“Anybody can sell steak. But if you can sell odds and ends of one thing or another, then you’re doing something.”
– Frank Bellissimo, Owner of Anchor Bar, where Buffalo Wings were ‘invented’
Buenos Aires – We all know from posts here and elsewhere that locals aren’t fond of spicy food, for the most part. So combining that with being around 5,400 miles away from Buffalo, NY, it should come as no surprise that Buffalo Wings haven’t exactly caught on like wildfire here in town. For the most part, the places that serve them are casual, norteamericano hangouts. Still, being a favorite snack, it seems a good quest to take on – the search for the best “hot wings” in town. Now, criteria were left pretty loose. The classic Wing, not referred to with the Buffalo appellation in its hometown, is a lightly smoked and deep-fried wing section (drumsticks or “flats” or both, but not generally the wingtip), which is then tossed in a vinegar and cayenne based sauce and served with a side of celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. But the variations begin from there and branch out in a myriad of ways. Listed in the order we tried ’em.
The “hot wings” at Cilantro, Anchorena 1122, Recoleta, are not so hot. Not that they’re not good, they are, but they’re just not particularly spicy. They are wok-fried, and then tossed in a sauce of soy, mild to medium chilies, onions, honey, and a few Asian spices, and are served 10 pieces to an order for a pricetag of $15. They’re good, and perfectly satisfying for what they are, though I’m tempted to disqualify them from the true hot wing category. Instead I’ll give them an award for “Most Offbeat Semi-Hot Wings“, mostly because we really liked them….
The Hottest Wings award goes to Amaranta, Junín 1559, Recoleta, a favorite spot for breakfast, lunch, and brunch among the norteamericano set. Not suprising that they offer up wings – and they offer them up with a choice of any of a quintet of sauces, and in portions of 7, 14, 21, or 28 wings, progressively less expensive apiece the more you order. The “Buffalo” sauce is a mix of oil, vinegar, four types of dried chilies and various other herbs and spices. The wings are baked in the sauce rather than fried, so the texture is different from the “norm”, i.e., they don’t have that nice golden, crispy skin, but the sauce is fiery and delicious, though not remotely “Buffalo” in style. They’re served up with a side of carrot, celery and cucumber sticks with Ranch dressing. [Update: Amaranta closed in December 2009]
Hard Rock Cafe offers up about as textbook classics as you can get. Though I wouldn’t order a different version, it’s good that they offer variations – instead of deep-fried you can opt for grilled (the wings are all pre-smoked so, it also only takes a few moments to get them as they simply dump them in the deep-fryer and get ’em hot and smoking), and a choice of barbecue, “Classic Rock” (mildly spicy), and “Heavy Metal”, which the bartender assured me was muy, muy picante. Not really. About the same as tabasco sauce, which is what it basically is. I also like that the wings are properly hickory smoked before being finished in the fryer. The wings are good, inexpensive (22 pesos for a dozen), in fact without a side-by-side, I couldn’t tell the difference from El Alamo’s (the next spot we headed to), though the celery sticks on the side are a little icy from the refrigerator and the blue cheese dressing a bit too runny and not particularly cheesy. Big plus for the wetnaps on the side, they do help with cleanup at the end. And, for a noisy spot, chain restaurant or not, HRC certainly tops the skeevy atmosphere at El Alamo – fix the dressing and they’d win, but either way, I’d rather be here than at El Alamo, at least at night so
I’m giving them a tie for Best Classic Buffalo Wings.
[Edited, July 2010 after hearing negatives about changes, and heading over to resample them myself]
It’s a close call between these and the ones at Hard Rock Cafe. Both offer about as textbook wings as you can get – right out of the description in the opening paragraph. Tangy with vinegar, moderately spicy with cayenne, properly deep fried, though not smoked – on latest visit they were ice cold in center, clearly having been just reheated from frozen. Celery sticks (plus carrot sticks here) on the side. El Alamo, Uruguay 1175, Recoleta, edges HRC out in two areas – a bottle of really good Brazilian hot sauce on the side for those who want to add more heat, and, more importantly, a rockingly good blue cheese dressing, filled with chunks of cheese – good hot sauce no longer offered, and the blue cheese dressing is now a puree and insipid – possibly even just a bottled dressing. On the other hand, the ambiance here, at least at night (I’d go during the day only), sucks, unless you enjoy being in a chokingly smoke-filled room (customers and staff smoking in the restaurant – illegal in this city), the frat boy mentality of both staff and a large percentage of customers, and the hookers, errr, young ladies, hired to hang out and get the boys to drink more. Also, while I have no problem with the 20 30 peso minimum at night (paid at the door, with a ticket good to be redeemed against one item), I do have a problem with the bartender looking at my 20 peso wing order (12 wings) 28 pesos, 15 wings and my 12 peso beer, and saying “I’ll use your admission ticket for the beer and just charge you for the wings.” Umm, no, you’ll use it for the wings and I’ll pay for the beer. Yet, I noted up and down the bar him pulling the tickets to pay for a beer and charging people for the more expensive stuff. Here’s a hint, that’s called theft, or at the very least, cheating. Maybe they got some complaints on this, this time we got asked for our tickets and they were applied to the whole bill. The only way I’d go back here would be at lunchtime when the atmosphere is calmer, you can relax and watch a game on TV.
