How do you review a place that you love so much you know there’s no real way at this point that you can provide an objective take on it? That is how I feel writing to you about Bengal – my hands down, all-time favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires, if not the universe. After three years of eating there on a regular basis (I’m talking on average, three times a month, though I’ve had more serious eras of addiction), it’s clear that I’m unable to find any real faults with the place. But honestly, it’s because there really aren’t any.
Tucked away on a sleepy block in Retiro, Bengal serves up two menus – totally separate from one another but equally incredible and delicious. Those looking for more classic dishes can stick to the left side of the menu, which offers seasonal Italian bites like risottos, hearty meat dishes and lighter pescatarian fare. But we all know why I go to Bengal – for the right side of the menu. Don’t be let down by what might seem to be a concise offering of Indian dishes – your panza will be more than happy with the rich, aromatic curries that will be served in front of you.
The waiters – a small, well-trained group of professionals who actually know how to provide service (unlike some of the dum-dums out in Palermo Hollywood – sorry I’m not sorry), greet you with a smile and always give you the low-down on the menu. I let them skip the speech since I order the same thing every time: Curried prawns with cilantro and coconut milk to start, and the bangali chicken – extra spicy – as my main. The chef is Indian, so you can trust that you will be served food that is actually spicy.
Other mains that are worth ordering are the jingha masala (big juicy prawns in a sauce that I’m convinced has crack in it, it’s that good) and the dal (lentils that are so decadent and so aromatic that you will be licking the bowl). Just once I tried the rogan josh (lamb) and while it was OK, it didn’t blow my mind.
The portions are huge. More than once I have had to take a break and nearly unbuttoned my jeans right there in the restaurant, but I’m no quitter. I keep eating, even through the pain, so I can totally satisfy my curry fix.
For dessert, you’re best off ordering one of their amazing homemade sorbets or ice cream. You probably won’t have room for much more. But the petit little chocolate volcano is just enough sweet, and the marinated pears are also great.
The best part about Bengal, however is the atmosphere. Small and intimate, you could come here for a most secret romantic tryst. You’ll also get some good people-watching in – last week we were next to Ricardo Alfonsín (son of Raúl, or Argentina’s first democratically elected president) and every Monday night you’ll spot the same group of local political big-wigs at the big booth in the corner. Owner Ezequiel – 77 years old and he still is at the restaurant from 8am to 1am every day – presides over it all by the bar and makes sure everyone has what they need. It’s a place that has been run by his family since it opened; the heart and soul is evident.
Sure, it’s a treatsy kind of place (especially the wine list) – don’t expect a cheap curry to come out of this kitchen – but it’s worth every dime. It’s a place you can go back to time and time again (and order the same. damn. dish. without fail) without it feeling stale. It’s like eating at home away from home, only better.
Arenales 837 – Retiro
Monday – Saturday, 12pm-4pm and 8pm-close