Review: Chiuso Ristorante

Chiuso Ristorante Buenos Aires

Despite the overwhelming amount of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires, it’s surprisingly tough to get solid Italian food that goes above and beyond your typical heavy gnocchi or sludgy risotto. Sure, there are a few spots that do it right (L’Adesso and Guido’s come to mind), but let’s just say – the struggle is real.

Thank heavens for owner/somm/one-man-show Mariano Akman and his dedication to righting this wrong. With years of experience under his belt, he opened Doppio Zero on Zabala, a tree-lined street in the posh part of Belgrano. Located on the ground floor of a boutique hotel, the 30-cover bistro served up fresh orecchiette and other pastas, and classic seafood and meat dishes, in the most intimate of miniature settings. They quickly outgrew this space and moved around the corner to a larger locale on Soldado de Independencia en Las Cañitas.

When word of its closing spread, I’d feared that it was the end of the line. Luckily, it was just a reinvention, a la Cher or Lady Gaga (but with fewer sequins). With a new name – Chiuso Ristorante – and a fancy new address – San Martín 1153, right in front of Plaza San Martín in Retiro – there was lots of buzz from the start.

The space itself is classic, anchored by the marble topped bar in what is otherwise a pared down local without much fanfare beyond the wall of Campari bottles and large picture windows. It has good bones; tables situated near the front enjoy views of the Plaza and the rest of the downtown bustle.

And the food? Just as great – if not better than – before. The variety of antipasti includes cold treats like fresh salads, burrata, paté, as well as warm plates with grilled polenta, prawns with pesto, and the most insane rabbit croquettes that you’ve ever had in this lifetime. Sonnets can – and should – be written about these croquettes. They’re light, crunchy and contain zero filler; the red pepper sauce that comes with is the perfect accompaniment. When I win the lottery I will demand to have an endless supply of these puppies on hand at all times. No joke.

Pesto Prawns - Chiuso Ristorante

Mains feature pasta (both fresh and by De Cecco), risotti, and seafood/meat. You can’t really go wrong with anything here; the conchiglie served with lamb ragú, fresh citrus ricotta and arugula knocked my socks off, as did the pappardelle with broccoli, ‘shrooms and pancetta. Though it was a tough choice between the prawn and mushroom risotti, the prawns edged out by a hair. If you’re not in the mood for carbs, order the rabbit – served just like Mariano’s grandmother used to prepare it.

Pappardelle - Chiuso RistoranteMaybe you’re experiencing a different kind of dilemma. Rather than struggle to decide what to eat, you want to order it all. Fear not. Every dish on the menu (antipasti included) can be ordered as a full or half portion. Whether you want to maximize your ordering strategy if out with friends or just want to pretend you’re sticking to your diet, it’s the best way to sample a dish without having to commit fully to it. (It should be noted that these half portions are still filling and won’t leave you scarfing down the bread basket, though it’s so delicious you would have already done so by now).

Prawn Risotto - Chiuso RistoranteDesserts are classic, with the tiramisú and the pistachio semifreddo standing out as favorites. Sadly there isn’t any grappa or limoncello to top it all off, though let’s hope that is part of the phase two planning.

Pistachio Semifreddo - Chiuso RistoranteNot only am I thrilled to have yet another great restaurant in the neighborhood (the #RetiroRenaissance is real, dudes). but it’s also so wonderful to see someone so enthusiastic about their project and dream as Mariano is. He’s always going about 80mph, corkscrew conveniently at hand in the pocket of his jeans, chatting with patrons and making you feel like you’re the most important guest of honor. His experience is obvious; he’s completely in his element and really thrives off of running the show. In a day where restaurant owners barely seem present, it’s a treat to see otherwise.

Bienvenuti nel barrio, Chiuso. It’s great to have you.

Chiuso Ristorante
San Martín 1153 – Retiro
Tuesday-Saturday 12-4pm, 8-11:30pm
4311-7652

Review: La Alacena

Photo courtesy La Alacena

Photo courtesy La Alacena

For those of you that are either from Buenos Aires or have been here long enough to remember the glory days (pre-inflation with that solid 3 to 1 exchange rate), you might reminisce about a time when Palermo wasn’t overrun with pastel-pink cookie cutter shops, cafés peddling mint lemonade, or French bulldogs wearing leather jackets. A simpler, more wholesome time indeed.

Well, you can stop living in the past. Enter La Alacena, the newest gem in a Palermo that harkens back to the quieter days with a real barrio feel. After dominating at BASA (and before that, Le Blé, Bar Uriarte, and beyond), Juli has spread her pastry-making wings and opened up shop on the wide, sunny corner of Gascón and Honduras.

