If kofte is on the menu, I’m ordering it. On a pilgrimage to find the perfect one, I’ve swallowed my fear of offending and saddled up to the bar of nearly every Middle Eastern restaurant I’ve eaten at to ask who cooks the city’s best. As if to say, hey todo bien with the food and all but do you know anyone that does it better? I’m always confronted by two answers: here, of course, said nearly screaming and either ending with a ¡papa! or a look that tells me to fuck off, or the standard at my mom’s house, which really helps no one at all. When I finally found the kofte at Kon Kon, I realized my journey had ended, and that I’d been doing Kon Kon all wrong.
The thing about kofte is that even the worst — cooked down to a dried mistake of grainy meat lacking even a speck of spice — can still be rescued with the intervention of a squirt of lemon, a heavy spooning of yogurt and some harissa. Or at least, I’ll still clean my plate and fake a smile. I’ve had a few of these. Lackluster kofte is usually a question of texture and an over zealous hand that has compacted the meat too tightly.
Then there is a truly great kofte, which even for the enthusiasts, never looks as good as it tastes. Like the one at Kon Kon. A fragile hunk of rich lamb with a dark outer edge that has been tinted by being fried in its own fat. The faint fragrance of cinnamon, coriander, cumin and onion climb upwards and mixes with the red juice that slowly runs over. It crumbles apart and each new meat crater opens up space for the yogurt and harissa to seep in. When it’s all over, you have forgotten that you have fallen in love with what is essentially a Middle Eastern meat loaf.
Kon Kon opened more than a year ago in the outlets district of Villa Crespo. Co-owner and chef Pablo Abramovsky was already a culinary fixture in the neighborhood as the co-founder of Paladar, one of the city’s most well-known and longest standing closed door restaurants. It’s still stands in his absence in the quaint living room of the second story walk up. “I got tired of serving contemporary Argentine cuisine,” he proclaims unabashed, “I wanted something simpler. Something more representative of me. I grew up on this food.”
While the rest of the city was being raised on milanesa and puree, Abramovsky’s culinary upbringing was filled with the flavors of Israel. After high school, he quickly began working as a cook before learning French technique at school and exploring his roots during years spent abroad in Israel. “Kon Kon is really an amalgamation of my life.” All is cooked with wood rather than gas, a nod to Argentina. Everything from the yogurt to the half dozen types of breads are made from scratch, a nod to his high-end French cooking education. Finally, the menu is grounded by a heavy helping of Middle Eastern staples and sprinkles of local flavors; muhammara and chimichurri sit side-by-side.
Just a few weeks ago, the restaurant made the move to an additional location in the middle of Palermo Hollywood. In a sea of burger bars and breweries, it stands out like a sore thumb. “This is a bubble that’s about to pop,” Abramovsky explains, “How many new burgers can people possibly eat?” It was, however, the burger that brought me to Kon Kon in the first place, as the menu allows you to build your own sandwiches. I ordered one stacked high with sweet pickles, babaganoush, yogurt and harissa on a pletzalj roll. The yogurt was served generously and was a surprisingly good stand-in for cheese running over onto my fingers with the drips being used to scoop my fries. The sweet pickles balanced out the hot harissa and the pletzalj roll is solid enough to withstand a juicy burger and wet ingredients. It was hard not to exclusively order that, and the reason my kofte discovery was so delayed.
The falafel, I’d argue, is also worthy of its own love song. While the kofte was a surprise, the falafel lets its presence be known immediately. The savory scent of something freshly fried immediately took over the table similar to a rich corn batter or heavily spiced bread crumbs on a fried chicken. The outside had an even brown and cracks under your teeth as you bite in, the inside was a lush ball of garbanzo and parsley. Pastron was flavorful if not slightly over-charred on the outside. I prefer a wetter texture closer to a brisket to even out a hearty bread, but for those that like a meatier chew it’s a solid choice. To give it an Argentine kick, I mixed the chimichurri with sweet pickles.
I arrived surprised that in a city beaming with casual restaurants and a large population with a connection to Israel, that Kon Kon isn’t a formula we’ve seen before. But the food here is truly an extension of Abramovsky, as loud and full of personality as he is and exploding with diverse flavors in a way that only a confident cook who knows he is good at cooking is brave enough to play with. As I mourn the end of my kofte, savoring each bite he roars loudly from across the room, “It was good, wasn’t it!”
Juan Ramirez de Velasco 890, Villa Crespo
Tuesday through Thursday 8:00pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday 12:30pm to 3:30pm and 8:00pm to midnight, Sunday 12:00pm to 3:30pm
Honduras 5799, Palermo Hollywood
Tuesday through Thursday 8:00pm to midnight, Friday and Saturday 1:00pm to 3:00pm and 8:00pm to midnight, Sunday 1:00pm to 3:00pm