It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of canteloupe at the end.”
– from The Simpsons
Buenos Aires – I’ve always liked brunch. Except when I worked the brunch shift in a restaurant, which, thankfully, was only at one place, The Sazerac House. The problem with brunch is that it happens way too early for people to be eating anything other than coffee and maybe a Bloody Mary to help them get their day going, and it involves eggs. It’s not that I don’t like eggs, they’re actually a favorite food, but everyone, and I mean everyone, who goes out for brunch has their own idea of how their egg should be cooked… “I’d like mine cooked for 37 seconds on the first side, then flipped and cooked for 26 seconds, salted and peppered, then flipped back for 14 seconds, and then served on a piece of toast that’s been toasted in a vertical toaster only, oh, and please trim the egg so it fits exactly square on the toast, otherwise I’m sending it back.” And then, when you cook it for 38 seconds on the first side, they really do send it back… Brunch is easily the meal at which restaurants end up wasting more food than any other, more dishes come back to the kitchen to be recooked than probably the rest of the week combined. And it’s all because their eggs aren’t the way they wanted them.
Personally, I’m not that picky. As long as the yolk is still runny, I don’t really care if it’s fried, poached, or coddled, and if you’re going to cook the yolk through, scramble it or bake it and tell me that’s just the way it is. Well, almost. I have my favorites, no question, but it’d be rare for me to send an egg dish back (it’s rare for me to send any dish back, unless there’s truly something wrong with it – working on that side of the equation, I think, gives me a lot of empathy for what cooks are going through back in the kitchen – it, of course, depends on the situation). Anyway, back to the topic at hand, brunch. It’s something that I’ve gotten out of the habit of going out for since moving to Buenos Aires – first off, it’s not a big thing here, though becoming more of one, and second off, most of the time on Sunday mornings the effort of going out seems harder than just cooking a couple of eggs and toast here at home. But my friend Jerry is in town for a few weeks, and he likes brunch, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to go out and start sampling a few spots and seeing what they have to offer.
We started off last weekend with Novecento, Báez 199, Las Cañitas, 4778-1900, the international chain started off by an Argentine who wanted to bring Argentine food to New York, and did so successfully. He expanded on to other locales and cities, and then came back to Argentina, where, rather than opening a spot that offered local food to locals, he brings norteamericano food to Argentina. And he does so pretty successfully, if brunch is any indication. It wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch – but it wasn’t bad. An excellent Bloody Mary, and an equally good Mimosa started off the day – hard to screw up the latter, but the former is often, well, crap, and here it’s not – it’s appropriately spicy, balanced, and just what I wanted. The nachos left a bit to be desired – first off, they weren’t really nachos, they were a bowl of chili with some corn chips on the side, and the chips were too fragile to do any scooping of the chili, which meant spooning it onto them. Also, no spice. What’s chili without spice? And that slice of melted “American” cheese… what’s with that? Disappointing, though we did finish both the bowl of chili and the chips.
Okay, we had to order a couple of classics. So, the bagel with lox was first off the hit parade. Now, the filling was good – it wasn’t sliced lox – nor was it really lox, it was smoked salmon, but it was tasty – it was chopped up smoked salmon in decent cream cheese. The bagel, however, was nothing more than a whole wheat bread done up round with a depression (not even a hole all the way through) in the middle. Come on, this is a guy who’s spent the last 16 years working in New York, he’s got to know that that’s not a bagel. I’m beginning to wonder if someone has ever tried making real bagels here and found that locals just don’t like them or something. It’s not hard to make a bagel, but so far no one that I’ve tried here seems to understand the concept (a couple of places come close, like Big Mama) – and I can tell you exactly what they’re doing wrong, they’re not boiling the bagels before baking them – bagels are cooked twice, it’s what gives the crust that chewy texture… and, the dough isn’t ordinary bread dough, it’s got different proportions of its ingredients.
The Eggs Benedict, on the other hand, were dead on. I’m guessing they had to make their own English muffins, since I’ve never seen them here, and where they came up with Canadian bacon, I have no idea – interestingly, they also offer something called a “Perfect Benedict” which is identical except using local fatty bacon – nah, that’s an Imperfect Benedict. The hollandaise sauce was made right, the eggs had nice runny yolks, it was exactly what one could hope for. The fries served with both dishes were quite good too – more of steak fries than French fries, and not as crunchy as I generally like on the outside, but really tasty. Novecento also attracts a nice attractive crowd, so there’s plenty of eye candy during brunch, both at other tables and walking by on the street…
More brunches to come.