At nine a.m. Monday morning it's already too hot to sit outside and finish my coffee. It's my third day now in Buenos Aires and each seems to be warmer than the last. I'm on vacation, back in one of my favorite cities, for a week of Tango, carne and Malbec.
I arrived Saturday. After getting settled, my first dinner was at Cabaña Las Lilas, the well-known parilla in Puerto Madero. The club steak, a bone-in ribeye, was excellent and cooked perfectly medium rare.
I was shocked at the wine prices, however. At Las Lilas, it appears the prices have doubled since my visit in 2005. I settled on a Durigutti Mendoza 2004 for 238 pesos (about US$71), a big, strapping Malbec-based red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Bonarda make up the balance) with luscious, jammy, blackberry fruit and smooth tannins. It showed some heat, but the opulence of the wine and char-grilled beef went perfectly together. This wine sells for about $45 in the United States.
I recall that there were several choices from among the best Malbecs and blends in the 150 to 200 peso range. Based on the list today, you have to pony up at least 250 pesos for wines like Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza Vineyard Selection reserve 2006 (273 pesos, US$82) or Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Malbec Uco Valley Alfa Crux 2006 (312 pesos, US$93).
Regardless, Cabaña Las Lilas was packed, and there was wine on every table. I have heard that the global credit crisis and particularly the Argentine government's handling of the national economy have hurt restaurants in Buenos Aires, but you wouldn't know it from the hungry Saturday night crowd.
Sunday is a big day in San Telmo, the city's oldest barrio. In addition to the flea market at Plaza Dorrego, there are dozens of antique shops and gallerias along Calle Defensa. After wandering around taking in the local color, I had lunch at Café San Juan. A mix of locals and turistas, were enjoying its simple, hearty menu (presented on two chalk boards) and decent wine list. The portions are large, so forgo an appetizer unless you are really hungry.
Sunday night I joined Maria and Armando Loson, the proprietors of Bodega del Desierto, for dinner at Chila, in Puerto Madero. Chila's menu is diverse and a welcome change from the ubiquitous parillas. There was plenty of fish, as well as duck, quail and lamb to choose from. We settled on two different risottos, after appetizers of salad, avocado cream with shrimp and oysters.
The food was inventive, well-executed and presented, with excellent service. We enjoyed two of the Losons' wines: A round, yet fresh, grapefruit- and melon-flavored Sauvignon Blanc Alto Valle del Rio Colorado 25/5 2007, and an elegant Malbec Alto Valle del Rio Colorado 25/5 2006, with berry and mineral notes.
During dinner, Maria Loson recounted a wonderful story about her first New York Wine Experience, in 2007. She was alone and seated at a table with a diverse group at the Grand Awards banquet. After the dinner, members of the group invited her to join them for a night on the town. They took a limousine to Per Se. There, the group enjoyed Champagne and more food before hopping back in the limo to end up at the Corner Bistro for burgers.
Today I'm having lunch at Oviedo, one of my favorite restaurants in Buenos Aires. Maybe the prices on its list will be more reasonable. I'll let you know.
John Osgood — New York, NY — November 24, 2008 2:21pm ET
Giancarlo Ortega — Washington DC — November 25, 2008 6:12pm ET
Kevin J Luber — Atlanta, GA — November 26, 2008 9:25am ET
Douglas A Smith — Palo — November 26, 2008 11:00pm ET
Bruce Sanderson — New York — November 27, 2008 6:03am ET
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