Monday, October 27, 2008

Where's the Argentine Beef.

Although I've some complaints, my beef (pardon that) is largely about expectations unmet and is overridden by the resolute intrigue of Buenos Aires.

Beef seems to be the central preoccupation of this city. They eat it and wear it and want us to do the same.

Everyone has a strong opinion about which steak house is good and why all the others are inferior. We sidestepped the obvious mistake: the famous and over-priced Las Lilas on the waterfront in Porto Madera. We went with the recommendation of an acquaintance and found La Cabrera in the Palermo Viejo neighborhood.

As is the case with most of the popular places like La Cabrera, you need to get there early (i.e. before 10PM for dinner) unless you want to wait for your table, a sentence mollified by the offering of free champagne by La Cabrera's solicitous staff. Once seated, we were happy with the rambunctious feel of the room.

A salad of palm hearts and avocado was delightful, but the "dressing" was to be strictly avoided. It was a swirl of mayonnaise and ketchup. Bleech.

As we had been told, La Cabrera heaped upon us many little ramekins of stuff meant to enhance the steak. Our waiter nixed the sirloin we selected and suggested the rib eye. Taking note of our girleen figures, he also wisely suggested we split a single order. We began to sample the various fixins and were surprised to find that the ricotta, the liver pate, the potato concoctions, the relishes and even the garlic itself were utterly devoid of character. What would become clear to us after having eaten in several restaurants (all highly recommended by various locals and friends) is the fact that Argentines do not make spicy food. In fact, they strongly lean on two spices that I have encountered nowhere else in the world: Flavoroff and Blandon. Everything we eat seems to have been sprayed with Flavoroff and sauteed in Blandon. (Yesterday, at an acclaimed Italian place, I had the pizza a quattro formaggi, made forgettable by what must have been a lacquer of 4X-strength Flavoroff to stand up to the presence of four cheeses.) Out of all the little dishes, only the stewed pears and apples were of interest. The most frightening was the tomato relish steeped in what had to have been gasoline.

The steaks were, however, savory on their own. Grisly, as is the Argentine preference, but delectable and nicely encrusted in cracked pepper. If you are of the sort who appreciates eye-popping volume at the groaning board, this is the place for you. And the breads were to die. And, to either add a star to this review or to subtract a raspberry, know that the bill came to less than twenty bucks each, tip included.

I would also recommend the two other restaurants we have attended. Amici Miei, in Plaza La Dorrego, San Telmo, for its ambiance (Select the terrace in the rear), and Broccolino, just north of the Micro Centro (have the ice cream for dessert but skip the arrabiata sauce on your pasta for it is rendered unarrabiated by a liberal dose of Flavoroff.)

Then, there is the beef on the hoof, or off it, as in shopping for leather goods. C was enthralled by the wonderful 28 Sport shop.

They make either exactly one pair of shoes in a particular style (if you like it, you better hope it's your size) or limited runs of other styles (one pair in each of twelve sizes.) They look to vintage German soccer shoes of the 1950s as their inspiration. The leather is supple and the craftsmanship superb. The colors made me want to vote for Ike.

C selected a smart pair.

The third steaky category has to do with the Argentine men themselves and how these steer desport themselves when corraled in nighttime places such as Tom's and Zoom. Later, boys. Work up an appetite.

PS: In my first post, I spoke about the fact that this city is filthy. It appears that we had arrived just before trash pick-up day. The streets are now cleaner in our neighborhood, but there is a strong disregard for the picking up of dog poop on the sidewalks, and those dogs do not wait for the weekly arrival of the garbage truck. The city budget for basics is obviously strained, but the citizens augment the urban distress with their common carelessness. In New York, folks generally pick up their shit.


Birdie said...

Hey, some of that Flavoroff got in your hair. It's hiding that gorgeous silver mane.

circleinasquare said...

Oh! Oh!
The shoes!!!
In red?!?

SubtleKnife said...

So far I have carefully managed to avoid every Argentine steakhouse in Amsterdam (believe me, for every other restaurant around, there's at least one Argentine steakhouse) and if that's the standard in Buenos Aires, I'm not changing that policy now...

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear Birdie,
It's called "vacation hair", and yes, Flavoroff makes a great conditioner.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the shoes.

TedBear said...

Bah! Los Lilas is a good steakhouse. It was cheap, too. Expensive by Argentine standards, but very cheap by American steakhouse standards. Honey, we aren't talking The Old Homestead steakhouse in the West Village good! The Los Lilas crowd is pretty and the Malbec wine selection was the best found during our two week stay.

The flea market was fun for browsing and people watching.

David said...

As long as it's just for the vacation. I like you much better as "distinguished" rather than "mutton dressed as lamb".

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Dear Tedbear,
I'll retract because although we didn't much like the way that waterfront felt like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore (or the way Redhook will feel when it is fully gentrified), Las Lilas may be good - we didn't eat there, we just walked by.
Stay tuned for a review of a really good parilla.