Chopsticks

2008.Feb.24 Sunday · 4 comments

in Restaurants

“And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?”

– Bill Bryson, Writer

Buenos Aires – Having grown up in a nice Jewish Midwestern family, chopsticks were, of course, second nature. I think we started to learn how to use them pretty much at the same time we went off the baby food spoon and onto the fork. And later, moving to New York, it seemed completely second nature to most of the population, many of whom demand chopsticks in any type of Asian restaurant, despite the fact that not all Asian cultures use them (while they’re the standard in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam – the Thais, for example, use “western cutlery”, except for noodle soups, where the soup is dipped up with a large spoon held in the left hand while the chopsticks are used to grab the noodles – demanding chopsticks in Thai restaurants is simply… a sign of ignorance – in fact, with the exception of Vietnam, chopsticks are not the standard in any Southeast Asian country). Here in Buenos Aires, even in Chinese restaurants, chopsticks are not the norm – they’re always available at such places, but tend to be by request rather than the first thing on the table.

Palitos - steamed and grilled dumplingsThis, however, is not true at Palitos (which literally means “little sticks”, and although technically chopsticks are called palitos chinos, most just drop the adjective), Arribeños 2243, in Barrio Chino (Belgrano). Here, chopsticks are brought along with the food, and not those little break-apart throw-away flimsy wood sorts, but cleaned and carefully wrapped plastic versions – nice and long, and sturdy. I’ve heard about this place from several friends, and for whatever reason haven’t popped in there – but I was in chinatown with a friend and we were looking for some special vegetables for this weekend – and there it was, so in we went. Strangely, one of the first things to catch my eye was the te frio con café – iced tea with coffee – and no, on inquiry, it wasn’t a misprint – and I had to try it – it’s a large glass of sweetened ice tea with a shot of espresso in it – which just sounds odd, and you know what? It’s delicious. I had two. We ordered up a round of potstickers – a bit greasy, and strangely crisped on all sides rather than the usual crisp on one side and steamed on the others, but very good flavor. The panecillos al vapor were, for me (my friend disagreed) less interesting – turning out to be basically steamed dumplings – we were expecting steamed pork buns (the stand at the Chinese New Year festival was right out front of Palitos, and those were really good, so we’d been hoping… and panecillos translates as little buns). Maybe it was just the disappointment of not getting what we thought we were…

Palitos - ciervo salteado con jengibreIt’s unusual in BsAs to see venison on menus, pretty much anywhere except the Patagonian restaurants. But Palitos offers up a half dozen different preparations. They also offer a variety of other meats – mostly aquatic, like frogs’ legs and various fish and shellfish that aren’t normally seen on local Chinese menus. It caught our eye, and though a little pricey (the venison dishes all ranged in the AR$35-45 range), we had planned on just one main course to split. And it was a decent sized if not huge portion, and really quite good – plenty of ginger, a nice rich gravy – the venison bits ranging from very tender to a bit chewy, so they clearly went with the “parts is parts” approach. We liked it. But I want to go back and try something that’s more of a “staple” dish – maybe a nice kung pao

Palitos - sauteed akusaiWe hadn’t planned on anything else, but then the two Chinese guys at the table next to us, who’d ordered the lunch special (bit bowls of noodle soup), ordered a plate of sauteed akusai (bok choy), and the way they were attacking the plate got our attention. We ordered a plate – some green vegetables never hurt, right? Really wonderful – actually my favorite part of the lunch – the bok choy having been lightly grilled first so it had a slight smokiness, and then tossed in a light sauce with a whole lot of garlic. Don’t miss this one on the side of whatever else you’re eating. Now, as I said, I want to go back and try some other dishes – off the bat, this doesn’t beat out Lai-Lai, which to date is my favorite Chinese restaurant on the strip (and hmmm, has that great sauteed akusai with dried shrimp… can we try the two dishes side by side?), but I do want to give it another chance, and where else in BsAs am I going to get iced tea with a shot of espresso?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Marce March 16, 2008 at 17:51

True, I had forgotten about the coffee-tea drink there! It was absolutely remarkable and surprising, I need to go again to refresh my memory and try to reproduce it at home. I did enjoy the grilled dumplings, not so much the fish soup I order. It is a tad overpriced for being a Chinese restaurant, but I´m sure there are many things to be discovered in the huge menu they have.

dan March 16, 2008 at 20:34

Although the specialties, like the venison, were pricey, most of the more standard stuff was about the same as any other restaurant in Barrio Chino. As noted, however, I still like Lai-Lai better in general.

dan May 13, 2008 at 09:01

Palitos - Vietnamese phoI’ve been back here a couple of times now, and most recently, we’d seen that they had a couple of dishes labeled “vietnamese” and “picante”. Figuring we’d give that a shot, having noted the dearth of southeast asian food here, we ordered a bowl of what was simply listed as sopa de fideos con carne vietnamese (picante), or spicy Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Lo and behold, what arrived was a bowl of fairly good pho. It’s not dead-on, by any means, and it wasn’t remotely, in any form or sense of the word, picante, though, we’d already asked for hot sauce to go with our appetizers and rather than the ubiquitous bottle of tabasco or red pepper flakes in oil, received an actual spicy paste of garlic and chilies, which spiked this up nicely. We’ll be back to try a few more of the dishes labelled for the southeast…

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