Juli’s cooking stands out for its complex simplicity. Here you’ll eat real food, with a focus on high quality, market-fresh ingredients. Fresh-baked, crusty breads form the bases of inventive prensatti sandwiches, bright roasted vegetables top off hearty salads, and pretty much every dessert available will knock your socks off. Daily specials rotate through pasta, fish, and other delights.

Her style is effortless, unpretentious, making you feel that you could almost replicate these flavors at home (if only you were half as talented as she).

The space is simple but homey, with big glass windows facing the street and shelves of ceramic dishes for sale lining the walls. The open kitchen lets you peek in on the culinary action, and overall a feeling of artisanal warmth is transmitted throughout. Service is efficient and friendly (and thank God they accept credit cards).

Salad at La AlacenaSeriously, everything is delicious. How is that even possible? You’ll want to visit every day just so you can eat everything on the menu. Saturday brunch is the perfect cure for a previous night of excess, and nothing can top the now famous chocolate and sea salt tartaleta (featured recently in La Nación). Wash it down with a glass of red wine and you’ll be set for the day.

La Alacena is also open some evenings for dinner, with a menu of small plates meant to be shared. Feast on antipasti like veal carpaccio with arugula, lemon and parmesan, grilled baby squid with fresh herbs and aioli, and roasted mushrooms with almonds and parsley.

Well-deserved positive press means that it’s harder and harder to walk in for a table on the weekends, so call ahead and reserve just to be certain. During the week things are a little more tranquilo, but don’t expect it to stay that way for long. We can only hope that this little corner stays true to its down to earth roots, but with Juli at the helm, we’re in good hands.

La Alacena

La Alacena
Gascón 1401, esq. Honduras – Palermo
Monday – Friday 9am-7pm; Saturday 10am-7pm
4867-2549

Astor’s 1st Birthday Celebration

Astor Bistro Buenos Aires

Astor Bistro has gotten nothing but good press since its opening last year. Luckily, these accolades haven’t gone to its head as the restaurant continues to serve beautiful food in a friendly space tucked away from the noise and circus that is Palermo.

A couple of weeks ago, the Comando Gourmand was lucky enough to visit Astor for a little birthday celebration. After all, what better way to ring in a year of success with great food, lots of wine, and an amazing group of people? We kicked things off with an aperitivo at the hand of Pablo, Astor’s skilled sommelier and charismatic host, before sitting down to a complete tasting menu at the hand of chef Antonio Soriano.

To start, the Comando dove into smoked venison with a poached egg, velvety pumpkin soup with a touch of pimetón, the most delicious trout I’ve ever tasted with pickled and pureed beets with goat cheese. We continued on with a white riverfish (Rubí?) over fennel puree with bok choy, Brussels sprouts, peas and a touch of wasabi – definitely one of the favorites of the night. This was followed by ojo de bife, corn, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and ‘shrooms, and topped off with wild boar, lentils and peppers.

After a brief interlude (mostly marked by exclamations of “I am so full I might explode, but this is so good I can’t stop eating”), it was time for dessert. First, one of the greatest combinations of all time: banana, chocolate, and dulce de leche. Suddenly I’m a kid again and my taste buds are overjoyed. Next, a cold strawberry mousse served with fresh fruit to cleanse the palate and trick you into thinking that you didn’t just stuff yourself silly. Perfection.

Despite the gluttony, there was a final surprise in store. Though we’re usually the ones being wined and dined, the Comando decided to show some love for the Astor team with a homemade chocotorta (courtesy of yours truly). Since it’s physically impossible for me to be understated when it comes to celebration, a candle that shot out sparks and a glittery sign that said “Feliz Cumple” were included for dramatic flair. We gathered around together and sang Happy Birthday to Astor, with wishes for many more years of full bellies and happy hearts.

Feliz Cumple Astor

It was a great night, perfect from start to finish. There’s nothing better celebrating the success of friends, especially when that celebration includes a feast fit for kings. Gracias, Astor!

El Comando at Astor BistroAstor Bistro
Ciudad de la Paz 353 – Belgrano
Monday-Friday 8pm-12:30am
4554-0802

Roux-la-la

Oysters at Roux

It’s not always easy to find a neighborhood spot with enough elegance to add some glam to an otherwise humdrum Saturday night. Put your hands together for Roux, the hot new ticket in town from Martín Rebaudino (ex-Oviedo, a BA classic known for its impeccable food and service), which offers up contemporary Argentine cuisine on a cozy corner with big picture windows in Recoleta.

