It’s time once again to play that game, Roundup of Bites. Not that we have that game, but hey, let’s make everything a game. Speaking of which, a couple of people asked about what happened to our new online Top-Master-Chopped-Iron-Chef series (seriously, one of you has to give me a better name for that, and not just an acronym, though TMCIC has a certain ring to it… not)? We’re just on hold for a bit as on Kevin’s side some major summer work projects have interfered that will run through the end of the month, and then Henry and I are away on vacation for the month of July, so it will be August until we’re back to this. Maybe by then we’ll come up with a name and think of some ways to smooth out the kinks in the process.
Back to our RoB… no, that doesn’t work either.
The search for great shawarma in the city is an ongoing quest. It has, however, reached the point where I find out about places on a very occasional basis – it seems hard to believe that there are only about three dozen places in and around this city for shawarma, so I keep looking. And I do find them from time to time. For those of you who know of one not on the list, let me know. I also know that a couple of the places on the list are probably no longer around, I just haven’t revisited everywhere to check up on them.
I make use of all the various online tools available to me in the search, and now and again something pops up. A couple of assertions on, I think it was Foursquare, claimed the best shawarma was to be had out in the barrio of Coghlan, at Arek, Monroe 3411, so one day I dutifully trooped out there. I was hoping, because other than a name and address, I wasn’t able to find anything about it – their website didn’t show up on a Google search, I got that later on. Luckily, the place was open. It’s take out only. Initially I was a trifle put off by the owner, who was attending to a woman at the counter and studiously ignoring my presence – not even a glance, a nod, a greeting – I wasn’t looking for him to interrupt his conversation with her to talk to me, but some acknowledgement goes a long way in the service industry. When she left, however, I got the 100% attention, and anyone else be damned, I guess he’s just one of those people who can only focus on one thing at a time.
Now, I wasn’t holding out hope – the two rotisserie spits on the back counter were devoid of beehives of meat. But, it turns out that what he does is cooks them the night before, after closing, then carves them, refrigerates the meat, and then more or less sautes it to order back in the kitchen the following day. As I said, I wasn’t holding out hope – I generally find that shawarma made in similar fashion is less juicy, and loses some flavor, as the meat sits, refrigerated. But I have to admit, somehow it works here. Wrapped up in a delicious pita was some of the juicier, more flavorful meat I’ve had in a shawarma. The spicing is a bit weak for my tastes, it was missing a kick from all those jars that are displayed on the countertop, plus no hot sauce available, but it was good, and accompanied by a decent amount of onion, bell pepper and tomato and a decent dollop of both yogurt and hummus. And luckily there’s a lovely plaza nearby where I was able to sit on a bench and eat every last bite, licking my fingers to not miss any of the juices.
I toddled off last week or, whenever it was, to the last Buenos Aires Market (it was actually where I stopped in the middle of my 100 paces photo challenge that I posted about the other day). There wasn’t a lot interesting to eat there to be honest – I managed to eat a few bites of a vegan burrito that while it was spiced nicely, had that weird cloying mouthfeel that textured soy protein often gets, and I just couldn’t go on. I spotted Spanish restaurant La Robla, Costa Rica 4001 at the corner of Medrano, right off the plaza where the market was held and decided to drop in and check it out. The place was humming – packed with people, digging into great bowls of fish and shellfish, platters of food, everyone looked happy.
I waited. And waited. And waited some more. In fact, I was getting ready to just call it quits, as every waiter I tried to flag down gave me the “not my section” routine. Suddenly a waiter appeared, much to both my and the other folk in the section’s relief – I guess he was on a break, in the middle of lunch service. I noted that they had a mixed seafood mariscada, a shellfish platter, though in comparison to most of the other dishes running around 100-150 pesos, this one came in at 220. I asked, and got confirmation, that it was really a dish for two or three, but, my waiter (who insisted on speaking to me in really, really bad English “to practice” – though I told him I didn’t speak the language – sometimes I just don’t want that routine), said that they had an individual sized mixed shellfish dish that was virtually the same and was “much cheaper”. Go for it.
