Argentina Day 8 — Buenos Aires

We’re back in the Southern Hemisphere for another day replete with empanadas, beef, and the Appalachian Trail.  We needed a good start if we were going to do that hike, so we hit La Familia for a tasty pastry assortment, and then got coffee at the well-guide-booked Mark’s Deli, allegedly a nice place to hang out if you don’t mind being amidst Americans. We got the coffee (iced, for me) to go, ate back on our courtyard patio in lovely mid-50s morning sunshine. Fueled, we wandered through the botanical garden and its plethora of cats, and then headed down the “Appalachian Trail,” aka Avenida de la Republica de la India, a three-block stretch amidst which somewhere is the home condo of South Carolina Governor Sanford’s “dear friend” Maria.  We did not see Maria, but we enjoyed our walk down her lovely street bordering the zoo.

We lunched across the street from Recoleta Cemetery at La Continental, a chain with a dozen or so locations citywide; a little more touristy than we wanted, but fine in a pinch, as we were getting cranky-hungry. Someone got a salad, but mostly we shared a variety of empanadas: chicken, beef, ham/cheese, veggie, and they were all pretty good. The pastry was flaky and very good; the fillings were a little bland (in typical Argentine style), but not bad. Hit the spot at the time, and a large bottle of Stella Artois didn’t hurt either.

Cemetery, arts/crafts fair, design center, cab, home, relax, then dinner. Dinner! We had tried on the previous night to go to La Cabrera, a well-known steakhouse and hotbed of tourists, but were turned away — they had been full at 9pm!  NO restaurant is full in BA at 9pm, most of them look at you funny if you show up that early. It worked out well for us, as La Baita was fabulous, but in the meantime we had made reservations to come back to La Cabrera tonight at 8:30 — we were right on time, they opened the doors at precisely 8:30 and were immediately full. That was the first sign that something was up.

Sign two: the entire staff was wearing surgical masks, on account of the swine flu scare (or as they call it, La Gripe, or more lovingly and colloquially, “la porcina”). In all our time in BA, we saw many masks at the airport, where they were required to go through customs, and here and there throughout the city, but only at La Cabrera were they apparently required by management. The staff was also not particularly attentive; despite being the first seating, it took a long time to get menus, order wine, get beverages, etc.

Sign three: all of the customers (literally all, as far as I could tell) were from the U.S., not an ideal situation, and the only time we noticed such an overwhelmingly English-speaking environment during the trip. La Cabrera has been featured in the NYT, Travel&Leisure, etc etc. (yet do not seem to have their own website).

We all ordered steak, all except the vegetarian, who ordered pasta and salad. We tried to order a couple of sides of papas fritas for the table, but they allowed us only one. Which in retrospect was the fourth sign. The food arrived, and literally did not all fit on the table; there were auxilliary locations for one steak and some sides. My bife de chorizo, perfectly medium-rare, had to be two pounds or more, easily enough for at least three normal humans, maybe four or five.  I ate about half of it, and that was one of the greatest efforts of my life.  Someone ordered the lomo (filet mignon), just a single order, and four normal-sized filets arrived sizzling on a platter. One of us smartly ordered a half-order of bife de chorizo, and barely was able to eat half.

Beef aside: the papas fritas were great, crispy outside fluffy inside and hot hot hot, and so were the many other small side dishes, which were sort of like Argentine panchan, little dishes and plates of lentils here and creamed potatoes there and red beans here and applesauce there. The vegetarian was happy too, the fresh pasta was outstanding and the salad was good. It all tasted amazing, but the sheer excess of it all combined with all the North Americans in the room made me feel less good about the experience. Probably the Argentine process of getting food from animal to table is less wasteful than in the U.S., but still…a lot of food wasted that night.  They could serve half as much food for the same price and it would still be a fine deal, the quality is so high. I don’t even remember what wines we drank, just that they were very good and one was a malbec.

Massive food coma ensued, but somehow we got home. That was the end of Argentine beef for me on the trip, too good and too much.  No mas. Pasta and empanadas from here on out.

Next: pasta and empanadas and Sergio, the Best Waiter Ever.

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