Move over Domino's: pizza home delivery is alive and well in Buenos Aires.
On a recommendation from one of our tour guides, Sean and I ordered from the most popular pizza home delivery chain, Romario. Choosing from items on the website, and ordering via phone (there was a glitch with the online ordering system at the time), I was told my order would arrive in no less than 40 minutes. And right she was: the intercom buzzed in 30 minutes. Here is what arrived:
The empanadas, or meat pies, were neither greasy nor dry, bland nor tasty --- just OK. The pizzas looked appetizing, but two things annoyed me: (1) There was very little sauce; and (2) They were not pre-cut, necessitating me having to use a large kitchen knife to cut them. I mean, who travels to Buenos Aires with a pizza wheel?
I'm not exactly running to call Domino's or Papa John's once I return to San Antonio, but pizza apparently appeals to very local tastes. The porteños, or Buenos Aires locals, say that they love their pizza and for those who've been to New York or Italy, they say they prefer their own here.
Earlier in the day, while walking around the historic San Telmo and La Boca neighborhoods, I spotted a table of empanadas:
These empanadas, unlike the ones I'd had earlier, were baked, rather than fried. (In Argentina, there is a 'food fight' between those who prefer their meat pies baked or fried, FYI.) The chicken one was rather interesting, a bit dry, but had big chunks of chicken:
Pizza and empanada shops abound in Buenos Aires, and though I've been enjoying the empanadas more than the pizzas, I definitely intend to do more testing.
Yelp, Chowhound, Angie's List, TripAdvisor: user-generated community sites are all the rage these days. The sites offer a democratic way for companies to present themselves, as all of the reviews are contributed by regular, everyday people with a passion and an opinion.
Here in Argentina, there is a restaurant-review site which is wildly popular: Guia Oleo. Boasting 100,699 reviews from 482,970 users, the site has information for 4,609 restaurants. Not quite the size of Zagat.com or even TimeOut, but the numbers are certainly impressive.
Too bad I learned of this after eating at several Buenos Aires restaurants, but I'll create and account and start reviewing.
"I will take you to the best parrilla in the whole city," my brother Sean's friend Fabian told us.
The best steakhouse in a city brimming with steakhouses? Clearly, an offer we could not refuse. Especially since Fabian has been working as a Buenos Aires tour guide for more than 5 years.
We arrived at Parrilla Peña at around 11:30 pm -- the typical dinner hour for a Friday evening in Buenos Aires. Though Sean and I each had 5 Buenos Aires guide books between us -- Parrilla Peña was in none of them -- which was fine. Sometimes you just have to wing it and live it up like a local.
And for locals it was: this restaurant was lit with fluorescent light and was sparsely furnished. No dark woods, no candles, no bossa nova music. Clearly, this was a steakhouse for regular folk, not tourists seeking the latest "in" spot.
(Later on, Sean did notice a framed review from the New York Times hanging on a far wall.)
The menu was very extensive, including choices for chicken, fish, and pastas, but we were there for one reason: STEAK. The guide books had explained that Argentina has an equivalent to filet mignon, known as bistec de lomo, which I knew I had to try. With some beef empanadas as an appetizer, a mixed salad, and a side of eggplant, I predicted that this was going to be a meal I would never forget.
Bistec de lomo was actually better than filet mignon, given the size of the portion and the fact that it was non-fatty and tender throughout. It was lightly seasoned with salt and a hint of black pepper. No sauce needed: just the pure flavor of grilled meat.
There, at the next table, I spotted them: french fries! Fabian said that french fries in Argentina are normally served with parsley and garlic -- wow. I'll just have to get those next time.
Now for dessert: what would a perfect steak meal be without espresso or cheesecake? Much to my surprise, Parrilla Peña did not serve coffee -- which I suppose was fine, given the time of night -- but when the recommended dessert was brought to the table, I was absolutely blown away: budin de pan mixto, a bread pudding, served with (unsweetened) whipped cream and dulce de leche, the creamy caramel-like sauce common in all of Latin America. With three spoons, we were all set to complete one of the best steakhouse experiences I've ever had.
I would later do a search on Parrilla Peña on the Argentine equivalent of Zagat or Chowhound, Oleo, to find its review, posted here. Definitely a gem.
So my brother decided that we needed to celebrate our 40th birthday by visiting Buenos Aires. For me, I saw this as an incredible opportunity to explore a city that has recently become an international foodie destination. I also needed an excuse to practice my Spanish -- and what better opportunity than to read menus and speak to people in restaurants? This and several successive blogposts will detail my culinary adventures large and small in this exciting city.
After settling in to the apartment in Recoleta, we decided we needed a quick bite in the neighborhood, then an afternoon nap. I was hoping for street foood, or some equivalent of Argentine fast food -- there were billboards for the McDonald's Angus burger on the highway from the airport into the city -- but who knew what we would find locally?
Three blocks away, we found our first conquest, Rigoletto Cafe.
Rigoletto Cafe, Rodriguez Pena 1291
At 2:30 in the afternoon, this would be considered late for lunch in the U.S., but the restaurant was bustling with businesspeople, thirtysomething couples, and the Argentine version of The Ladies Who Lunch. No English spoken here -- nor on the menus -- so I ordered a recognizable "ravioli" for my brother and the very first chicken dish listed in the "Aves" section of the menu. We also asked for a small green salad as an appetizer. Below are the main courses:
The ravioli was "heavenly," according to Sean -- it went so fast, I didn't have a chance to have a sample. The chicken had a nice sear -- you can see the light-brown crust at the top of the plate -- and the cream sauce didn't have that pasty-roux aftertaste. The vegetables you see are actually a substitution for rice -- an interesting mix of onions, peppers, mushrooms, and red cabbage. Mixed with the almond cream sauce of the chicken, it was outstanding.
Sean's ravioli lunch special came with a choice of postre, or dessert. Sean chose the Brownie with Ice Cream, which we thought was a little too Chili's- or TGIF-sounding for Buenos Aires, but here is what arrived at the table next:
It turned out to be an individual molten chocolate cake, which does seem to be on menus everywhere these days, but according to Sean, it was divine.
No coffee for us, as we needed to take a nap after a long day of traveling and unpacking. On the way back to the apartment, we stopped at the Buenos Aires equivalent of a New York City bodega, in hopes of picking up some quick items for the apartment. To my surprise, there are Doritos in Argentina.
Not quite as thick as Doritos in the U.S., but still the same powdery cheese flavor!
Next up: my first Bistec de Lomo, at the pest parrilla in Buenos Aires.
Manny Fernandez writes: “The death of an obscure New York entrepreneur on July 27 — Morrie Yohai, 90, a World War II veteran who was the man responsible for Cheez Doodles — was a reminder that the world of junk food is no different from celebrated American industries.”
ON the BBC’s Saturday morning cooking show, “Saturday Kitchen,” last month, the British chef Silvena Rowe, six feet tall with azure eyes and bleached blond hair streaked with purple to match the cover of her new cookbook, “Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume,” told the audience she had something to announce.
She would shortly be taking over the restaurant in the slick May Fair Hotel in London, and the kitchen would use the exotic recipes from her book. Named for the tart flavor of the purplish sumac plant, “Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume” contains recipes inspired by the cuisine of the Ottomans.