The current trend of focusing on market-fresh, locally-sourced ingredients has done nothing but yield excellent results (see: Aramburu Bis, Astor, etc.), and Roux continues to carry the torch, displaying a real flair for technique and presentation. It’s a place you can take someone if you want to impress, but it won’t intimidate those who don’t necessarily have a Ph.D in alta cocina.

Starters include a llama carpaccio, live oysters (nearly impossible to find in Buenos Aires, save for just a couple of places), egg poached at 63C served with seasonal veg, and lentil ragout with grilled chipirones.

For mains, choose from a nice variety of rice/pastas – risotto with baby squid and saffron, shrimp and pumpkin ravioli – red meat, poultry, and fish. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there on a night that red tuna is available, another otherwise elusive treat hard to find in these parts. The magret de canard, wild boar, and squid risotto were incredible, both well presented and cooked to perfection.

If you still have room for dessert, dive into the chocolate “nemesis” or the homemade ice cream. (Sadly when I went, the kumquats were no longer available, which would have been my first choice.)

Service is extremely attentive – for such a small space you’ll be surprised at the amount of waitstaff – if not a little wet behind the ears. It’s clear that some are new at this, but their friendly and helpful attitude make up for any minor slips. The space itself is extremely cozy but well-appointed, with nice lighting and sound-absorbing foam underneath the tables and chairs. (Try to avoid the two tables by the front door if you want to have a little more peace during your meal.)

Overall, Roux won me over with its mix of informal elegance, fantastic cuisine, and quality service. It’s a perfect spot for a romantic dinner or an upscale lunch that will satisfy your craving for gourmet goodness without any of the pretension.

Courtesy of Roux

Courtesy of Roux

Roux
Peña 2300, Recoleta
4805-6794
Monday – Saturday 12:30-3:30 & 8-Midnight
Reservations recommended

Murasaki: Ramen to Warm the Soul

MurasakiOne of my favorite parts of living in Buenos Aires lies within its endless galerías, long, narrow little centers that usually boast a wide array of shops: electricians, watch repairmen, random specialty stores packed to the gills and lacking completely in natural light. They offer a taste of adventure in this urban jungle, concealing gems that only the most brave of conocedores are fortunate enough to know about. For the explorers of the culinary variety, these galerías often are home to miniature restaurants or cafés as well.

Galería Larreta sits right on calle Florida, at the start of the pedestrian street best known for its leather hawkers and currency exchange shops. It was apparently the center of the go-go movement in the 60s and boasts a massive marble mural (try to say that five times fast) by artist Luis Seoane.

Bypass the shops and head straight back to Murasaki, a Japanese restaurant that serves not only fresh sushi, but also steaming bowls of magical ramen that will warm your heart and soul. Now, the cult of ramen isn’t necessarily news here, but discovering hidden treasures tucked among the porteño landscape always renews one’s faith in what this city has to offer.

If you’re looking for something BBB (bueno, bonito, barato), you’ve come to the right place. Sushi can be ordered individually, letting you choose from a range of sashimi, nigiri, rolls and temaki. The menu also offers up classics such as gyozas, yakitori, and tempura, but the star here is the ramen/udon section. Splurge a little for the fresh ramen and go to town – you can order broth with either a miso or pork base; both are delicious but I think the pork edges out the miso by a hair.

The egg yolk wasn’t as runny as I would have liked, but I think they assumed I would be put off by it (um, wrong, but I’ll let it slide). Be sure to jack up your broth with all of the spicy add-ons the waitress brings to the table – it really takes things up a notch.

Slurp up the rameny goodness and enjoy this pause in your busy day. Since you’re basically sitting inside a miniature labyrinth, no one will find you at your new hiding spot. Come to think of it, if you’re a) having an affair, b) hiding from your friends/boss/real life responsibilities, or c) a hermit, you’ll like Murasaki even more.

For those who might enjoy a little more social exposure, there’s another location a few blocks away at Viamonte 500.

Gyoza at Murasaki

Murasaki
Florida 971, local 32 – Galería Larreta
4314-6866
Open Mon-Fri 8am-8pm
Open Sat 9am-4pm

 

 

 

New Kid on the Block: Aramburu Bis

Bis Menu

Spinoffs aren’t always the best idea. I mean, how many people actually watched “Joey“? See what I mean? But when matters are handled by a master, the results can be much more successful.

Enter Aramburu Bis, the hip, laid-back little sister of molecular powerhouse Aramburu. Opened recently, Bis is a more informal presentation of what makes Aramburu one of BA’s greatest restaurants: spectacular food, an excellent wine list, and attention to detail that makes even the most subtle element stand out.

