#MAPA14 Comes to a Close

#MAPA Final What a glorious year it’s been for the aperitivo, wouldn’t you say?

Whether you’re a hipster who drinks Campari with soda while you’re at some underground party, a chic society girl sipping on Aperol as the sun goes down, or an old-school man’s man who washes down your Cinzano with potato chips, 2014 was a good time to celebrate our love for aperitivi.

It all came to a dramatic close last sunday at the Quinta Trabucco out in Vicente López. The 15 finalists – five experts and ten aficionados – set up shop at the bar and got ready to wow both the judges and the people, hoping to be crowned not only with the title of victor, but also with a ticket to Italy.

The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and the humidity decided to let us all have a good hair day. Partygoers sprawled on picnic blankets (day drinking and sprawling definitely go hand in hand), scarfed down sausagey treats courtesy of DOGG, and chugged cocktails all in the name of honest competition. Also, there was a photobooth, of which I took full advantage, because duh.

#MAPA Cocomero Rosso#MAPA14 PhotoboothThe stakes were high, and there were a lot of great contenders out there. From the experts category, my favorites were El Sodero (Mar del Plata) and Tradición (Santa Fe). El Sodero is the perfect summer drink – crisp, sweet and citrusy, and light enough to trick you into drinking 25 without realizing that this is maybe not a good decision. The cool part was that the cocktail was mixed and loaded into a Drago sifón so each magical squirt was the perfect blend of boozey goodness. The Tradición brought together whiskey, green apple, pecans and cinnamon, resulting in a dangerously delicious drank that I would happily put into a thermos and call it my special juice.

From the aficionados side, my personal favorites were the Cocomero Rosso and the Divino Fibonacci. The former took on one of the Argie’s favorite myths – that drinking wine and eating watermelon together will result in CERTAIN DEATH. Somehow, by the grace of God, we all lived to see another day. The Divino Fibonacci really brough it home with the divine proportions, Cynar, and a rosemary garnish. Simple, light, fabulous. I may or may not have had several servings of each. Hey, I had to be sure of my favorite before hitting the ballot box, right?

As voting wound down, everyone started to get antsy and we just wanted to know WHO WON ALREADY PLEASE TELL ME. Drumroll please….

Little Blackberry Spritz, el aperitivo ganador de Facundo Tochi (1)Cocomero Rosso, el aperitivo ganador creado por Matías DanaCordobés Facundo Tochi took home the expert prize with his Little Blackberry Spritz, while Matías Dana and his Cocomero Rosso soaked up the glory for the aficionados. Both winners will get to pack their bags and hit up Italy with their team captains, not to mention the badassery of calling themselves Crown Prince(s) of #MAPA14.

If you want to see more pictures from the day, visit the Comando Gourmand Facebook album.

Feeling nostalgic? You can still follow the #MAPA14 hashtag on Twitter. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

 #MAPA14 Comando Gourmand

Auguri! #MAPA14 Finalists Announced

#MAPA14 Finalists

After a grueling first phase of cocktail creation, the finalists of the second edition of #MAPA14 have been announced! More than 300 people – experts and aficionados alike – put on their creative thinking caps in the hopes of wowing the judges and winning a trip to Italy next year. Needless to say, the stakes were pretty high.

Let’s recall the challenge, shall we? Choose one of the dishes inspired along the Ruta del #MAPA and weave it into a story alongside an original aperitivo using either Campari, Cynar, Aperol, or Cinzano.

The jury had their work cut out for them, that’s for sure. Guillermo Blumenkamp (owner of the magical Doppelganger), Luciano Banchero (journalist and creator of Podcast.fm) and Pamela Villar (chef/pastry queen at Yeite) were tasked with choosing the lucky ducks who will compete on December 14 at the final at the Quinta Trabucco in Zona Norte.

OK, so who passed the first test? Drumroll please…

Experts: Facundo Benitez, Facundo Tochi, Nicolás Brachet; Bruno Landin, and Luis Miranda.

Aficionados: Cayetana Vidal, Sofía Galarce, Joe Fernández, Natalia Salamone, Ingrid Beck, Belén Jung, Luis Redondo, Matías Dana, Matías Faure, and Lucía Seisas.

Sadly, I didn’t make it through. There were some pretty amazing stories and drinks in the running – I’m talking to you, guy who made a drink with 12 ingredients inspired by the zodiac and person who used the Fibonacci sequence as part of their story – and my final presentation was definitely more of the “could have been done by a kindergartener” vibe. I am proud of what I came up with though, because #selfesteem.

Without further ado, I present to you, La Vecchia Milano:

1 oz. Aperol
1 oz. Príncipe de los Apóstoles Gin
1/2 oz. Rosemary syrup
Crushed ice
Fresh strawberry
Sprig of rosemary

Pour the rosemary syrup into a lowball glass, add plenty of crushed ice on top. Pour in the Aperol and Gin and stir to combine. Garnish with a fresh strawberry and sprig of rosemary.

La Vecchia Milano

Stay tuned for updates after the grand finale next week!

 

Hernán Gipponi’s T&A at Gran Bar Danzón

…That’s Tapas & Arroz, sickos.

