Nine months, thirty five articles, forty six restaurants and another inch around my waist. When we started The Clean Plate I was feeling reluctant. Is there really enough good food in Buenos Aires to fill up an in-depth weekly column? The answer was an overwhelming yes. Here are my ten most memorable meals.
El Zanjón del Gato, Bolívar 690, San Telmo
The Restaurant: High-end tasting menu style dishes in a laid-back San Telmo cantina, El Zanjón del Gato serves up an evolving seasonal menu and challenges the border between haute cuisine and casual dining. The idea was birthed from the simple idea of “good food in a microbrewery style setting.”
The Gente: Off duty chefs. Food lovers on a budget.
The Chef: Andres Plotno isn’t even thirty and he has already run the kitchen of Paraje Arevalo, consulted menus for Aramburu and sous cheffed at Dublin’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, before combining those experiences to head El Zanjón.
The Food: Plotno’s menu balances between playful interpretations of fast food staples and experimental dishes inspired by seasonal offerings. On the fast food side, the Kentucky fried quail is a lightly breaded bird fried whole and served with a variety of pickles. For dessert, McDonald’s apple pie is a deep-fried pastry served with a citrusy mascarpone. My go-to are the sweetbreads cooked whole in an endless supply of butter with a flakey crust and gooey interior. The cool beef tartare comes served on a bone with bone marrow croquets on top. Or how about some fried squid with pickled chorizo?
Aramburu, Salta 1050, Constitución
The Restaurant: The city’s original tasting menu, after ten years in business Aramburu continues to go strong and is regularly featured on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. From the outside it looks like a closed down vegetable stand, on the inside a low lit five star experience with all the trimmings.
The Gente: With the heavy price tag that comes standard with a tasting menu, you’re mostly rubbing elbows with foreigners and the city’s elite.
The Chef: Gonzalo Aramburu is a gutsy chef that took a chance opening up the city’s first tasting menu in a ramshackle looking location on the edge of Constitución. His sensibilities are unique with a careful eye for design and presentation and accessible but innovative dishes.
The Food: This is an 18-course tasting menu. That’s right, 18 courses with wine accompaniment. Every dish stood out on its own but also played excellently with rest of the dishes. Highlights included brioche bread wrapped in cured bacon, anchovy over a garlic pure, smokey tenderloin and a perfectly poached egg over potato with a mushroom broth. Ice cream served in a globe hanging from a bonsai tree wasn’t a bad touch either.
La Carniceria, Thames 2317, Palermo (Plaza Italia)
The Restaurant: Classic parrilla dishes with a 21st century attitude and high-quality meat. Since its late 2014 opening, La Carniceria has remained pioneers of testing the limits of the sacred Argentine asado.
The Gente: Tourists. Reluctant locals. Overjoyed locals.
The Chefs: La Pampa farm boy Germán Sitz and tatted up Bogota badass Pedro Peña. “We will always consider ourselves a parrilla,” asserts Sitz, “Our goal has always been to unite a classic parrilla with new flavors and cooking techniques.”
The Food: Of all the restaurants in the city, I’ve eaten at Carniceria the most (12+ times) and nothing, from the classics that have been around since its opening to the new dishes that occasionally sneak on cease to amaze me. Beef is sourced from Sitz’ family farm and rest from small, independent producers before being cooked over a wood-burning grill. The menu consists of a curated selection of appetizers and four main dishes. As far as the entradas go, you can’t go wrong. Chorizo served ‘al-caballo’ (with fried eggs), mollejas glazed in honey over sweet corn bread and yogurt, and provoleta with fruit preserves are fail safe. Nalga ‘cooked’ by the citric acids of a leche de tigre and served with aji amarillo salsa is a celebration of meat in its purest form. The corte parrilla, slow cooked bone in sirloin, is my first choice is followed closely by the rich earthy wild boar and the buttery morsels of meat that fall off the bone of the Patagonian lamb rack.