Located on the corner of Humberto Primo and Salta (just steps from Aramburu), this bistro has a friendly neighborhood feel and a very unpretentious vibe. It’s the perfect blend of high/low – sophisticated dishes are served at communal tables, and the space is light, with vintage touches that make you feel like you’re hanging out in an almacén de barrio. A mix of vecinos, locals, and tourists make up the clientele, an inviting mix.

The menu is brief but changes frequently in accordance with what’s in season and what’s market-fresh. The wine list is curated by Agustina de Alba, whose accolades precede her (and rightly so). Twice named the best Sommelier of Argentina, she’s just 26 years old and quite the luminary. Expect more greatness from her down the line.

What’s special about Bis is that it offers solid riffs on Aramburu’s impeccable cuisine at a more friendly price-point, without sacrificing quality or creativity. I don’t know about you, but a 12-course tasting menu with wine pairings isn’t something I’m able to swing on a regular basis. At Bis I can chow down on a huevo a baja temperatura or some fantastic seafood, but won’t need to break the bank in the process.

Everything we ate was just fantastic, from start to finish. Portions were abundant, perfect for sharing at our communal table and left us full, fat, and happy.

The beef tartare was perfection – a faithful version of what you can find across the street at Aramburu with the mustard sorbet, but with a twist of crispy shoestring potatoes that results in a more unbuttoned approach. The rabbit stew, served in a steel sauce pot, was a welcome remedy to the first whiffs of brisk fall air blowing outside. The prawns wrapped in a crisp dough (one of my favorite courses from Aramburu) are served in a piping-hot cast iron dish table-side, complete with a fresh seafood broth poured over it all to finish.

Bis rabbit stew

As for mains, the cochinillo (suckling pig) was my wildest dream come true. Slow-cooked for 24 hours, it falls apart when you go to attack it, but the skin is so crispy and crackly that it provides a great contrast. The barley and mushroom risotto provided a strong complement but still allowed the pork to be the star (duh).Bis suckling pig

The corvina (drum fish) served up with a cauliflower puree and fennel was heaven on earth: light, fresh, and flavorful. Plated beautifully, it was a reminder of who’s behind the whole operation.

Bis corvina

I’m not usually one to crave red meat (so sue me) but the ojo de bife was straight up sensual. Crispy on the outside, juicy and bloody on the inside, served up with a bright pumpkin puree, onion, and chimichurri.

If you’ve still got room (and even if you don’t), dessert is a must. Gonzalo’s arroz con leche has reached reviews of mythical proportions, but once again – it’s well deserved. First off, who doesn’t love eating comfort food out of a little jar? That means no one can shove their spoons in and steal a taste, which is great for fatties like myself. I’m pretty easy to please and have always liked this dessert, but those who tend to be harder to convince have changed their minds once they dig into this beauty. A classic nostalgic dish prepared and served with a twist, it’s the ideal way to end a meal.

Even though I knew I’d be a fan of Bis before I walked through the door, I was so pleased that my expectations were confirmed and then surpassed. It’s a place you’ll want to visit again and again, whether it’s bringing friends visiting from out of town or just because you’re not in the mood to cook on a Friday night. You’re guaranteed to feel like you’re an amigo de la casa as soon as you sit down, which makes the food more delicious and the wine taste better.

Maybe it’s because I’m a younger sister myself, but I wouldn’t mind a little sibling rivalry here. I guess I’ll just have to visit Aramburu and Bis on several occasions to see which one is in the lead…

Bis table

Aramburu Bis
Humberto Primo 1207, esq. Salta – Constitución
Mon – Sat 12:30pm-11:30pm
4304-5697
Reservations recommended
Park at the garage next to Aramburu or better yet, take a taxi

 

Back to Basics: Retro Comeback in Microcentro

Food trends are cyclical, and Buenos Aires is a perfect microcosm of (nearly) every fad and movement under the sun. Riding the current wave of nostalgia that’s making the rounds, we’re heading back to childhood summer barbecue classics: hot dogs and hamburgers. Yep, a healthy slice of good old Americana is being served up right in the heart of downtown BA.

Palermo obviously has its share of the goods with Burger Joint and Dean & Denny’s (I cannot get beyond that awful mash-up of two US chains, it’s just too much) slinging meat patties like it’s nobody’s business, but we’re going to focus on DOGG and 180 Burger Bar because I said so. Actually, it’s because I work just a few blocks away from both places and am thrilled that I can sit at my desk after lunch with burger grease still on my hands.

