Before he can begin to explain his barbecue sauce recipe, Sebastian Laffaye has to give a detailed account of how they make their ketchup. It’s a little after 11am and the lunch orders are just beginning to filter through at Bajo Boedo, a casual sandwich shop eponymously named for its location on the quiet southern edge of the neighborhood.
His eyes light up as he breaks down each step. Noticeably absent from both recipes is the addition of honey or faux brown sugar. “We want that sweet acidity that comes from fresh tomato rather than the overly sweet flavor that comes when you add extra sugar,” he explains, “and the brown sugar here isn’t actually molasses. When you add it to your sauce, it’s processed white sugar with brown food coloring.”
His recipe surprises me and I do my best to dig out the reasoning behind the sauce. Pulled pork and ribs are on trend in Buenos Aires. The regional United States dishes are dotted across trendy Palermo spots decorated with corrugated metal and americana memorabilia. Even at an oversized neighborhood restaurant near my Almagro apartment hangs a photo of ribs underneath a shiny brown sauce wedged between a poster of an enormous suprema and another announcing a Tuesday Ladies Night. No matter where you eat, the sauce is nearly always the same: dark brown and saccharine sweet with a flavor that has more in common with a mass produced Bulls Eye than anything resembling a family tradition.
“Pulled pork was the first dish that I learned how to make,” he explains, “but I didn’t know it had a name. I didn’t know I was making ‘pulled pork’. I just bought bondiola, made up a marinade with what I had on hand and cooked it slowly in the oven until it fell apart.”
Laffaye began cooking seriously at fifteen when he took over the daily kitchen duties from his mother to feed the family of six. His style was guided mostly by intuition and what he had on hand. He continued to cook casually for friends and family and side hustled small catering gigs when work as an economist in the public sector didn’t pay the bills. When he and his business partner Silvio Parapugna were both laid off last year, they decided to turn their active hobby into a restaurant and fill the menu with recipes developed through years of trial and error.
The guiding principle is that everything is made from scratch and the sandwiches and salads that make up the small menu are assembled at the moment. “Even if a something sits for thirty minutes, the quality will really suffer.”
A salad named after the restaurant was the most emblematic of their fresh concept. It was a deceivingly simple mix of greens, pecans, roasted veggies and thin slivers of soft cheese. A simple vinaigrette added subtle notes of olive and nuts, possibly sesame oil, that was heightened by gentle pops of balsamic that erupted from roasted eggplant and zucchini. But overall the purity of the vegetables spoke for themselves. This approach is echoed across all the dishes where ingredients are chosen to heighten the other rather than take over the palate, “It hurts a little when someone asks to take something out of one of the dishes. Take out one thing and the essence is lost.”
The hamburger was another exercise in subtle flavors. A thin patty is charbroiled and topped with a generous chunk of tomato, panceta that is cured in house, fresh lettuce and lightly pickled cucumbers. Bread is made fresh and often still warm from the oven; despite its soft texture it held up under the juices that flowed out of the patty. A thin slice of cheese pops on the tongue but doesn’t overpower the other flavors. Sauces are added on request. The freshness of the tomatoes shines through and creates a barbecue sauce that is more tangy than sweet. It is the standard sauce of the slow roasted bondiola used for their pulled pork sandwich. An orange hot sauce, although not spicy by North American terms, tasted like a very light Peruvian crema de aji. French fries are sliced thick and fried fresh with the skin on. The outer crust was flaky and nicely seasoned with rock salt that gave way to a fluffy fry. Generous cups of sour lemonade is a great lunchtime option, although craft beer is available, as well.
The pastrami is a recipe borrowed from a friend that is smoked with a variety of wood taken from fruit trees like pear or apple. “The smoke flavor is very subtle, which is exactly what we were looking for.” The pastrami is smoked for about four or five hours and is pulled out of the oven just before it would begin to fall apart completely. The result is a deep pork flavor and a tender chew.
“We don’t want the smoke flavor to be too overpowering. I’d rather the flavor of the meat shine through.” With that, I do my best to not waste a single bite of pure pork flavor and gobble the rest down.
Av. Boedo 1729, Boedo
Monday through Friday, 11am to 3:30pm
Thursday and Fridays, 8pm to 11pm