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