It was a given going into a classic Argentine bar that alitas picantes wouldn’t be particularly spicy, at least not by “our” standards. I have to admit, I expected a bit more spice for something they bill as muy picante, especially after the bartender assured me that they were not only spectacularly good, but really spicy too. Of course, when she served them, she also plunked down a bottle of tabasco on the side and said, “You might want this,” so she may have known the real score. The wings first – deep-fried until perhaps just a bit too overcooked – falling off the bone yes, but also somewhat shriveled up and dried out – I was actually a touch thankful there were only six of them on the plate – 16 pesos, making them fairly pricey “per wing”, though, they’re served up with a whole mess of pretty good french fries, which makes up for that in some fashion or another. The sauce – stewed tomato, green and red bell peppers, onion, and a couple of bay leaves – more or less what here is called a la pomarola. Nada picante. Tasty, in its own way, and made for a nice sauce for the fries, but Buffalo style they ain’t. Points, one supposes, for Argentine Reinterpretation of Hot Wings at Portezuelo, Vicente López 2160, in Village Recoleta. Major points for what may be the best stocked bar I’ve seen in over four years in Buenos Aires.
Entering a Hooters is one of those things that I’d always classed in “on a cold day in hell” – at the very least, it was a cold day on the canal, Puerto Madero that is, at Alicia Moreau de Justo 840, canal side of the building. It’s an amusing location, basically just across the street from the backyard of the Casa Rosada, so if La Presidenta Cristina wants to slip out for a snack, or play with a hula-hoop or pick up a little extra cash…. It’s one of those things that I kinda sorta just don’t get the concept – not because I’m gay and don’t happen to be into the Hooters girls, but because it seems to me like the Midwestern shopping mall version of a strip club, without the stripping. And, on this cold day, it was even more toned down – one of the two girls in attendance had on her requisite scanty orange satin shorts, but a big puffy orange down jacket zipped up to the neck, and the other was wearing a pair of puffy orange sweatpants, presumeably the other half of the first girl’s outfit, and had on two layered black long sleeve sweaters. So that left Hooters to stand on its own with its road sign decor, blasting rock music, and what I will charitably call food. The wings, which admittedly are neither referred to as Buffalo nor Hot, but simply Hooters Chicken Wings, are available in portions of 10, 20, or 50, or 20 with a bottle of champagne ($20, $35, $65, and $120, respectively), the last for anyone who might possibly be able to find the setting romantic. They are offered breaded or “nude”, and with BBQ, mild, hot, or “3 Mile Island” sauces. We ordered a platter of 20 with the last sauce, and half breaded and half not. Three Mile Island has apparently cooled off quite a bit – the sauce was little more than tomatoes, paprika, and a whole hell of a lot of black pepper. The wings themselves, just pretty much disgusting – we were clearly famished given that we actually ate several of them – they’d clearly been frozen before being dumped into the deep fryer, and here and there where a portion of one had been left sticking out of the oil, it was still frozen. The fact that they were left in the fryer for more than 15 minutes (we could see into the open kitchen from our table) meant that where they did cook, they were pretty much dessicated. Since I’m creating awards here, I’ll give them Most Disgusting Wings to Be Put On a Plate.
