Close your eyes for a second. Take a deep breath, inhaling the crisp fall air. Listen to the crunch of yellow leaves as they blow across the sidewalk, feel the dappled sunlight on your face as the breeze blows lightly across it. Now, imagine the dream dish you’d cook up to celebrate the season.
There’s something about the start of autumn that puts a pep in my step, feeling ready for back to school (no matter how old I’ve gotten), and suddenly hungry for warming soups and hearty vegetables. Now that we’ve finally stopped sweating after a decidedly swampy summer, we can tuck into fall produce that prepares us for the impending winter hibernation.
If you’ve been in Buenos Aires for more than a few months, then you should be familiar with M.E.S.A. de Estación, the foodie initiative that promotes seasonal eating while showcasing the quality and diversity of Argentina’s producers, chefs, restaurants, and more. With each new season comes a different roundup of star produce – selected as perfect culinary representations of the specific time of year – while participating restaurants in both Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina create menus that highlight them in different ways.
Now in its twelfth edition, M.E.S.A. de Estación continues to grow and expand exponentially. The upcoming fall edition will take place between May 7-13 in Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, Córdoba, Rosario, Mendoza, San Martín de los Andes, and Río Negro-Neuquén, encompassing a total of 80 restaurants. What are the ingredients taking center stage? Sweet potatoes, walnuts, mushrooms, and mandarin oranges.
Before we skip to the really fun part – where we tell you which restaurants you should make a point to visit – let’s do a quick run down of each of these seasonal superstars and what their consumption is like in Argentina.
You know, I’ve been here for 12 years and am maybe just now starting to forgive Argentina for its lack of bright orange sweet potatoes that I grew up eating on Thanksgiving each year. It turns out, however, that this variety – extremely common in Uruguay where it’s on nearly every menu as boniato – is finally gaining traction. Regardless, everyone loves their batata in Argentina; they’re cultivated in several regions across the country, particularly the northwest and northeast as well as the central region of Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, and Córdoba. According to data provided by the Mercado Central, 16,463 tons of sweet potato were sold last year, 9.5 percent more than in 2017, placing it tenth on the list of most-sold produce.
Mmmmmm, nuts. Cultivated in Argentine territory since the 1600s, walnuts are now grown in La Rioja, Catamarca, Mendoza, San Juan, Río Negro, and Neuquén – representing 81 percent of total national production. The most common variety of walnut in Argentina is known as the Chandler (Bing?), with production concentrated in the province of Mendoza. However, did you know that there are like, tons of kinds of walnuts? For example: Tulare, Cher (Horowitz?), California, Trompito INTA, Ramillete INTA, Howard, and so many more.
Buenos Aires is probably the ideal climate to grow mushrooms – or fungi of any kind, honestly – because IT’S SO DAMN HUMID. Anyway, here’s a cool fact. Argentina was the first country in South America to grow mushrooms, in 1941. That’s actually not too long ago, when you think about it. Things kicked off with the common white mushroom, the Paris variety, expanding into oyster mushrooms in the 1980s in Río Negro, while in more recent years portobello and shiitake ‘shrooms have really taken off. Luckily, things have picked up speed since then and today there is greater research and exploration of the cultivation and use of different types of wild and farmed mushrooms across the country. However, Argentines still only consume 30 grams annually, whereas in Europe and Asia those figures range from 3 to 9 kilos a person.
I could easily plow through a dozen mandarin oranges in a sitting, to be honest. They’re so bright and petite and juicy, what’s not to love? In Argentina, they’re primarily grown in Entre Ríos, Corrientes, and Jujuy, with smaller production in Catamarca, Tucumán, Salta, and Buenos Aires. In 2017, Argentina exported nearly 40,000 tons (!) to Russia, the Philippines, and Canada. What’s the difference between a mandarin, a tangerine, and a clementine? The tangerine and clementine are varietals of the mandarin, much in the same way gala and fuji are apple varietals. Other known varieties include the Okitsu, Dancy, and Ellendale.
Alright, now that you’ve learned some important #ProduceFacts, where should you be eating during the latest edition of M.E.S.A. de Estación? Clearly, with 80 restaurants in the mix, it’s impossible to give each and every one its due, so be sure to check out the complete list online. We’ve put together a small selection of the places in Buenos Aires with promising menus that grabbed our attention from the start.
Bringing a much-needed dose of high-octane flavor to the residential nook of Palermo situated just behind La Rural, Fayer blends Argentine fires and Israeli soul. Chef Mariano Muñoz whips up some of the city’s best food in a jaw-dropping space that will make you hate everything you have crammed into your sad and soulless monoambiente. We’re already drooling over the spinach, mandarin, and smoked mahi-mahi salad that will be served with labneh and dill. From there you can nibble on mushroom burekas (you might know them as börek) – little pastries made with phyllo dough, or a sweet potato latke served with shredded beef, tahini, and pickles. YUM! Close out the meal with a sweet walnut cigarro that will be served with dulce de leche ice cream (just in case you forgot that you’re in Argentina).
