a relatively recent issue of Bacanal magazine, wherein the various folk who write about food for them came up with a list of their favorite restaurants of 2006 – a listing of 29 in Buenos Aires and immediate surrounds and another 9 in other parts of the country. As of that moment, I’d been to a dozen of them. I’ve now been to fourteen, and will continue to work my way through their list, slowly, as most of them are a bit on the pricey side, and also because out of the dozen I’d already visited, five had left me with far less than “wow” sort of experiences. Still, seven out of twelve, when it comes to personal tastes, isn’t a bad average…

[This place has closed, the chef has moved to Uruguay with his family. He is a partner in a new place that has opened in Recoleta, El Almacén de los Milagros, which at some point I’ll get to and review.]

Martín is the chef at Almanza, Charcas 4799 at the corner of Godoy Cruz in Palermo, 4771-2285, a place I’d walked by many times. From the outside, it’s nondescript, with a signboard cemented into the sidewalk listing “espresso, capuccino, biscotti…” and a few other things in that vein. I’d always assumed it was a local café – the windows are raised above eye-level – and I’d simply given it no attention. What a shame for my palate, if not a boon to my wallet (lunch, with tip, ran us 102 pesos apiece). On entering the other day, Michael and I found ourselves in a small room, nicely pressed white tablecloths on the tables, good silver and glassware – at the same time crossed with a sort of rustic brick ceiling, spare walls with a few black and white photographs on one, the whole thing done up in a color scheme of gleaming white and dark chocolate brown, if that combination can reasonably be called a color scheme. But, pay the lack of decor no mind. The food’s the thing… though service is equally as impressive – friendly, efficient, and hey, actually helpful.

After perusing our menus, ordering our meal, and a bottle of wine, we were treated to a dead-on slice of paté that arrived with a bit of a honey vinaigrette. The paté was, well, unctuous – spreadable, with great flavors – I think from reading about his restaurant now, it’s likely that this was his rabbit liver paté, but I forgot to ask him when he popped out to visit with us later in the meal, carrying his young son around as he visited the various tables. In leisurely succession, we were treated to a large, steaming bowl of fresh nettle soup – creamy, savory, incredible depth of flavor; and his take on a causa peruana – much simpler than many of the versions I’ve tried – this, two layers of lightly seasoned potato, sandwiching a wonderful creamy layer of citrus spiked fresh avocado and cilantro. Topping that, a trio of perfectly seasoned, just barely cooked prawns. From there, we moved on to main courses of a beautifully aromatic basmati rice with mixed shellfish; and one of the best magrets of duck I’ve ever had, cooked to medium rare and accompanied by a nice scoop of roasted beets and lentils. Sighing with contentment, we couldn’t resist going on to desserts – Middle Eastern kadif wrapped around figs, and a truly fascinating plate of a spectacular tart tatin accompanied by a wonderfully balanced tarragon gelato that I could just sit down and eat a bowl of. I’ll be back… and now I’m going to simply shut up and leave the pictures to say another thousand words or so…

Almanza - pate

Almanza - sopa de ortigas

Almanza - causa peruana

Almanza - arroz basmati aromatico

Almanza - magret de pato

Almanza - kadif de higos

Almanza - tart tatin con helado de estragon

dan May 17, 2007 at 08:48

I need to make a minor amendment in regard to price. It turns out that on the visit we spent 102 pesos each, we’d ordered off the dinner menu for a three course dinner. I’m not clear why that particular day they were offering the dinner menu instead of the lunch menu, but so be it. I’ve been back, and on most days, there’s a 25 peso two-course or 35 peso three-course menu that offers up a choice of all the same appetizers, some of the same main courses, but mostly some excellent different pastas and risottos. That’s an amazing deal for the quality of this food!

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