As long as we were in Puerto Madero, we moved on a block or so to the south to one of the two in-town outposts of T.G.I. Friday’s, falling at number 1010. Now, in general, my problem with the chain is two-fold: first, the uniforms – I don’t mind the whole cluttered kitschy decor thing, but the waitresses festooned in ribbons and buttons and charms and worst of all,
silly stupid hats, does nothing for the ambiance; and secondly, almost everything is too sweet, and here in BA, it’s even worse than I recall back in the States. I’ll say upfront that thankfully, the Buffalo Wings here come in a portion of only 8, and are the most expensive, at $25. I say thankfully, because having just had a wretched experience at Hooters, these were equally bad in their own way. First, the wings were really small, and really, really, really overcooked, even slightly burned in some spots, tasting as if they’d been fried in borderline rancid oil. They’re served without sauce, which comes in a ramekin on the side – choice of BBQ, mild, hot, and red hot. The red hot we were served was a vaguely brick orange sauce that tasted of roasted peppers, worcestershire sauce and old frying oil – nothing remotely spicy in it, and hanging around the corner of Odd and Yuck. Our waitress seemed shocked when we asked for actual hot sauce, and tried to talk us out of a bottle of tabasco sauce, insisting that what we had was the “hottest sauce they have” and was unwilling to consider that perhaps we’d really not gotten the red hot sauce, but maybe the extra extra mild, garnering them The Hot Wings that Really, Really Weren’t award. Even with tabasco, however, these were barely edible, and we only finished half the plate, asked for the bill and left.
I was going to also go to the T.G.I. Friday’s at the Alto Palermo shopping center, just to see if it was different – I’ve been before for a burger, which was fine though nothing special. However, my dining companion from the previous night beat me to it and passed on this missive, so I’ll take his word for it and not waste my time:
The first time I went to Drink Gallery, Chenault 1794 in Las Cañitas [Now closed.], the industrial modern space was empty other than a waiter and bartender, acid rock was blasting at ear-splitting levels, and they were out of nearly everything on the menu, news delivered with a shrug and a “we’re not open tomorrow so we just figured we wouldn’t buy anything for today either and run out of as much as we could.” I tried calling a few times after to see if they were open, and had their “hot wings”, but the phone registered as out of service. We decided to take a chance and go back, they were open, music this time, The Beatles, at a more normal listening level (same two staff), a few people having drinks in the place. We ordered the wings and beer. Now, these have potential… sort of…. They took awhile to arrive and if I were to guess, the wings were fresh, uncooked rather than precooked as they were everywhere else, had been deep-fried to order, resulting in the meatiest and juciest dozen of any place we checked out, and with a lovely, golden, crispy, crackly skin. Perfect. They were, however, just barely brushed with a hint of sauce, not even enough to determine if it was picante or not, so I asked for more. Turns out not, and that’s a shame with wings that wonderful. The sauce is little more than oil, salt, and what I’d guess is just hot paprika, or perhaps some sort of other very mild pepper, could even be a mix, it was just too subtle to tell. On the side, strange – two piles of carrots, one pile nice, crisp, raw carrots, the other, chilled but cooked until limp carrots. The ramekin filled with pretty much just mashed up blue cheese, not a dressing. Not easy to “dip” the raw carrots into, forget about it with the cooked ones. So, hmm… how about an award for Wings with the Most Potential?
Now, I realize that everyone (still) likes to joke about how bland British food is. And there’s some truth to it, no question. But come on, it’s not like they don’t eat spice at all – look at all those “Brick Lane Curry Houses” – Indian food, Indonesian food – and more, even if it’s not classic English cuisine. So when a small, somewhat dingy British pub pimps for their alitas de pollo en salsa picante you expect at least something at the tabasco sauce level. Not so much at King’s Town, Jufre 102 in Villa Crespo. The wings, ten to a bowl, had an odd, washed out and slightly metallic flavor, and strange texture, and it took a moment to realize they’d been boiled, probably in plain water, to pre-cook them, and then left sitting in a refrigerator until needed, at which point they were tossed in a fryer, tossed in the bowl, and then had a scoop of tomato sauce ladled over them. Plain tomato sauce. Not much more than crushed tomato pulp, probably out of a can, with some salt, pepper, and a whole lot of oregano. Even our waitress, when we didn’t finish them and said “they’re not really very spicy” admitted that they were poco picante, aun para porteños (barely spicy, even for locals). The place has a nice beer selection. We also sampled their onion rings, which were quite good, however, I’m still going to have to give them the award for Blandest Imitation of a Hot Wing. Ever.
I’ve been holding off on publishing this post because I was waiting for the re-opening of Sugar, the expat bar in Palermo, where, rumor had it, they had amazingly good and rockingly spicy hot wings. Unfortunately, after a two week closure, they’ve decided that complying with the city’s codes for food service in a bar were just too onerous and given that food was a very small percentage of their sales, have opted to re-open as strictly a bar, no food. The kitchen is closed with the intention that it stay that way. So, we may never know.
If anyone knows of other spots in town that serve up some version of Buffalo or hot wings, send a note or leave a comment, we’ll check ’em out and add ’em to the list.
[To the only followup place so far, Casa Bar]