I was heartened to see that business in Buenos Aires restaurants picked up toward the end of my week-long stay.
It began with a cholesterol-packed rib-eye at La Cabrera, the Palermo parilla that is so popular they added a second location a few doors down the street. La Cabrera is my idea of a typical Buenos Aires parilla, modest and friendly, with excellent beef and some good wines.
The wine list isn’t as star-studded there, however, the choices are also more reasonable and in line with the neighborhood clientele. I settled on an Alta Las Hormigas Malbec Mendoza 2007 (85 pesos, about $25). It was fruity, showing straightforward black cherry and sour cherry flavors, in a lighter, less dense style than the higher priced, weightier powerhouses I had been drinking.
Later that Wednesday evening, I dined at Bengal for the first time. The menu is an odd mix of Italian and East Indian dishes, but well-executed. I started with octopus that was baked, then finished on the grill, over sautéed red pepper, eggplant and onion. For the main course, I chose the Lamb Rogan Josh, a curry dish with an infusion of chile heat that built in intensity.
Unfortunately, the wine, a Bodega Monteviejo Uco Valley 2005, did not live up to the food. I found it shy on the nose and lean, with slightly green tannins framing the black cherry note.
Bengal, a small, crowded room, started off a little awkwardly, with some bad music playing a little too loudly (it wasn’t tango, surprisingly). Yet, by 10:30 p.m., it was full and the atmosphere had changed to more of a low-key party, to which the waiters were eager participants.
Thursday lunch was at the stylish Fervor Brasas de Campo y Mar. As the name suggests, this is an upscale brasserie that dishes up meat and seafood dishes from the grill. Located in the tony Recoleta district, it’s the ideal boite to see and be seen for locals and those staying at the nearby Alvear Palace and Park Hyatt-Palacio Duhau hotels.
We enjoyed a country pâté, made in a more finely ground texture than the French version, followed by grilled baby squid and scallops and half a boneless chicken, flattened and grilled to a golden color.
From Fervor’s wine list I chose the Achaval-Ferrer Quimera Mendoza 2006 (257 pesos; $77), a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that showed bright black cherry, boysenberry and cassis notes enveloped in a lush, smooth texture.
Friday night was back to Oviedo. I am pleased to report that, unlike Monday, the joint was jumping, both upstairs and down. And rightly so, as owner Emil Garip and his staff served up wonderful seafood and meat dishes, accompanied by one of the city’s best wine lists.
Earlier in the week, I had met Dr. Federico Zapata through my friend, the artist Norma Vaschetti. Federico had generously shared a bottle of Achaval-Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Altamira 2002. It had shed its layers of blackberry and cassis with bottle age to reveal leather, spice and mineral aromas and flavors. But it was the ultrasupple texture and balance that displayed its class and pedigree.
Federico and I met again at Oviedo. This was to my benefit, because he recommended the fresh fish special. I ordered the red mullet, while he had another Atlantic species. The fish is fresh each day from the city of Mar del Plata on the coast.
Both the Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier Malbec Uco Valley Alfa Crux 2004 and Finca & Bodega Carlos Pulenta Corte A Vistalba 2003 were delicious, with the Malbec resembling more of an elegant string quartet while the Corte A, a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda, featured the depth of a full orchestra.
Buenos Aires is much more expensive than on my earlier visits in 2005 and 2006. My estimate is that meals at these top restaurants are 50 percent more expensive. Other items, like clothing and CDs are still very reasonable, as are taxis.
The economic crisis has hit Buenos Aires hard, mainly due to Argentina’s government, about which I heard many complaints. Nonetheless, the porteños have come to accept periodic hardship and, despite all the problems, have not lost any of their lust for life.
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