Food and Friends in Buenos Aires

A little over a month ago, I tagged along with my husband on a brief trip to Buenos Aires. Anxious to return to Necochea, Daniel headed home as soon as he finished his business in the capital; however, I stuck around a few extra days to soak up a bit of culture, indulge a few food cravings, and meet up with some friends.

Fortunately, just before Daniel hopped a bus back to Necochea, we were able to take a stroll through the neighborhood of Recoleta and sit down to lunch together. Located just down the street from Recoleta Cemetery, the neighborhood eatery Rodi Bar offers a low-key option in the midst of high-rent Recoleta. You're unlikely to experience a culinary epiphany at Rodi Bar, but you're guaranteed honest, Argentine classics done well and at reasonable prices. Afterward, we relaxed on a bench in Plaza Francia in the shade of a giant gomero, as some energetic pups played fetch nearby with their owners and a man sang and strummed Argentine folk songs on his guitar.

Debajo del Gomero | Under the Rubber Tree, Plaza Francia, Recoleta, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr

My first night in town, chef and food blogger Dan Perlman invited me to join him for dinner at Cocina Sunae, a closed-door restaurant focused on Southeast Asian cuisine. Pancit guisado at Cocina Sunae, photo courtesy of Christina Sunae [all rights reserved]Christina Sunae, an Asian-American expat, runs this underground resto out of her home located in the quiet residential neighborhood of Colegiales. The beautifully-presented dishes featured ingredients and inspiration from Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, infused with both fresh and spicy flavors. Each course hit all the right notes, and this meal drove home just how much I miss Asian cuisine! Dan presents a full write-up of our dining experience  and all the dishes on his blog SaltShaker. I highly recommend dinner at Cocina Sunae, especially if you're an ethnic-food-starved expat like I am.

I stayed at the home of my lovely friend and talented photographer Beatrice Murch and her husband Kragen, who were both guests at our wedding back in March. One night, Beatrice and I took our hunger to Desnivel, a traditional parrilla (steakhouse) in the neighborhood of San Telmo. Provoleta at Desnivel, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on FlickrDesnivel's tired décor, plastic tablecloths and garish fluorescent lighting clearly signal one thing: it's all about the meat. We split an order of provoleta, bife de chorizo and papas fritas a la provenzal. The provoleta could have used a touch more time on the grill, as it didn't turn out as gooey as it should have, but the smoky, slightly-melted cheese tasted wonderful nonetheless. The steak arrived just as we'd ordered it, perfectly a punto (medium). Sprinkled with parsley, garlic and oil, the ample portion of fries was crispy and flavorful. Although Desnivel's waiters have a reputation for being rather gruff, the service proved to be pleasant and efficient. With great food at affordable prices, I'd definitely head back to Desnivel.

I hadn't seen Cherie Magnus of tangocherie since my last visit to Buenos Aires back in January, so we decided to get caught up over lunch one afternoon at Las Violetas in Almagro. Built during the 1920s, this elegant café filled with stained glass windows, dark wood paneling, Italian marble flooring and white-jacketed waiters transported me to another time. Following its declaration as a historic site by the City of Buenos Aires in 1998, Las Violetas underwent a massive restoration. The hard work and investment really shows.

Stained Glass Windows at Las Violetas, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr
Confitería Las Violetas, Buenos Aires by katiemetz, on Flickr Katie and Cherie at Las Violetas, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr Las Violetas, Almagro, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

A bit overwhelmed by the extensive lunch menu, I settled on one of the chef's specials: stuffed chicken breast with cider sauce and noisette potatoes. My entrée delivered on taste, but dessert – a rich, warm apple strudel with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche – won me over in the end. I would love to return to Las Violetas, but next time I'll go for afternoon tea instead of lunch to capitalize on the café's strength: its desserts and pastries.

