Chorizo hangs like clusters of bananas underneath the cool glass counter. ‘El Pibe Chori’, as they refer to him here, dances in bright yellow across the wall surrounded by his friends—a pingüino, a sifón and a squeeze bottle gushing over with sauce. You can hear the hard pops of wood burning in the back and the crackle of sausages cooking over an open fire. Few dishes are as ubiquitous to Argentine cuisine as the holy choripan; empanadas and asado being the only two other exceptions that come to mind. At Chori, a bright new spot in the heart of Palermo Soho, the sandwich is the main attraction and it couldn’t be any further from your late-night munchie run to the costanera.
Chori is another nod to an ever changing restaurant scene. This year it is casual dining that is getting a serious makeover. For years now high end eateries have been on a mission to re-interpret the local palate and boasted long winded descriptions—‘autochthonous contemporary Argentine cuisine’—with menus that are filled with hard to find indigenous meats, everything in foam form and a poached organic egg cooked at 63º exactly. But what about us plebeians that can’t afford to shell out a grand for a tasting menu? Burgers, that’s what. Rather than looking in, casual restaurants have mostly imported foreign (read: North American) flavors. Chicos, ya sta, we don’t need another burger place.
The guys over at Chori almost fell into the same trap. “We played around with the idea of doing burgers but realized very quickly that that scene had already exploded,” explains German Sitz. Sitz is one half of the powerful duo behind La Carniceria, the parrilla that dared to play around with the sacred asado.
Although the restaurant was an overnight success, resistance to a different approach is still challenging to some. During a recent trip I eavesdropped on a table occupied by six weary porteños, “I’m the type that [sic] don’t mess with the fucking asado. Carne, salt, fire, bien cocido, done.” The proclamation was met with overwhelming agreement. “But this is damn good,” he continued, pointing at a plate filled with provoleta topped with pear preserves, grilled cabbage and broccoli and a thick piece of sirloin cooked rare.
“I was always a huge fan,” explains Walter Chanampa, who began as a consultant before joining the team. On a busy Tuesday afternoon, he mans the register to a constant flood of people. Chanampa started out as a regular at Carniceria before befriending Sitz and his partner Pedro Peña. The trio joined up with celebrity bartender and culinary business man Renato Giovannoni, owner of Floreria Atlantico, Brasero Atlantico and the yerba mate gin company Principe de los Apostoles.
Together they ditched the burger idea and embraced what brought Carniceria the success it has enjoyed: familiar flavors under a different context. As Chanampa puts it, “choripan is as Argentine as it gets but besides the carts on the costanera, nadie le da bola.” And thus, they built it a sanctuary. The inside is painted in bright yellow with a cast of characters—los pibes choris—created by local artist Alan Berry Rhys. A long communal table and bar seating along the wall create a casual bar atmosphere. A bar wraps around the outside as well, taking advantage of the quiet Santa Rosa side street.
While at La Carniceria Sitz’ La Pampa roots shine through loud and clear (his family farm does provide the beef, after all) at Chori Pedro Peña’s Colombian roots shine bright. You can taste it in the sauces, like the tropical mango hot sauce, or the fried yuca root that replaces the usual fritas. “What we wanted to do was build a menu that respected the Argentine chori done with Latin flavors in a North American style sandwich,” explains Sitz. Peruvian aji amarillo, a Bolivian style peanut sauce and citrusy Caribbean flavors round out a wide flavor palate.
The menu is complete with eight different sandwiches including a vegetarian option and a morcilla. I’ve tried the seven important ones. The Cerdo Clásico tastes like an old-fashioned ballpark frank with that characteristic hard crack sound when you bite into it. But for just a few pesos more you can upgrade to the Cerdo Ahumado. The flavor is loud and grows as you dig in. I zoned out for a second as I was transported back to the backyard barbecues of my childhood. The Colorado Picante booms with the flavors of a solid Peruvian cantina; ginger flavor builds up and then a hit of citrus (possibly orange zest) adds an unexpected sour sweetness. It goes well with the mango and aji amarilla sauce, cooked down to a thick syrup similar to a sweet chili.
The Morcilla was gooey and served bursting from the seams. The apple and fennel inside the morcilla took on a tangy sweetness more reminiscent of grapes reduced in balsamic vinegar. The lamb sausage had just the right bit of gaminess to it and a depth of flavor that separated it from the rest; hierbabuena and a yogurt and cucumber sauce balanced it out. Every few months they plan to invite a guest chorimaster. Currently, high end butcher shop Amics is offering a pork belly chorizo. You don’t need to know more than this is basically a bacon sausage. Up next, Anthony Vazquez of La Mar will be collaborating with a fish chorizo.
You can opt for beer on tap from Antares but should really go for a gin and tonic instead. All of Giovannoni’s beverages are available. His yerba mate gin is a lighter more floral flavored gin and his tonic water, Pulpo Blanco, was designed specifically to be paired with it. It comes with a slice of pomelo and a sprig of rosemary. For dessert, banana is grilled over the parrilla until the inside is hot and creamy and comes topped with dulce de leche, goat cheese and candied pecans.
Chori is the sausage haven we’ve all been waiting for. Although nestled in the middle of Soho, it offers an unpretentious little oasis in a sea of casual spots that, with few exceptions, offer more or less the same menu. Let’s just hope the rest of the neighborhood takes their cue.
Thames 1653, Palermo Soho
Tuesday through Sunday 12:30pm to 12:30am