“What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?”
– Bill Murray, in Lost in Translation
Buenos Aires – Home again, home again, dancing a jig… sorry, channeling Mother Goose for a moment there. After catching up on some sleep, unpacking, getting back in the swing of things, etc., I had phoned my friend Michael to see if he wanted to head off to a puertas cerradas Japanese restaurant that some guests of ours had told me about. He was game, I made the reservation, and we were all set to go. Then someone phoned from the place about an hour before we were to head there to say that they’d decided to cancel “the event” for the evening and would we consider coming next week instead… we would, though we were disappointed. In its stead, we headed to another of the Japanese spots that’s been on my list for awhile, one we’d poked in and looked at about a year ago – lots of little separate curtained off rooms, waitresses in kimonos, all very quiet and tranquil… we secured a reservation and at the appointed hour found ourselves situated at a large, highly polished table with a gas burner atop. Shabu-shabu is the specialty of Nihonbashi, Moreno 2095, 4951-7381, in Congreso. What is shabu-shabu you might ask? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first we had to put on our traffic cone orange full body aprons that the place uses in place of napkins… I understand the reason for the apron – this style of eating can be a little messy – but how about a napkin too – the aprons just aren’t absorbent enough to use successfully. At least they bring hot damp towels both before and after the meal.
We kicked off the meal with a bit of sushi – sharing the combo sushi platter, which comes with a nice array of different fish, and, I think the first time I’ve seen it in Buenos Aires, ikura, or salmon eggs. The sushi menu also lists uni, the love it or hate it butterscotch pudding textured and colored sea urchin roe, but they didn’t have any in house last night – they must have it relatively often as our waitress had to go ask if there was any available for the evening. The sushi combo is presented very prettily on a small wooden bridge… the one drawback to sharing it is that it’s designed as a one person main course, and most of the items on it are presented as single pieces… we did the back and forth “you pick one” and then “I’ll pick one” routine. The ikura was such a treat that we decided to order another round… not an inexpensive proposition as it turned out at 9 pesos a piece. Overall though, the combo is a decent deal (50 pesos) given the quality of the sushi, which is very good – not quite up to what I had at Yuki a few weeks back, and of course, my thoughts are tainted by truly spectacular sushi had in New York while on vacation, but still quite good.
Nihonbashi offers a choice of two different types of beef for your dipping pleasure… straightforward Argentine beef, and Argentine raised Wagyu beef, the famed Japanese cattle that are raised to provide Kobe beef. [A note: last year, in November, in a financial protectionist move (however, claiming cultural reasons), the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture declared that Wagyu wasn’t just a designation of the breed of cattle, but also indigenous to Japan, and that although for years the Japanese have been selling the cattle to overseas ranchers, they didn’t want anyone outside Japan ever using the term Wagyu again. The rest of the world, unsurprisingly, has simply ignored this declaration.] These two photos should offer up a sense of the difference in the beef – the Wagyu, on the right, showing the “marbling” of fat that it’s famous for.