I can hear them talking about me. This is the fourth time I’ve been to Hache Almacén in a week. “That’s Kevin. He’s a writer from California,” says chef Lucho Olivares to Tonino, a polished Swiss man who faithfully stops by for lunch and a glass of wine every time he comes through Buenos Aires. “Come over here and make a new friend,” he says in my direction. In a dining room that has space for about sixteen guests spread out over two shared tables, this is not an unusual phenomenon. I scooted over from the edge of the bench to the middle of the table and did as I was told and enjoyed my plate of zucchini and bolognese amidst conversation with a complete stranger while Lucho sat with us between orders.
This welcoming homey attitude is a bit of an anomaly when you look at Hache’s location. The bar sits in the middle of Palermo Hollywood where the tendency leans towards larger, commercially backed bars and restaurants that lack any semblance of familiarity. Just half a block away are a restaurant and a bar, both of which I’ve frequented often enough that a bartender should recognize me but each visit begins and ends with the same unrecognized stare.
“The most important thing for me is that people come here and feel like they are at home,” begins owner Nico Hurtak, “because it feels very much like a home to me.” Hurtak greets his guests with a firm handshake and a genuine smile. He jovially explains the details of his selection of cheeses from Tandil, smoked cold cuts and boutique wines to curious diners in his deep rasp. As the space fills up and tightens, he asks guests to pass him a bottle of Cabernet or olive oil from large shelves behind the main mess hall style table.
Hache opened at the beginning of this year although Hurtak wasn’t exactly on a mission to open a bar and wine store. A friend was renting the space and offered it to him when the lease ran up and he decided to fill it with the things he loved: a good glass of wine and fresh baked bread that valued “big flavors from small producers”. The walls are lined with boutique wines from around the country, quality olive oils and artisanal fernet and beer from local producer Don Santiago de Ortúzar which is also available on tap.
One afternoon, Olivares passed by to offer his services as a culinary community manager and ended up manning the kitchen instead. Although he’s formally trained, his style is influenced by the homey flavors and abundant dishes of his childhood in Santiago, Chile. His grandmother was one of the country’s most recognized chefs at one time manning the high end kitchen of the Crowne Plaza Hotel but on the weekends she’d make enormous family meals, “there would be three things on the stove, two in the oven, me chopping more stuff to cook and we’d end up eating a feast.”
The lunch hour is filled with the rich familiar smells of an estofado or bolognese. His cooking leans toward low and slow and by the early afternoon the comfy aroma floats out the door. The estofado de carne (beef stew) is my favorite. Small beef cubes are cooked in a savory homemade broth all morning until they fall apart with the slightest nibble. They came served with roasted potatoes that were nicely charred on the bottom and lightly browned on the top. A squirt of lemon juice added a nice acidity and brought out a buttery taste from the papas. Chicken cooked with beer had just the right texture. Neither too soft or too dry but ideal bit of meaty juicy flavor. It came accompanied by yamani rice topped with nutty tasting crushed sesame which added an unexpected layer of flavor. “It makes me so happy when I hear someone enjoying their meal here,” Hurtak explains.
In the evening, Hurtak zig zags around the room cutting cold cuts and cheese and making sure that everything is todo bien with each guest. Your mama’s old school funk and soul fill the room. The full picada is a solid choice with six types of cheese and meats sourced from Tandil — the lightly flavored pecan and hazelnut paired with the slightly spicy salami on a slice of fresh warm bread is my go-to. It tastes even better when paired with two glasses of wine, which during a generous happy hour is an absurdly friendly AR $70. Hurtak’s own wine education came from “years of tastings,” and he works in Mendoza where he produces his own wine together with an enologist. He has never lead me astray. Although the kitchen is closed in the evening, they plan special dinners made-to-order when groups of friends request them, as per their style of hospitality.
Hache Almacén is a homey space with a sense of tangible community and neighborly love that wafts through the air. By the time that Tonino and I polished off our glasses of Cabernet we were fast friends exchanging emails and restaurant recommendations, not the first or last time I expect that to happen.
Angel J. Carranza 1670, Palermo Hollywood
Tuesday through Saturday, 12:00 to 4:00 and 6:00 to midnight
Price: varies $$ (AR $150-250) to $$$ (AR $250-400); lunchtime special food and wine special for $100