Dulces de la India, take away service
The Restaurant: In a city where authentic Indian food is impossible to find, this take away service brings the meal straight to your door with inexpensive Central Indian style dishes made in the home kitchen of two Indian transplants.
The Gente: People who know what curry should taste like.
The Chef: Husband-wife team Vishnu and Micky Verma moved to Argentina more than a decade ago. During the day Vishnu runs an Indian clothing shop in San Martin while Micky cooks the days orders. The duo splits duties, as Micky is vegetarian she takes care of meat free dishes while Vishnu cooks for the carnivores.
The Food: The pair cooks up dishes from their native central Chhattisgarh region with a knack for savory and salty recipes, featuring many plates I’d not know to order. The shehi paneer is a cashew paste curry with a creamy yogurt texture and a spicy herbal flavor that compliments the homemade paneer. Dhokla is a bright yellow chickpea bread served with a pronounced mix of curry leaves and mustard seeds that can be served with a nice chutney, or the Vishnu’s preference, ketchup. Simple sauces, like cucumber and beet raita are solid accompaniments to anything, especially the buttery samosas and roti.
San Paolo Pizzeria, Uriarte 1616, Palermo Soho
The Restaurant: Homey modern feeling bodegón with a pizza oven in the window serving up no bullshit neapolitan style pizza.
The Gente: Italians. People who don’t want a block of cheese with every slice.
The Chef: Serial restauranteur and Napoli native Maurizio de Rosa is one of those rare breeds of obsessively inquisitive and detail oriented chefs. “I’m more interested in history than I am in the future,” De Rosa explains, “I just don’t have the brain for creating new recipes. I’m more interested in the trial and error that comes with perfecting the ones that are centuries-old.”
The Food: Pizza options stick to long-standing Italian traditions with thin-crust pizza that is cooked for exactly 90 seconds in a pizza oven built by De Rosa himself. Dough is fermented over night with a crust flavor unparalleled by the city’s rest. The go-to is the pizza margherita, the world’s first modern pizza and a simple mix of peeled roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a sprinkle of reggiano cheese and whole basil leaves. The dish that may make you pack up and exclusively pizza at San Paolo: an off the menu fried pizza. Dough is quickly fried to create a soft pillowy texture on the inside and a crunchy bite on the outside. The deep yeast flavor similar to a fresh donut is highlighted by a simple brush of tomato sauce and parmesan flakes.
Doma, Moron 3574, Flores
The Restaurant: The living room and garage have been converted into dining salons of this private residence that looks like any other home in Flores’ Korean neighborhood. Homey feeling extends to the dishes with a small selection of homemade Seoul style food.
The Gente: Koreans that live in the neighborhood. Gringos that obsessively search for good Korean food.
The Chef: Park Soon Yi helped run the family clothing business but was known in the area for her cooking, and is the adopted mom that won’t stop feeding you that all us expats not so secretly yearn for.
The Food: Park pulls from a large repertoire of traditional Korean dishes with a Seoul style flair. A variety of noodle and rice dishes can be cooked right at your table, but what keeps people coming back is her wine bossam, pork belly slow-roasted in a red wine based sauce until the fat melts like margarine. The outside forms a nice crust without losing that meaty pork flavor and is accompanied with tangy Chinese chive and a sauce that evolves from a familiar sweetness to a nutty sesame flavor to a final acidy tang.
Matambre, Piedras 672, San Telmo
The Restaurant: Casual dining in San Telmo where the unifying philosophy is that every dish has to be eaten with your hands. One giant table centers the dining room further proving that everyone — meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike — are welcome.
The Gente: Messy eaters. Punks. Friends of the house.
The Chefs: A power trio of bad ass chicxs who refuse to be defined. In addition to being cooks, Clara Ines, Jorgelina Mandarina and Guadalupe Alpuin are also actresses, poets and activists.
