When we decided to start this column over a cup of coffee and heavy 2016 brainstorming one fateful afternoon at LAB, I wasn’t completely convinced that Buenos Aires had it in her to give us enough interesting content for a weekly restaurant review. She did. This was the year that casual restaurants took over, that Latin American flavors ruled (maiz cancha everywhere), Asian flavors expanded beyond cream cheese stuffed sushi rolls and everyone got in on the beer brewing business — for better and for worse. Here is our brief roundup of last year and what to expect in the coming.
Beer will stay, burgers will go
Time for some real talk, 2016. You need to find your chill with this burger and beer thing. No one needs more papas bravas and dried out (not all of you) patties topped with every bizarre flavor combo imaginable. And if you’re going to insist on putting ‘bacon’ on all of it first let’s learn the difference between bacon and pancetta and second, how about cooking it through to crispy for once? 2016 did bring along some good new places — Big Sur and La Birra — but I’ve had enough.
In 2017, the burger joints that litter every street corner of Hollywood and Soho are going to have to duke it out to see who will survive the fallout. All the breweries of Palermo will most likely fight the same fight. The upside? Porteños have fallen in love with beer and quality local craft cerveza has begun to infiltrate restaurants that just a year ago didn’t pay attention to having a draft option. Andres Plotno of El Zanjón del Gato described it best, “What the city is missing are breweries that serve good food.” Expect breweries with copy-paste menu options to slowly die off while restaurants with creative menus and solid beer on tap take their place.
The year Chacarita takes over while San Telmo continues to carve itself out as the bohemian food district
Major residential development across Chacarita has quickly transformed the neighborhood into a completely new barrio. This last year we saw the likes of Rita and Leikitio Bodegón Vasco offer two completely different propuestas, the former with an emphasis on light lunches and afternoon tea and the latter a contemporary interpretation of food from the Basque country. The influence crossed into Colegiales with neighborhood favorite Labor expanding beyond a take-out service while the opening of a new On Tap marked the neighborhood as a spot to keep your eye on.
The founders of Soria and Festival have also announced plans to open a chilled out microbrewery called Funes. The recent opening of Latin American bar and restaurant Elote — think arepas, tacos and craft beer — this month is one of many new hangouts to expect in the coming year.
San Telmo proved itself as a culinary force to be reckoned with this year with the opening of casual spots Matambre and Los Infernales, the undefinable El Zanjón del Gato, French bakery and cafe Merci and the recent arrival of Vietnamese street food stand Saigon. Neighborhood veterans like Cafe San Juan recently revamped La Cantina with a tapas bar in the front called La Vermuteria, El Banco Rojo moved from their minuscule kiosco to a larger space down the street and Pulpería Quilapán has upped their food game with a completely revamped menu. Expect more new arrivals with a particular interest in celebrating local and Latin American flavors.
‘Cocina Autóctona Argentina’ will continue to define itself
El Baqueano has been riding the wave for years — looking within to discover Argentina’s diverse set of raw food materials and asking its diners what it means to cook Argentine. The projects that followed in its footsteps were largely similar high-end tasting menus with high price tags. 2016 saw the birth of a handful of restaurants that brought national and local ingredients to the dinner table. La Carniceria rotates a mix of boar, wild deer and Patagonian lamb on the menu. El Zanjón del Gato has a savory whole fried quail served with talons intact, “I think it’s important that people understand where their food comes from,” explains Marianna Michinel. At San Telmo’s fast food spot Los Infernales, everyday porteño dishes like milanesa, empanadas, patys and choripans decorate the chalkboard but are intervened with a selection of meat that might require a dictionary — ñandu chorizo and surubi empanadas, anyone? At a recent pop-up at Matambre, yacaré (caiman) cooked broster style and served on fresh tortillas was the surprising house favorite.
As restaurant trends move away from high end towards a blossoming movement of informal eateries, no doubt the use of indigenous Argentine ingredients and materials from small independent producers will continue to become normalized. On the side of high end restaurants, Germán Martitegui will continue his Proyecto Tierras project which he launched in October. Over the next two years, Martitegui and his team will be traveling to each of Argentina’s 23 provinces to meet with chefs and farmers and conclude each experience with an experimental tasting menu back at Tegui.
The return of Isidoro Dillon
Chef Isidoro Dillon has spent most of his life as a chef working in restaurants across Europe (prior to that he was a graphic design student and model) with a hefty chunk of time spent in kitchens in Stockholm. He returned briefly at the beginning of 2016 to open the unfortunately short-lived Söder, a worn out looking space with a wildly experimental tasting menu that was in constant evolution. Although the chef isn’t planning on opening a new restaurant in the immediate future, he recently launched his Food Forward Studio project at the La Horqueta eatery Alo’s together with partnering chef Federico Tiseyra.
Food Forward Studio is a series of pop-ups set to take over various restaurants this year. The project melds Dillon’s coming up in the contemporary Nordic food scene with local ingredients and each restaurants individual approach to food. If the dreamy 9 course tasting menu at Alo’s — complete with smoked shrimp cured in blueberry dust and fermented milk ice cream — is any indication his pop-ups could be the most exciting thing to hit Buenos Aires all year.
A quick round-up of new attractions and the coming soon
After a year of speculation, the pork obsessed Chochán quietly re-opened this month in the middle of Palermo Soho — hopefully this one is here to stay. In San Telmo, a Vietnamese street food spot named Saigon has taken over an old local at the San Telmo Market with promises of pho and banh mi. In Chacarita, Elote guarantees “comida posta”, with a Latin American menu heavy on the Carribbean flavor palate and — drum roll — shrimp tacos. The power duo behind the wildly successful Monday night pop-up Chicken Bros are taking over Magdalena’s Party permanently. The restaurant is currently under renovation with sights set on a February opening. Another successful pop-up —chef Luciana Quintana of Happening taking over the kitchen of Almagro closed door Departamento D — will have Quintana stepping in as head chef with a relaunch set for January. The crew over at Cosi Mi Piace have renovated the space next door to open Bruto, the only company in Argentina that makes chocolate from the bean and is fair-trade and organic to boot.