“Believe me, General, nobody loves your glory as much as I do. Never has a Chief paid more glorious tribute to a lieutenant. At the moment it is being printed, a telling of your life done by myself; being faithful to my conscience I give you all that you deserve. I say this so that you can see that I am fair: I disapprove much what I do not think is right, but at the same time I admire that which is sublime.”
– Simón Bolivar, writing about General Antonio José de Sucre in his Resumen Sucinto de la Vida del General Sucre
Buenos Aires – One of the things that comes up as a common theme in e-mails I receive is something to the effect of “Why haven’t you reviewed restaurant X? I’ve read about it in the tour guides and don’t understand why it isn’t on your site.” Well, let’s see – a couple of things – there are thousands of restaurants in this city, and unless someone else plans to pick up the tab for me to eat out lunch and dinner every day of the week, not to mention a personal trainer at the gym, I’m not going to get to all of them. Some of these places have been reviewed by everyone, and their mother, and do you really need one more opinion? Restaurants that make it into virtually every tourism book out there probably either paid to get into them, paid a PR company to launch a campaign to get them into the guides, or, perhaps, are really worthy of being mentioned by everyone. And, let’s face it, tourism guides are aimed at tourists, and the vast majority of restaurants that I see in those books are too – they’re often over-priced by local standards, and serve food that will be more familiar to a large number of visitors, rather than cuisine that’s authentic, or creative versions of authentic local cooking. So the short answer to the question is, based on most of my experience traveling around, it’s generally not worth my time or money to bother with those places.
The other thing, while of course I appreciate the confidence that folks seem to have in my reviews, it’s not the same as if I was a reviewer for a paying newspaper or magazine, where I would have a responsibility to both the reading public and the venues – both in my selection of, and my level of fairness. In this blog I’m simply expressing my opinion, sometimes based on one visit to a place, sometimes on more than one, but it’s also a simple subjective report on the experience, not an attempt to look at all the aspects. I often disagree with my dining companions – I have friends who love places I find lacking, and vice versa – but they can start their own blogs if they care to express their opinion publicly. Sometimes I’m probably not remotely fair to a given restaurant. Such is life – nothing is different than if I wasn’t writing about the experience – if I don’t enjoy a place I’m unlikely to go back to it – and I’d probably say so in casual conversation with friends or anyone who might ask me if I know such and such a place. Here, I’m just sharing that experience with a wider audience, most of whom I’ve never met, and likely won’t. That said… on to a review of a place I’ve probably gotten several dozen e-mails over the last two years wanting to know why I haven’t been…
Sucre, Sucre 676, 4782-9082, in Belgrano, is simply not at all what I expected. I had visions of one of these temples to cutting edge cuisine, with a white tablecloth environment that was contrasted by some sort of offbeat art (somewhat like I found Thymus to be recently). I imagined food that made use of all the techniques I’ve been learning in my cocina de vanguardia class, with way too much foam and gel and powder. So, I’m happy to report, that while there are touches here and there, it’s just not that. The ambience is what I suppose would be called modern industrial, with lots of metal and concrete, but it’s also offset by a sufficient amount of softer surfaces with wood and fabric so that you don’t feel like you’re dining in a garage. The large room with extraordinarily high ceilings (three stories?) is dominated by three over-sized elements – a large central wine cellar made of concrete and glass that allows you to see some but not all of the wine collection, stacked high. Along one side there’s a floor to ceiling bar display – how they get ahold of bottles on the upper shelves is anyone’s guess. And the back wall is a wide open kitchen, complete with traditional parrilla. It’s casual, appealing, and comfortable.
The food, likewise, has it’s touches of “industrial” in the form of those aforementioned things, but for the most part relies far more on traditional cooking methods and flavors. The menu is divided into three parts – tapas, appetizers, and main courses. The three of us ordered a couple of the tapas selections to nibble on, to be followed by a couple appetizers, then three main courses. Our waitress looked at us and exclaimed that it was way too much food for her to fit on the table all at once. I repeated that we wanted them in three separate rounds, and she looked perplexed. And this, is the one negative part of the Sucre experience, and something for which it gets regularly noted – inept service. Not rude or haughty, everyone was delightfully friendly. But the hostess who seated us and the two waitresses with whom we interacted, were simply clueless. After going over our order a third time to make sure she got it right, she headed off. Shortly thereafter we received the two tapas we ordered, along with two bowls of a ceviche tapas which we hadn’t (we had ordered a mixed plate for one of our appetizers that included ceviche, causa, and something else). Our waitress looked inordinately pleased with herself, and we looked at each other, sighed, and decided to just see how things turned out. We never did get the appetizers. We did get all three of our main courses, and later our three desserts, as ordered. I will say that the pleasantness of the service, and the quality of the food, made up for whatever mis-steps there were.
These are some quite delicious little croquettes of prosciutto and manchego cheese, and a provoleta of goat cheese – both done perfectly and setup right for sharing. We also, as mentioned, received a ceviche tapas – of pink salmon with mango. Now, both of my companions liked it quite a bit. I found it to be lacking in any sort of spice other than some salt. Part of ceviche is the vibrancy of flavors from herbs, onion, citrus juice, and, generally, some kind of hot pepper – this was lacking in all of those – it seemed to be salmon that was marinated in citrus, though I’m not sure in what type, it didn’t have the zip of lemon or lime, perhaps what’s here called limón sutíl, what we might think of as a key lime, which are sweeter. And other than that it had some diced mango. Not much else going on, and I was disappointed in this dish. It’s also the only dish I’d say I was disappointed in.
Here we have an excellent risotto topped with shrimp – not quite the size of shrimp I expect when I hear “langostinos”, but a decent amount. The risotto is flavored with fresh herbs and herb oil – perhaps a touch more oil than is necessary, but it looks pretty.
A grilled fillet of salmon, right off the parrilla and well seasoned with herbs, topped with foam, yes, but more as a decorative element than anything else – if I recall correctly it was a garlic foam – a bit of a broth and butter around the fillet and a nest of freshly sauteed vegetables. Really good.
I think we all agreed this was the winning dish – a braised bondiola, or pork shoulder, served with roasted sweet potatoes and a fresh herb oil. The pork was so tender you could eat it with a spoon, and it had just the right amount of crunchy bits around the edges.
Desserts took a turn more “cutting edge” in style. This was a lemon lime mousse topped with some sort of brittle cookie, surrounded by fresh fruit and a melon soup, and, topped with a foam of some sort of fruit that I don’t recall at the moment. The flavors all worked, though the cookie was a little on the burnt side and put a bitter note into the dish, which may have been intentional… or not.
This, I think, was the least interesting dessert, and I generally like banana desserts. It was a sort of cream of banana, sandwiched between cookies, topped with a pretty much tasteless cocoa foam, with some pulverized crunchy bits on the side and an okay ice cream.
This was my personal favorite, a coconut cheesecake. I do like my cheesecake. It was served with a mango ice cream, a dried rainbow of caramelized coconut, some elderberries, and again, some sort of pulverized crunchy things – vaguely chocolatey. Either way, the cheesecake and mango ice cream were a great combination.
Overall, thumbs up for Sucre, and their restrained use of the cutting edge as elements to support, rather than replace, traditional cooking.