The Food: This is what happens when fast food is made entirely from scratch and as environmentally responsible as possible. Food is meant to be messy and the girls expect you to lick your fingers in lieu of asking for extra napkins. The menu shows off a unique sense for mixing spicy with sweet and savory. The explosiva literally explodes; cheese is rolled into a thick hamburger patty and oozes out a thick stream of queso. The choriburger is a burger with a heavy mix of a deeply flavored chorizo and hamburger meat and comes topped with tangy pineapple sauce and homemade bacon. Both are served on homemade buns baked fresh. Hot dogs taste more like gourmet koftes, one made entirely of acchuras is nicely charred on the outside before being topped with fried pay (homemade potato chips).
La Birra, Av San Juan 4359
The Restaurant: Tiny bar and long standing neighborhood staple that re-vamped their minutas menu to include an obsession for good coffee and US-style sandwiches.
The Gente: Neighborhood people that have been patrons for three decades. After school crowd. Workers on lunch break crowd. Old ladies crowd.
The Chefs: Son Renzo Cocchia runs the floor and pours up macchiatos, lattes and espressos while father Daniel Cocchia keeps a low profile in the back flipping burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.
The Food: The bar made a name for itself in the neighborhood for typical porteño minutas and pastas but in the last year revamped the menu to include Daniel’s obsession for cheeseburgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Go for the latter. Dishes are generous portions of paty’s made fresh every morning and served on homemade bread that shares more in common with a fluffy bao bun than a standard hamburger bun. The house favorite is the premium which comes served with crispy smokey bacon, super gooey cheddar cheese and caramelized onions and tomato. The criolla is Daniel’s favorite, topped with a lovely chewy provoleta and a tangy criolla.
Sunae Asian Cantina, Humboldt 1626, Palermo Hollywood
The Restaurant: The love-song to East Asian food we’ve all been waiting for, Asian Cantina Sunae was one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2015 with a small but varied selection of childhood recipes and otherwise hard to find Asian street food.
The Gente: Cooks. People who Instagram too much. Asian diplomats. Adventure eaters unscathed by pork ears and snout.
The Chef: Born in the Philippines, raised in Japan and Tennessee and trained in New York City kitchens, Cristina Sunae is a local celebrity chef in her own right. Sunae is a refreshing mix of humility and no-bullshit, “I’m not a chef. I didn’t study cooking and I don’t know shit about French technique.”
The Food: A small selection of dishes from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, Sunae’s cuisine demonstrates a steady hand for balancing subtle and fresh plates for dishes that explode with spice and texture. The Adobo Pao is taken directly from her grandmother’s recipe book with super soft and fluffy buns and a kimchi and slow-roasted pork filling. The go-to small dishes is the Malaysian roti, a rich pumpkin curry with a spice that grows with every bite and is meant to be eaten with your hands — this apparently is better than what you find on the streets of Kuala Lumpur according to the Malaysian ambassador. Soup dumplings — maybe the only in the city — are served with straws to slurp up a savory pork stock before devouring the rest. For a main, I usually opt for the rendang, brisket slow roasted in coconut milk and lemongrass that falls apart and is served over sticky white rice, or the gaeng hanglay muu, pork slow roasted in homemade red curry.
Kill the Duck, closed for vacations (sorry)
The Restaurant: High-end multi-course tasting menu fit for an episode of Chef’s Table in an unusual atmosphere: an Once studio apartment.
The Gente: Other cooks. Significant others of other cooks. Friends of other cooks. People who get off finding random secret restaurants.
The Chef: Rami Chevez worked in restaurants across Buenos Aires before deciding to open a food project that represented him wholly and completely. A work in progress, Kill the Duck illustrates through flavors, colors, textures and smells the inner workings of chef that never stops asking questions. Although the fate of Kill the Duck is hanging in the balance, keep your eye out for Chevez in the future.
The Food: Chevez served up a constantly changing tasting menu with 9-12 dishes, “depending on what felt right”, that utilized seasonal produce, herbs grown on his balcony, uncommon meats like duck, quail, rabbit and aged beef with an obsessive eye for presentation (and a solid ability to build a cohesive orchestra of flavors.