Review: OPIO

OPIO 1There’s a magical little corner of Palermo, suspended in what feels like a geographical No Man’s Land, that is home to some of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. Just a few blocks from Av. Scalabrini Ortiz, its leafy streets and single-family houses are more reminiscent of nearby Almagro than the over-developed Palermo Viejo. Luckily, despite the gastro-boom that’s been making waves, the barrio maintains an understated and low-key atmosphere.

Joining the ranks alongside La Alacena, NOLA, Gran Dabbang, and Proper, OPIO is the newest kid on the block. Billed as an Asian street food gastropub, the newest project from Tatu Rizzi (ex-Blanch) is so great I almost don’t know where to begin.

OPIO 2In a former life, the space was a run of the mill workshop, but it’s been transformed into a laid-back spot with only the slightest of industrial vibes. There’s a low noodle bar off to the left, individual tables up front against big picture windows, and a massive communal table taking center stage in the middle of the action. Low lighting offsets the high ceilings and minimalist decor; the massive collage/mural on the main wall was designed by Tatu himself. In the background, a steady stream of quality tunes sets the ideal vibe for the seriously spicy slurping which you’re about to undertake.

The menu offers variety without going overboard, and at the pre-opening I attended we were able to try nearly every dish. The prawn salad was a perfect mix of textures, with the citrus dressing playing off the fried shrimp and bringing out the crunch in the cabbage. The Pho was complex and comforting, and will definitely be one of my go-to orders even when it’s 40C in January and we’re all sweating our tits off. Another soup we tried, Khao Soi, was creamy and spicy but should have been served at a higher temperature to really make the flavors pop.

OPIO 3From there we dove into two curries – one chicken, one veg – and at that point I was sold. The chicken was deeply flavorful and falling off the bone, while the vegetarian green curry surprised me with a crunchy rice cake underneath the velvety gravy. There are two versions of Bao available – the classic porky delight and a version with shiitake ‘shrooms and pickles – and both deliver fluffy goodness. Don’t forget to go wild with the extra sauces and condiments that are placed on the table alongside your food – pile on that homemade Sriracha and double dip the tangy sweet chili sauce like there’s no tomorrow.

To close, send yourself into glucose oblivion with the peanut mousse, a classic from the Blanch glory days. It’s almost too sweet, yet somehow manages to avoid full-blown Diabetes territory, and I most definitely licked the spoon clean. If you want something a little less aggressive, the homemade ice cream pop spiced with cardamom and cinnamon will soothe your little tongue if you’re still not accustomed to non-Argie levels of spice (get it together already, man).

OPIO 4The verdict? OPIO is the perfect spot for something different, whether you’re looking to grab a bite with friends before hitting the town or trying to seduce the hottie you’re into with your chopsticks skills. The flavors are a masterpiece in contrast, showcasing the diversity and complexity of Asian food without falling back on watered-down standbys. It’s an ideal addition to a growing roster of restaurants serving up innovative and delicious food without the pretension.

OPIO
Honduras 4415 – Palermo
4864-1046
Weds & Thurs from 7pm-2am
Fri & Sat from 8pm-3am

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Feria Masticar 2016

Feria Masticar 2016

I’m not usually a “festival” person. Long lines, massive crowds, getting jostled around without much to show for it… sometimes it’s just too stressful to handle. However, there are times when taking a deep breath and diving into the insanity is all part of the fun.

It’s time for Feria Masticar, the star of Buenos Aires’ burgeoning food movement, now in its fifth year running. Waving the #ComerRicoHaceBien flag, it promises four days of eating and drinking extravaganzas, with the city’s best and brightest talent showcasing their goodies for the people.

In an effort to make the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved, this year the fair is sort of an XL reloaded version of itself, having annexed a few extra blocks and open spaces surrounding El Dorrego. There’s a whole brasas section, a beer garden, tons of market vendor stands in the middle of it all, and more space overall to stroll/scarf/lie down when your food baby gets too big.