Sunae Asian Cantina
I’m going to be 100 percent transparent right now. Christina Sunae could serve me a plate of literally anything and I would still eat it, no questions asked. Why? Because she’s an incredible chef and every dish that comes out of her fantastic restaurant in Palermo Hollywood blows nearly everything else out of the water. If you haven’t had a chance to try it yet, consider this your opportunity. Sunae has prepared a menu that kicks off with a mandarin and coconut salad, featuring toasted coconut, red onion, chili, lettuce and cabbage, and a lemon-fish sauce dressing. From there, dive head-first into the mushroom sotanghon, with transparent black mushroom noodles, a mix of mushrooms, carrot, cabbage, cilantro, and a mushroom sauce. Cleanse your palate with a sweet, refreshing dessert known as halo-halo: sweet potato and red tea ice cream, grapefruit, orange, granita, with a ginger cookie and pandan merengue.
All roads lead to this restaurant tucked away in the heart of Retiro. Need to make a good impression for work? BASA. Want to show visitors to Buenos Aires a fantastic time? BASA. Hungry for just a quick bite and a great cocktail? BASA. The menu they’ve put together for M.E.S.A. starts off with a mushroom pate, served with walnut loaf and a mandarin chutney (doesn’t that basically scream autumn to you?). The main course taps into the nostalgia element if you’re missing the warm comfort of Thanksgiving dinner: turkey breast with gravy, nogada (a spiced sauce with walnuts), grilled sweet potato, smoked portobello mushrooms, watercress, and mandarin. For dessert, seal your fate with the moist walnut and mandarin cake served with a yogurt parfait.
I almost don’t want to tell you about BIS and am tempted to keep it as a little neighborhood secret, but sharing is caring so consider yourselves lucky. The bistro spinoff of the legendary Aramburu – once located in Constitución and now enjoying its newly-minted digs just across the way – BIS turns out innovative and sophisticated dishes in a chic, laid-back space right in Recoleta. This season, the menu features a “snack” of ricotta, walnut, and orange; the starter that follows includes egg, mushroom, and sourdough. For the main course, you’ll tuck into Peruvian-inspired fish with sweet potato, leche de tigre, peanut, and corn. Wind down with a mandarin and white chocolate pavlova. You’ll have a hard time leaving, as the Pasaje del Correo is almost too charming for its own good.
Situated on one of Chacarita’s all-time best corners, La Fuerza keeps everything extremely porteño (perhaps you’re familiar with Julián Díaz’s other projects, like 878 and Los Galgos). This is the spot where you’ll congregate with friends on balmy evenings or rainy afternoons alike, be it to celebrate a big achievement, drown your sorrows temporarily, or just pass the time. If you’re not big on making reservations or just want to put a plan together on the fly, La Fuerza is for you. Sip on a nice mandarin orange water (#detox) while you wait for everyone else to arrive; order a round of autumnal caipis – mandarin, La Fuerza Blanco vermouth, and sugar – and get ready to snack on morcilla croquettes with mushrooms and walnuts. If you’re still hungry, order the sweet potato rösti that will come with mushrooms and farm eggs, but leave room for dessert (to share!), a twist on the classic queso y dulce. Homemade dulce de batata + quartirolo cheese = perfection.
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CAVATELLI alla Boscaiola • de semola de grano duro, hongos de pino, hongos portobellos & aceite a la trufa negra @sangiorgioar • • • ??Hoy hasta las 23:30h ?? • • • • #laalacena #antipasti #pastas #salumi #cavatelli #italianfood #trattoriamoderna #cafebazar #restaurant #palermo #buenosaires Foto de un cliente [email protected] ? Gracias!
Our love for La Alacena has not gone undocumented (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), as it’s really one of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. The fresh, seasonal, homemade Italian food served in a cozy and bright corner space (with loads of great outdoor tables for when the weather is nice) is a no-fail option for any occasion. If you don’t consider yourself a pasta fan, it’s probably because you haven’t been to La Alacena. Given that chef Julieta Oriolo’s philosophy is already so hyper-centered on creating dishes based on what’s in season and market fresh, you’re guaranteed to love what she and her team are preparing for M.E.S.A. The cavatelli alla boscaiola – literally “the woodsman’s cavatelli” – mixes portobello and porcini mushrooms in a creamy sauce with parmesan and black truffle (I am including a photo just in case you had any lingering doubts). If that for some reason doesn’t tickle your fancy, dip into the sweet potato gnudi (like gnocchi but made with ricotta) with brown butter, Taleggio cheese, and toasted cashews. Leave room in your tum for dessert, though! La Alacena’s warm pecan tart with honey and crème fraîche will literally blow your mind.
Don’t miss the latest edition of M.E.S.A. de Estación, taking place from May 7-13 at 80 restaurants across Buenos Aires and several cities in Argentina. Check out the website for a complete list participating restaurants, menus, and more information.