The following afternoon, I got off the train at the Belgrano C station, where I found myself on the doorstep of Buenos Aires' Chinatown. Allie Lazar, from the irreverent food blog Pick Up The Fork, and I had agreed to meet at her favorite spot for Chinese food, Hong Kong Style.

Barrio Chino [Chinatown], Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

While waiting for Allie, I happened to bump into Christina Sunae and her husband at Hong Kong Style. The two were surrounded by a number of tantalizing small plates, the sight of which literally made my mouth water. Christina noted that the restaurant is one of the best spots for Asian food in the city and really the only place where you can order dim sum. While chatting, I found out that Christina and her husband have friends in the neighboring city of Quequén, so I hope to see them in my neck of the woods some time. Although the couple graciously invited Allie and I to join them, we left them to finish their meal in peace.

Enticed by the sneak preview of the dim sum menu at Christina's table, Allie and I ordered two types of dim sum (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings) and spring rolls, which turned out to be filled with ground beef and onion (!). The dumplings hit the spot, but the spring rolls, while tasty, were a letdown. In retrospect, I'm not sure why we ordered so little food, but I wish we would have shared at least one more dish. Next time, I'd skip the spring rolls and order another type of dim sum and/or an entrée to share.

After lunch, we zipped past the various hole-in-the-wall shops filled with cheap and cheerful Asian imports for some shopping at a couple of the neighborhood's food markets. The markets of Barrio Chino not only house aisle upon aisle of noodles, condiments, exotic vegetables, and spices – ingredients to make every type of Asian cuisine – but they also contain some of the most sought after imported foods by yanquis. You'll find Heinz ketchup, peanut butter, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, fancy teas, tahini paste, curry powders, hard taco shells, and all manner of seafood. The Chinese don't discriminate; if they think someone will buy it, they stock it. And buy, I did. With my arms full of purchases and my wallet decidedly empty, Allie and I parted ways after a very enjoyable afternoon.

Sorrentinos de Calabaza at Pasaje Solar, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz on Flickr

On my final day in the capital, I lunched at Pasaje Solar, a charming spot in San Telmo, for Beatrice's birthday. I had the opportunity to share the meal with Ande Wanderer of Wander Argentina, Amy Scott of Nomadtopia, and Cate Kelly, all of whom made excellent dining companions. We were initially seated outdoors on the rustic patio under a tangle of angel's trumpet and wisteria vine, but we were forced inside when it began to shower. Thankfully, the vibe indoors felt just as inviting. The menu offered a number of interesting options, and truthfully, everyone's meal looked tempting. I ordered rich and flavorful pumpkin sorrentinos stuffed with walnuts, green onions and mozzarella in a cream sauce. After polishing off this generous portion of pasta, all I had room for was an espresso with a dash of milk to cap off the meal.

Soda Siphons at San Telmo Fair, Buenos Aires, Argentina by jlaceda, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] San Telmo Street Fair, Buenos Aires, Argentina by jlaceda, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license] Antique Seller at Feria de San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by jlaceda, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Following lunch and great conversation with the ladies, I moseyed up and down Calle Defensa eyeing the wares on display at the mega street fair known as the Feria de San Telmo. I picked up a few nice items including a leather belt, crocheted scarf, and a necklace, all at decent prices. I even scored a beef burrito from a Mexican street vendor named Luis, complete with salsa picante that actually packed a bit of a punch. Disappointingly, the best part of the burrito turned out to be the hot sauce. Buenos Aires, however, is definitely not short on flavor.

[Photo credits: Christina Sunae of Cocina Sunae, jlaceda]

Rodi Bar, Vicente López 1900, Recoleta
Cocina Sunae, Colegiales [exact address confirmed at time of reservation]
Hong Kong Style, Montañeses 2149, Barrio Chino, Belgrano
Desnivel, Defensa 855, San Telmo
Las Violetas, Rivadavia 3899, Almagro
Pasaje Solar, Balcarce 1024, San Telmo
Feria de San Telmo, Calle Defensa, San Telmo – Sundays from 10am-5pm

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