The Omnipresent Italian

2013.May.11 Saturday · 0 comments

in Restaurants

Like everywhere else these days, food TV here in Argentina is big. Beyond various shows on various channels – every news and life happenings channel out there has its share – there are two channels pretty much dedicated to food, El Gourmet and Utilisima (the latter also has shows on crafts and sewing and a few other things, it’s sort of the Martha Stewart channel). And, like food television channels back in the States, each seems to have its one main figure. You know, the chef who’s on all the time. We used to joke about The Food Channel really being the Emeril Lagasse channel because it seemed like every other show was his. Here, the two figures for those two channels are, respectively, Narda Lepes and Donato de Santis. On El Gourmet you can count on Narda showing up every other 30 minutes with one show or another (I think she has 4 or 5 current shows plus they show reruns of old shows), or so it often seems. She’s a perky, entertaining, well traveled and well spoken sort, which is probably the reason she gets so much airtime. And she looks completely fabulous for 41 years old (I’d have guessed her to be in her early 30s).

On the latter channel, it’s all Donato all the time. He’s an Italian chef, born in Milan and raised in Puglia (where his family can trace their lineage back to the 14th century), who amazingly enough for his prevalence on the culinary scene here has only been in Buenos Aires since 2000 and only on TV since 2005. He actually started on El Gourmet where he had seven different successful programs running (it’s not just perception that he was on all the time, it’s real), plus two more on local channel 13, and guest appearances on others. Having recently moved to Utilisima, now he’s got, I think, just a trio of programs but I’m sure that will grow. He also runs several restaurants in Palermo and Belgrano and his decade old “cooking laboratory” in the latter (he’s got a sort of compound of a couple of restaurants plus the lab just up the street from Sucre). Somehow or other I’d never managed to eat in any of his restaurants, despite how much I enjoy his shows when I see them – the man has a way, at least on screen, with pasta.

Friend Charlie Arturaola, sommelier, wine consultant, and now film director and actor in his own recent film (that you must see), El Camino del Vino, was in town working on another film and asked me to lunch. Charlie and I go way back. And, we’ve never sat down to eat together before. We talk online, either through Facebook or Twitter, all the time. Mostly it’s because we’re rarely in the same city at the same time, but we’ve known each other via e-mail and through friends, and meeting up at wine events once or twice a year, for around 15-20 years. Seriously, how do two people that connected never end up at a table together? Anyway, Donato is in his film and Charlie wanted to meet up at one of his restaurants where he was pretty sure we’d have a great meal. Donato was in one of his Belgrano restaurants or his lab, but for convenience and timing we wanted to hit the Palermo spot – my fault really, I didn’t realize that he was hoping to meet up with Donato. That would have been fun. Ah well.

Cucina Paradiso

So, we met up at Cucina Paradiso, Arévalo 1538 in Palermo, a spot I’ve dropped in at for coffee but never had a bite to eat. The place is basically a little Italian products grocery store, with tables, and a kitchen. The lunch menu is short and to the point, a couple of appetizers and a choice of several fresh pastas. About as simple and direct as you can get – properly Italian and all that.

Cucina Paradiso

I have to admit that this one caused a double-take. The sign for the ladies’ room. The men’s room sign was a pair of men’s shoes. Different focus much?

Cucina Paradiso - caprese salad

We split a caprese salad to start – beautifully fresh mozzarella. I’d have to say that the tomatoes, despite how enticing they look, were a bit hard and under-ripe. The basil in olive oil was perfect, and with little grinders of sea salt and black pepper on the side to season to taste, a great presentation.

Cucina Paradiso - fussili con pesto

Charlie went for the fussili with pesto genovese. Now, you know I love pesto, I just so rarely can bring myself to order it here because it’s usually such a disappointment and so disconnected from the original. But if one were to pick a place to order it in town, I suppose this would be it. The pasta, cooked just al dente, the pesto, while more subtle than I tend to like it, was delicious and nicely balanced, and most importantly, made with fresh basil and garlic and pinenuts and all that go into making a great pesto.

Cucina Paradiso - lasagna

Likewise the lasagna that I opted for. Great bolognese sauce, and all the right layers with fresh tomato sauce and bechamel sauce, and the pasta, and cheese and all that. Completely delicious.

Loved the ambiance, service and food. My one caveat is that the place is expensive. I found the portions to be pretty small, especially, let’s face it, for an Italian restaurant run by an Italian chef. I think of Italian food as being not just about flavor but about a spirit of generosity. I could have easily eaten double the amount of either pasta and still not felt like I’d overdone it for lunch – and the pastas come in anywhere from 75 to 95 pesos per portion, and the salad near the same. Of course, that’s still a better deal and a better quality offering than the pasta at my recent visit to Sottovoce for a good but not great rotolo with bolognese, but of similar quality and for far more money given the portion size than Broccolino. Still, I’d happily eat at Cucina Paradiso again, I’d just know it’s a bit of a splurge, because, well, I’d probably eat two of the great pastas! Recommended.

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