HG at Gran Bar DanzónLast week Hernán Gipponi took over the kitchen at Gran Bar Danzón and rocked Recoleta’s socks off with a four-day gastronomic extravaganza. The propuesta? Tapas, rice, and wine, featuring versions of HG’s most well-known dishes, such as organic rice from Corrientes, sous vide eggy goodness, and light, citric desserts that cleanse the palate.

Gipponi has been acting as a bit of a free agent after parting ways with the Fierro Hotel in Palermo Hollywood several months ago. Though I’m surely going to miss his legendary brunches and One Table dinners there, change is a very good thing for all. After slinging nearly 500 kilos of prawns from Chubut at Feria Masticar, he moved onto this miniature residency at Danzón the last week in October.

Credit Gran Bar Danzón

Credit Gran Bar Danzón

The menu was paired with Zuccardi wines, with the spotlight shining straight on the Aluvional La Consulta 2010. This wine alone is beyond worth the price of admission and was indeed the metaphorical frutilla en la torta of a culinarily epic Monday night.

We started off with a little pincho of cured beef with mustard, grilled tomato, and turnip pickle. Done, delicious, come to mama. Paired with a crisp glass of Alma 4 Chardonnay, it was a nice prepper for the massive feast that was to come.

Huevo, papa, molleja - Gran Bar DanzónNext up was the tapas round. Much like a gameshow, extra points were indeed earned for scarfing down as much as humanly possible. Between the chilled fennel and green apple soup, baby squid with alioli, salsa brava and papel de calamar, the beef tongue served with little morcilla meatballs, and the sous vide egg with molleja, potato and onion… yikes I just drooled all over myself while reliving this moment. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be a tie between the fennel soup and the egg, but both the squid and blood sausage morsels really gave them a run for their money.

As if it were possible to have any more room for extra food, the main event was yet to come. The skillet of organic rice from Corrientes served with prawns, pork belly, leeks, and giant lima beans was brought out to much fanfare, our cup of La Consulta served suavely alongside it. Jaws definitely had to be picked up off the table; thankfully the music was loud enough to mask our borderline inappropriate moans and exclamations.

After such an intense savory sesh, the only logical dessert was the Copa HG – a light, foamy yogurt mixed with iced passion fruit, lychee, and toasted pumpkin seeds. It was a lovely balance of sweet and salty, crunchy and smooth. The Malamado Viognier paired well, though it was a bit strange to have a dessert wine sweeter than the actual postre.

It was definitely an aggressive(ly good) way to start the week. In fact, I think my liver is just starting to recover from the level of insanity I put it through during that dinner and beyond.

One thing is certain: No matter where he rests his knives, Hernán Gipponi is one fine chef. One can only hope that these pop-up menus will become more of a regular happening until HG hunkers down behind some burners of his own.

Gran Bar Danzón
Libertad 1161 – Primer Piso, Recoleta
Monday-Friday from 7pm; Saturday-Sunday from 8pm
4811-1108

#MAPA14: Start Your Aperitivo Engines

#MAPA14 Convocatoria

Springtime in Buenos Aires: the days are getting longer, the temperatures are warming up, and it’s time for this year’s edition of #MAPA. The Movimiento Aperitivo Argentino is gearing up for another season of competition in search of the greatest new cocktail and this year, anyone can participate.

From now until December 1, aspiring mixologists can enter the running by teaming up with one of the ten ambassadors (last year’s #MAPA finalists) and developing their own aperitivo cocktail, pairing it with one of the nine dishes inspired by the Ruta del MAPA, and tying it into a creative story that weaves everything together.

Earlier this year, the MAPA battalion traveled around Argentina and hosted workshops with Martín Auzmendi – official MAPA ambassador and cocktail king – as well as the country’s top chefs and bartenders (think Antonio Soriano, Hernán Gipponi, Gonzalo Aramburu…). Along the way, these chefs were assigned with the task of inventing dishes inspired by one of the cities, using local ingredients and flavors. Participants in #MAPA14 must choose one of those dishes (based on whatever criteria they wish, be it one of the key ingredients, the chef that created it, or any kind of general good vibe).

Participants will enter one of two categories – Experts or Aficionados – and five finalists will be chosen from each. The jury – Guillermo Blumenkamp (bartender/owner of Doppelgänger), Luciano Banchero (journalist and aperitivo lover), and Pamelo Villar (chef/owner at Yeite) – will choose the winner based on the cocktail itself, the story that accompanies it, and the overall creativity and presentation. The prize at stake? A magical mystery tour across Italy with Martín Auzmendi to eat and drink their way along the original ruta del aperitivo.

MAPA’s mission is to bring together the magic of the aperitivo in all its glory against the backdrop of classic storytelling, the buena mesa and all that this entails. As we all know, nothing tops the simple pleasure of getting together with friends and family to enjoy a cold Aperol Spritz, Negroni, or Cynar Julep, watching the sun go down and just taking a moment to soak it all up.

For more information visit the MAPA website, Twitter, and Instagram.

#MAPA14 - Santa Fe #MAPA14 - Mendoza

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