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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Review: Pain de Sucre

Pain de Sucre Lemon Pie

It doesn’t take much to convince me to dive into something sweet. No one has to twist my arm to order (more) dessert after dinner, and there’s always room for another bag of Haribo in my bag after a trip through Duty Free. Since I can remember, my palate has been fine-tuned to favor a decadent chocolate mousse or a brownie sundae piled high with whipped cream. When I moved to Buenos Aires however, I had no idea what I was in for. Dulce de leche on top of dulce de leche, crema pastelera out the wazoo, kilo after kilo of creamy helado in every flavor imaginable. The saccharine overload was almost enough to turn me into a savory-only girl.

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Review: Mishiguene

(Full disclosure before we dive in: This post is horrifyingly, miserably, tragically overdue. I also excel at hyperbole, I know. Anyway – No idea why I have dragged my feet so long to share the experience of the Comando Gourmand’s night at the chef’s table at Mishiguene. Apologies to no one and everyone. Now sit back and happy reading)

As 2015 rolled in, the Comando Gourmand was faced with a milestone: its first birthday. Since we’re a festive group, we knew it was important to tie one on. So we did. Thanks to chef/co-owner Tomás Kalika and his amazing team at Mishiguene, we were able to spend an evening stuffing ourselves silly at the chef’s table at one of BA’s newest and greatest restaurants. At the risk of sounding trite, it truly was a magical night from start to finish.

Mishiguene Salon

Mishiguene is nestled in leafy green Palermo Botánico, one of my favorite barrios. When it opened toward the end of 2014, there was quite a bit of buzz surrounding the endeavor; purists scoffed that no one should try to make gourmet Jewish food, it’s a losing battle, etc. Tomás explained that it’s obviously futile to go head to head with the bubbes of the world and try to compete with their home-cooked dishes that have been passed down through the generations. Instead, he decided to put modern culinary techniques to work on these traditional recipes with which so many people have fallen in love. Boom. Mishiguene was born.

The space itself is lush and inviting: imagine tropical palm leaves, dark woods with gold accents, and focused lighting. It looks rich and there is a loud, vibrant feel to the place. The cozy bar area at the front makes waiting for your table that much more pleasant, especially if accompanied by a Spritz. Mirrors along one side of the wall add depth and give everything a definite brasserie feel.  Continue reading

Review: La Carnicería

La Carnicería - Palermo - Buenos AiresIt’s a tale as old as time: Buenos Aires and beef go hand in hand (and have done so for eons). More so than peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, or Bert & Ernie; it’s just a fact of life.

The glut of parrillas all over town – ranging from old-school neighborhood holes in the wall to more upscale outfits catered toward tourists with deep pockets – means that while you might be spoiled for choice, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Whether you’re a serious carnivore or just someone that likes to dabble in the asado arts from time time, no one wants to waste their time on a sub-par slab of steak.

Enter La Carnicería, the hottest new joint to seduce even the most demanding of palates. Located in Palermo, it actually takes the exact place of one of those greasy, old-school parrillas frequented by overweight taxi drivers and other characters. Quite the fitting reincarnation, if you ask me.

Molleja at La CarniceríaDecked out with wooden tables, simple metal chairs, and a massive butcher’s mural against one wall, the space is light and clean but masculine enough to mean business. It’s got a rock-and-roll meat shop vibe to it, though handled with care and welcoming enough that the not-so-cool-kids will feel right at home too.  Continue reading

Review: Shout Brasas & Drinks

SHOUT Brasas & DrinksThe shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, correct? Now imagine that if along the straight line between your office and home there were a perfect little spot for a drink and some tapas – it would be a pretty good deal, don’t you think?

When Shout opened up along Maipú, just steps from Plaza San Martín, a couple of months back, I was thrilled to pop in and see if I could add it to my barrio repertoire (the #RetiroRenaissance is real, people). Luckily, it was a home run. The lovechild of two veterans of the noche porteña (Sebastián Maggi and Santiago Lambardi, who cut their teeth at Sucre and then moved on to head up the drinks team at Pony Line/the Four Seasons), Shout is reminiscent of a few of my BA favorites mixed together: Milión, Dill & Drinks (RIP), and Florería Atlántico.  Continue 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

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