The 2010 Wrap-Up

2011.Jan.01 Saturday · 2 comments

in Books & Other Media, Casa SaltShaker, Drink, Food & Recipes, Life, Restaurants

“The problem is when you are writing something in retrospective, it needs a lot of courage not to change, or you will forget a certain reality, and you will just take in consideration your view today.”

– Boutros Boutros-Ghali

It’s always tough to wrap-up a year, but it’s also kind of fun to just look back and see what happened, what stood out, what didn’t…. So here, a mix of Casa SaltShaker and personal – the best and, perhaps, the worst, of the year:

We started up our dinners on January 15th, after returning from vacation in Peru. With only a one week gap while I headed off to NYC for some personal business, we didn’t miss a weekend (have to change that, the whole idea was to take some time off, you know?) with at least one dinner. At the end of May we raised our prices to reflect ever increasing costs here in BA (that 35% inflation really adds up). Overall, 117 dinners and 2 brunches, the smallest of which had 5 folk at it, the largest, 14 (twice actually, both times when I somehow put down reservations for the wrong day and we ended up scrambling for the sudden arrival of two extra guests over what we’d planned – that’s when I switched to a different computer program for tracking reservations!). Sixteen of those were private dinners, ranging from 6 to 12 people. In total, 1,207 people attended the dinners, though probably about 150 of those were repeat customers – at the top of that heap, local friend and expat, Allan, at 10 times, tied with new friend Jon who lives here part of the year. That’s over 6,000 plates of food out of our little apartment kitchen. No wonder I need a vacation!

Brunch, twice, was an experiment that didn’t go the way we’d hoped, so we dropped the idea. We had a good number of last minute cancellations, and no shows, in mid-year, which launched a long discussion on our facebook page resulting in us deciding to take a 20% deposit from folks we don’t know. Even with that, it was surprising how many people (fewer at least), simply give up their deposit because they change their plans and wait until last minute to tell us about it – hey, we even had three different reservations over the last few months who prepaid in full and just didn’t show up.

Allergies were a bigger thing this year than in past year with 153 requests (virtually all, interestingly, norteamericanos), some of them I suspect weren’t really allergies, but simply dislikes phrased that way. A few people simply had to be told “no” with laundry lists of what they would and wouldn’t eat and they aren’t included here. Not surprisingly, the biggest category for allergies was shellfish – 10 folk none at all, 5 specifically crustaceans, 4 specifically molluscs/bivalves, and then a smattering of individual ones like scallops or mussels. On the other hand, nuts weren’t a big thing, which did surprise me – only 2 people all year for no nuts at all, and a couple with individual nut allergies to peanuts, pistachios, cashews or coconuts. Seven folk asked for completely vegetarian dinners, eleven for pescetarian, and a whopping 27 for no red meat of any kind (not including folk who simply came to one of our scheduled vegetarian dinners so I didn’t track stuff like this) – and, thankfully, for the first time in five years, we didn’t have a single occasion of someone showing up at the dinner and announcing there that they were vegetarian as if it was a challenge I needed to meet – everyone let me know upfront.

Another dozen or so were specific to beef or pork (mostly religious reasons), 3 folk who don’t eat any baby animals like bunnies, lamb, kid or veal (but adult animals were fine), and one “no red meat except pork”. A half a dozen no fish or seafood of any kind (mostly more “yuck” expressions than allergies), and two who only eat raw fish, not cooked. And a mix of those – a half dozen what I call “pseudo-kosher” – people who don’t eat pork or shellfish “for religious reasons”, but otherwise wouldn’t know a kosher law if it bit them, having no problem eating other banned items. A good number of no dairy, or only specific dairy, and four gluten free requests. And the rest, a smattering of various individual ingredients – these tend to be the ones I suspect aren’t necessarily allergies, though some of them may be – figs, avocado, kiwi, artichokes, cilantro, curry powder (with no idea which ingredient out of the dozen plus spices that make up curry powder is actually the culprit?), blueberries, pineapple, buckwheat, mayonnaise (but eats eggs, oils, and lemons), chicken, eggs, asparagus, sesame, raw foods, non-raw foods, basil, garlic, onions, rabbit, beets. I’d say the two most common that were a surprise were mushrooms, and mangoes, each actually coming in with a half dozen claims.

Favorite dishes (mine) over the year:

Smoked Herring Risotto

Smoked Herring Risotto

Salmon and Surubi Pizzetta

Salmon and Tigerfish Pizzettas

Prawn Ceviche over Asian Pear

Prawn Ceviche

Tian of Piquillo, Pumpkin and Eggplant

Tian of Piquillo, Pumpkin & Eggplant

Pappardelle with Oxtail

Oxtail Pappardelle with Goat Cheese & Garlic

Red Curry Duck

Duck Curry with Lychees

Milky Way Cheesecake

Milky Way Cheesecake

Eggplant Tarte Tatin

Eggplant Tarte Tatin

Poppyseed, Anise & Lime Pionono

Poppyseed Pionono with Licorice Custard & Lime Syrup

Most interesting wines I’ve tasted this year: Finca La Luz Sangiovese and Kooch Pinot Noir, both, not surprisingly given what’s available here, from Argentina.

On a personal level… here’s where retrospectives are interesting, at least to me, I actually get to see where my focus has been this year. Let’s see, the trip to Chiclayo and Chachapoyas, in Peru, during the first two weeks of January was absolutely fascinating. For the most part, it wasn’t a gastronomic delight, but there was some interesting cuisine – and possibly one of the most unusual dishes I’ve ever tried, chirimpico – “a chopped mix of baby goat’s heart, liver and intestines that are stewed with the blood of the same goat and then mixed with cilantro, peas, squash and chilies”.


My brief trip to New York didn’t yield any amazing dishes, but generally decent meals – some really good pasta at A Voce Madison (particularly the fava bean, walnut, rosemary, meyer lemon & whipped lardo pappardelle), some quite good food, particularly the desserts, at Print, great sushi at Kanoyama, steak tartare at Locanda Verde, but mostly just good, casual eats, like a day out at Brighton Beach and a sampling of cured meats at Salumeria Rosi. Here in BA, a very few excellent dishes – the smoked potato and seafood “pizza” at Bardot (also probably my favorite new restaurant of the year) being, I think, the highlight of all the dishes I’ve tried over the year out and about in town.

All in all, a tranquil year. I didn’t read anything that amazed me, outside of our vacation the first two weeks of the year, we didn’t do anything of great note, import or interest. This is the first year of the 5½ that I’ve been here that no friends from the States came to stay with us, and, come to think of it, other than some wine and food world colleagues, really no visitors at all. And, another year passes with no family visits (hint, hint) (actually, that’s not fair, at the end of 2009, a distant cousin whom, to be honest, I’d never heard of before, looked me up while she and her husband were passing through town – we had coffee – that’s the extent of family visits). Hmm, when it comes down to it, on the “doing” side of the equation, other than work, I really didn’t do much this year, so NY resolution #1 – get out there and do more! Back to exploring, which I’ve let slide away. We did make some wonderful new friends through Casa S, some of whom I hope will remain so for a longtime to come, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Last, but by no means least, a thank you to everyone who reads this blog, who came to Casa SaltShaker, who touched our lives in some way this last year. We, I, couldn’t do it without you.

Welcome back to BA

My favorite photo of the year.

(Click photo or here for the high res original)


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