DOGGYou don’t have to walk very far in Buenos Aires to find a garden variety pancho, but they’re almost always of the boiled sort, served on wimpy bread and with only papas pay or salsa golf as a topping. Praise be to the wiener gods, DOGG is the answer to all of your hot dog prayers.  The dogs are made of 100% Angus Aberdeen beef, using a classic/”secret” Brooklyn recipe, are grilled up and served on fresh-made homemade buns. It’s already evident that this is a superior base with which to start, so the toppings and sauces are literally the icing on the (meaty) cake. Imagine staring at an array of magic, ripe for the choosing: cheddar cheese, green onions, chili, guacamole, pancetta, sauerkraut, homemade pickles, BBQ sauce… I’ll give you a minute to wipe the drool off your chin now.

Source: DOGG

Source: DOGG

Everything is made to order, so once you’ve gotten your lunch, try to grab a seat at the communal table and take in the hipster atmosphere. Exposed brick, big chalkboards, subway tiles, and a rack of random hot sauces (muled in by friends and family, no doubt) add to the onda. Lunchtime is expectedly busy, with the line spilling out the door, but it moves quickly. Service is friendly; you can tell the hot dog dudes are happy to be living the wiener dream and spreading the love.

There are other options on the menu if you aren’t digging a phallic almuerzo for some reason. Wraps, sandwiches and salads are all quite good, though you’d be a dope to visit DOGG and not partake in the main event.

Some Fridays there’s even a DOGG happy hour for the after-office crowd. Though the area is usually known for sweaty underground boliches and pseudo-Irish pubs, this is a solid option if you’re not ready to head home from a long week without making a stopover for a laid-back tipple.

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180 Burger BarWalk just a few blocks from DOGG and you’ll pass 180 Burger Bar, a tiny spot filled with big beefy surprises. It’s next door to Baking BA, which makes a pretty badass cinnamon roll (They used to make English muffin breakfast sandwiches too, which was great for my hungover suffering, but stopped without warning. I’m still not over that heartbreak), and pumps out a mean hamburguesa for the hungry downtown warriors. If you ever made the mistake of eating at McDonald’s before, you’ll realize that this is most certainly a camino de ida.

The propuesta is straightforward, no bullshit: Build-your-own burger, with a happy array of homemade rolls, sauces, and toppings. Choose your bread: sunflower, Viena, or organo, Burger: beef or quinoa (for the hippies), and Sauce: salsa brava, chimichurri mayo, BBQ, tzatziki, or Dijon/mayo. The standard comes with lettuce, tomato and pickles, with special toppings as extra. Mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, fried egg, pancetta, and grilled onions – they can all be yours for a few pesos more. I like to go with cheddar and onion, but you can’t really make a wrong move.

Source: 180 Burger Bar

Source: 180 Burger Bar

All you need to do is hover by the counter like a creep and wait; even when the place is packed, your made-to-order juicy burger of love will be ready within ten minutes. If you were smart (or stupid, depending on how you choose to look at life), you ordered the papas fritas and made it a combo. Nice move, sport.

There’s plenty of seating available inside, but it can get a little stuffy (you might not want to smell like a smoke-fest once you’re done). Taking your goodies to go is probably the best bet, and you can be sure that your food will still be warm and perfect when you reach your final destination.

Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the experience you’re about to have. The burger itself is nice and big – this is a two-hand job (?). It’s everything you’ve ever wanted in a burger: grilled up on the outside, juicy on the inside, nestled between fresh toppings, flavorful sauce and a nicely toasted roll. With the papas, you’ve got yourself a feast fit for a king. Really though, it’s surprisingly a lot of food. Tread lightly if you have somewhere important to be afterward. Full disclosure: I spent the rest of my day in a blissed out stupor, daydreaming of all things meat.

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The verdict? Throwback looks good in la City. The classics never go out of style, and when they’re reimagined with a twist to keep them current, you can’t go wrong. DOGG and 180 Burger Bar are bringing much-needed zest to the downtown scene, which is overrun with sub-par milanesas and carb-tastic tartas. Both offer delicious, fresh food, homemade with love, at reasonable prices. Why would you ever want to go back to Big Macs and superpanchos once you’ve tried the real thing?

Welcome to the neighborhood, dudes. It’s (very) nice to have you.

DOGG
San Martín 657, Microcentro
4313-9735
Monday/Tuesday, 10AM-5PM
Wednesday-Friday, 10AM-9PM
Delivery

180 Burger Bar
Suipacha 749, Microcentro
4328-7189
Lunch, Monday-Friday: 12-4PM
Cash only