Now, the two photos – before and after – it was god awful. No, that’s not fair. It was just so bland and uninteresting, the seafood itself was reasonably well cooked but had no flavor except the broth which tasted of nothing but very sweet bell pepper, and almost as if someone had accidentally used sugar rather than salt in making it – I couldn’t eat it. There’s no way that anyone with a palate had tasted that in the kitchen after making it and thought it was correct. I pushed it away and then spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to get my waiter or another one (“not my section”) to come to the table. No luck. So I finally flagged the manager, told him I was a) not happy with my food and b) not happy with my waiter and c) just wanted my check and to leave. He shrugged and said the waiter would handle it. The waiter came back to the table and asked if I wanted the food to go. I told him no, that I obviously didn’t like it, explained why, and he responded with “well how about I get you something else?” I asked, “instead of this?” He replied, “no, in addition, you’d have to pay for both.” You know what, just bring me the check. He did. And guess what, the individual portion at a “much cheaper” price? 219 pesos, a whole peso difference from the massive 2-3 person mariscada that other tables were loving. Me – “this is what you call much cheaper, a peso different?” Him – “it’s cheaper.” This place gets a big FU for their service and management indifference.
Much happier time at everyone’s favorite cheap parrilla. Really, I’m pretty sure it’s everyone’s favorite because if you pass by there in the evening or at lunch on a Saturday or Sunday the line to get in can often stretch a full block and service can take forever. But on weekday afternoons, it’s the place of choice – and also, unlike so many places, Las Cabras, Fitz Roy 1795 at El Salvador, doesn’t close up between lunch and dinner, so you can grab a steak or milanesa or empanadas whenever the mood strikes. On nice days, sitting outside is lovely, though maybe not so much on weekends when all the ravenous hordes pack in as close as they can get at glare at you, hoping you’ll leave and let them have the table – likewise to tables at window-side. Just saying.
The menu is extensive, but hey, we’re here for steak, right? Okay, we’ll start with an empanada or two, and the goat cheese provoleta, which comes served over a smoky charred tortilla and topped with an arugula salad and is a don’t miss. But the meat. Not the best steaks you’ll ever have, but really quite good, and, they really will cook them to order and temperature. Our entraña, hanger steak, big enough for two (all the steaks are, and the special platters, big enough for 3-4) was cooked to a perfect jugoso, still red in the middle and dripping enough juices to attract Bill Compton or Eric Northman (True Blood season 7 starts airing this coming Sunday). I also love that steaks come accompanied by a caesar salad (not a great one, but fresh and certainly enjoyable) instead of the ubiquitous french fries or other potato garnishes that everyone else serves. Two apps, one steak to split, two bottles of water, two coffees, and with tip we came in at 260 pesos total. That’s a bargain in a Palermo steakhouse these days. Not sure why I’ve never written this place up before.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been back to Tarquino, Rodriguéz Peña 1967 in the Hub Porteño hotel. More than a year at this point. In the intervening time, Dante Liporace, the chef, and I have become facebook and twitter buddies, and even have online chats now and again. I’ve sent him folk, he’s sent me folk. We’re having coffee this week. And then Miles, over at The 5th Floor, gave the place a great writeup last week, reminding me that I’ve been promising Dante another visit. Henry was off to La Plata, so it was a perfect opportunity (it’s not that I avoid going with Henry to nice restaurants, it’s just that he doesn’t really enjoy going – he gets bored spending a couple of hours in a restaurant, he’s not overly adventurous on eating – he’ll try anything, but generally is less than impressed if it’s unfamiliar – so on nights that he’s away, we have an understanding that those are when I’ll go out to places that I want to try that he’s just not going to enjoy a priori). Full disclosure – at the end of the meal Dante comped the check, so my only cost was a generous tip to the waiters.
Given that I’ve reviewed the place in great detail – even more so in the followup commentary to my original review linked above, I’m just going to make a few casual comments here, starting with that this is still one of my top picks for dining in BA (there’s always a list at the top of my review index of both fancy and casual faves, that I update regularly as need be). Okay, I miss the baguette with the beef broth. Seriously, I could just go sit at at table, have that and a cocktail or glass of wine and be completely ecstatic. Great martini, disappointed they were out of Hendrick’s gin, but Miller’s was a just fine substitute, and I like that they ask how dry you want it and when I said “not”, I like my martinis classic, they added a decent amount of vermouth.
The food is as good as ever. An appetizer of fried, just slightly “fudgy” egg yolks with olive oil brushed serrano ham and a smooth as silk potato cream is vying right now for favorite potential brunch dish in my mind. The melting tender duck on top of a slice of slightly spicy and sweet bread pudding accompanied by a citrus cream and candied orange peel was a nifty take on a duck a l’orange. And the unctuous, perfectly cooked beef cheeks with a lemon and potato cream just tied it all together – maybe just a hint salty on their own, but perfectly foiled by the lemon notes and caramelized shallots. Notable – less “molecular” than it used to be, which I appreciate – I don’t think there was a single foam, gel or powder to be seen, at least not as a real component of any dish. Service, impeccable. Cooking, likewise.