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

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