Let’s get down to business. Here’s my shortlist of what you can’t miss from this year’s edition:

Feria Masticar 2016 / i Latina

Savory

  • Chorichang by Astor Bistro (the wild boar raviolis are also the jam, slurp up that brodo, bro)
  • Arepas de pollo y cerdo braseado by i Latina (#PuraSabrosura)
  • Oysters from Patagonia (served both raw and breaded in Panko) by Crizia
  • Chorifish + Cebichón by La Mar (be prepared for XXXL lines, however, everyone wants a piece of Gastón Acurio’s Peruvian magic)
  • Empanadas de Yacaré by El Baqueano (yep, you’re going to eat caiman)
  • 100-hour Bondiola by Pura Tiera (Chef Martín Molteni literally makes me want to live in a cabin)
  • Pulpitos by my favorite neighbors BASA
  • Pastrón by Mishiguene
  • Prawns by Gipponi + Rastellino (#UnaToneladaDeLangostinos)

Feria Masticar 2016 / CriziaSweet

  • Sugar rush chocolates by Compañía de Chocolates
  • Dolce Morte ice creams by Elena (smoked milk has never been so sexy)
  • Elderflower sorbet by Cassis
  • Cookies by Santa Teresita (if you weren’t lucky enough to summer in José Ignacio, now’s your chance)
  • Chocolate Cardamom Mousse by the Nespresso Patisserie

Feria Masticar 2016 / GanciaDrinks

  • Bar de Vinos by CAVE (rent a glass for 100 pesos and go to town on some fancy wines from Argentina’s best bodegas)
  • Alfredo Romero + more by Ludovico De Biaggi at the Gancia Cocktail Truck
  • Mimosa de Remolacha by Julep
  • Negroni Balestrini at Florería Atlántico (points for their awesome floral garnishes and beards)
  • Pisco Punk by 878
  • Everything coffee by the Nespresso Patisserie (go for the coffee + chocolate pairings to really get your blood sugar roaring)

This obviously doesn’t cover everything, but these recommendations will guarantee you leave having sipped and nibbled one some of the best that Masticar has to offer this year.

Feria Masticar 2016 / El Esteco

Double up on patience before you arrive, be prepared to get pushed around by surprisingly strong Argentine grannies, and take a lap or two before you commit to anything. Crowds are more manageable later in the evening, and if you go on Sunday when things are winding down you might be able to take home some of the goods (one woman I spoke to made off with 14kg of clams last year… why that seemed tantalizing to her I will never know).

Feria Masticar
Zapiola 50 – El Dorrego
Now through Sunday, May 8, every day from noon-11pm

Entrance $80
Dishes & drinks range from $50-80
Be smart – Buy tickets in advance here

Feria Masticar 2016 / Florería AtlánticoFeria Masticar 2016 / Pura TierraFeria Masticar 2016 / NespressoFeria Masticar 2016 / Choribondi by La Cabrera

 

Cooking Classes at Fuego

Fuego Buenos Aires

One of the reasons I love this city is its uncanny ability to draw you in, seducing you with its hidden gems, stunning architecture, and nostalgic romance, among so many other qualities. In spite of the chaos, the stress of the hustle, and the feeling that the city might actually be out to break our spirits just for fun, there’s a redeeming quality that can be found around almost every corner – if you know where to look.

Life has been hectic lately, working long hours and weekends, rushing around just to get the basic things done, and I’m often left at the end of the day feeling like a deflated little party balloon. However, when I rang the buzzer and took the old-school lift up to Fuego for a Korean cooking class the other day, all of that noise melted away as the magic of Buenos Aires reveled herself to me yet again. Continue reading

Review: La Susana – José Ignacio

La Susana - José Ignacio

Ah, summertime. If you’re stuck in Buenos Aires it usually means sweating in places you never thought possible, praying the power doesn’t go out on the hottest day of the year, and taking at least six cold showers a day.

For those lucky enough to make their way across the River Plate to the bucolic Eden that is Uruguay, however, verano takes on a completely different connotation. Splashing through turquoise waves, complying with the tacit “All White Linen, All the Time” dress code, and eating seafood at every meal are just part of the glorious package. If you can filter out the annoying bits (Argentine dads that are 40+ but refuse to wear anything that isn’t a graphic t-shirt with jean shorts and Converse All-Stars, for example), you’ll soon come to the conclusion that la vida es mejor en el EsteContinue reading

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

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

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