Hot Christmas. Cold food — what’s with that cold veal and mayo dish? Add to that an almost empty city. The holidays in Buenos Aires are weird (for people from northern hemisphere at least), and it is notoriously difficult to find a restaurant that is open and slanging good food. Here’s a short list of spots that are:
Note: as these are special menus, photos from each location aren’t representative of the specific dishes on offer.
La Locanda, Jose Leon Pagano 2697, Recoleta
The Restaurant: Laid back Italian-style cantina stacked floor to ceiling with wine bottles, flags and photos in a neighborhood where neither laid back nor cantina are part of the standard restaurant vocab.
The Gente: Old people. Italians. Porteño families that think they are Italian.
The Chef: Sardinian-born Daniele Pinna is the archetypical Italian — boisterous, outgoing, constantly joking and a natural host. After working in restaurants around Southern Italy, he moved to Buenos Aires more than a decade ago to open a spot that would feature informal Italian comfort food.
The Christmas Menu: A fish heavy menu with traditional Mediterranean style dishes that pull from Pinna’s family cookbooks. The meal begins with an Aperol Spritz and a fresh oyster with black river caviar before diving into a three-course meal that is heavy on the seafood. Appetizers include grilled octopus with potatoes and capers or lobster tail (yas) with potato salad. Mains include the impossible decision between a red tuna tartare or suckling pig cooked on the rotisserie for five hours.
Price: AR $2000 per person. Full menu here
El Zanjón del Gato, Bolívar 690, San Telmo
The Restaurant: El Zanjón del Gato is what happens when a 20-something chef experienced in the art of the tasting menu decides to cook up a meal for his like-minded and like-walleted 20-something friends, and maybe smokes a joint before designing the menu. Unusual meats and unexpected flavor combos, a lot of frying and super concentrated plate presentation.
The Gente: Friends of the house. Cooks who have the night off. Young crowd from the interior.
The Chef: Don’t be fooled by the backwards baseball cap and 8-bit Final Fantasy tattoo. The young Andres Plotno has been working in high-end kitchens since day one, starting off early at a Michelin starred restaurant in Dublin before running the kitchen at Paraje Arevalo and doing menu consulting for Aramburu. I’ve sung the praises of el gato a million times over writing a full review and naming the restaurant as one of my ten most memorable meals of 2016 just last week. He isn’t paying me — it’s just, well, go.
The Christmas Menu: The inventive five course meal kicks off with a veal carpaccio served with fried capers, chicken liver parfait served with pickled and pureed apples and latkes. For the main, a roasted suckling pig (already a time-tested house favorite) with pickled blueberries. And for dessert, carrot done three ways: cake, puree and as a syrup.
Price: AR $600 per person. Full menu here
UCO, Soler 5862, Palermo
The Restaurant: High-end boutique Hollywood hotel restaurant without the high-end boutique Hollywood pretension — UCO is pleasantly homey and laid-back for the location and price tag.
The Gente: Hotel guests. Foreigners with deep pockets. Locals with deep pockets.
The Chef: Irish-born Edward Holloway joined UCO last year and revamped both the space and menu of a kitchen previously run by local celebrity chef Hernán Gipponi, bringing a fresh perspective that feels more youthful and less stuffy with Fierro’s signature style of in-house made everything.
The Christmas Menu: The most traditional of the bunch, the six-course tasting menu features two dishes Fierro have become known for — an enormous selection of charcuterie cured on site which includes pork shoulder, tongue, trout, pate, homemade mustards, chimichurri and apple chutney and their Patagonian lamb cooked for 18 hours. Shrimp salad, rice with blood sausage and deer, chocolate dessert and a petit four round out the menu.
Price: AR $3000 per person. Full menu here
Roux, Peña 2300, Recoleta
The Restaurant: Intimate corner bistro in pleno Recoleta decorated in white tablecloths and polished waiters and one of the first restaurants to welcome a mini-restaurant renaissance in the previously drab Recoleta neighborhood.
The Gente: Foreigners. Couples. Barrio Norte neighbors.
The Chef: Cordoba native Martin Rebaudino left his Oveido tenure to open up his first solo venture — a celebration of carefully chosen ingredients from across Argentina with particular attention to shellfish and seafood.
The Christmas Menu: You are going to have to find your fanciest elastic pants for this seven course tasting menu that comes with all the trimmings — two small dishes, two appetizers, two main dishes and dessert with wine accompaniment. Options don’t trail too far from the normal menu and include grilled cantaloupe with prosciutto, Spanish octopus with truffle foam, Antarctic shrimp steaks with caviar, suckling pig and homemade coffee ice cream.
Price: AR $1760 per person. Contact for full menu
La Carniceria will be open on Christmas Eve but has yet to finalize the menu. Rumor has it that Chori may be open as well but don’t take my word for it — call ahead. Vinotinto is offering a four course take-away (AR $1600 for 4 people) which includes a slow-roasted pork leg, cold eggplant salad and vitello tonnato (order before the 20th).
There are two restaurants I haven’t tried personally and thus can’t recommend with a clear conscious. Closed door Cocina Discreta has just moved to a converted mansion on the border of Colegiales and Palermo Hollywood and features a five-course menu, wine, champagne and access to an after party (AR $2300 per person). Newbie Inmigrante is offering a seriously delicious sounding buffet with free range over a large selection of traditional cold Christmas dishes and salads, two entrees (suckling pig, roasted lamb, skirt steak), dessert and champagne (AR $700 per person).