Buenos Aires: Food–Meat Edition

January 19, 2011

I daresay the runaway highlight of our vacation to Argentina was the gastronomy, which to be honest, I expected. Known for its production of quality beef, Argentina promised my fill and more of juicy steak, and it certainly delivered far beyond my meatiest dreams. As someone who comes from a line of people that consistently eats steak for breakfast (and lunch and dinner), I consider my standards to be decently high.

First, there was the parrillada (pah-ree-sha-da) one may order from a restaurant consisting of an assortment of barbecued meats grilled to perfection, and served as a course often shared by several people. A parrillada can include a rack of ribs, several different cuts of beef, chorizo, sweetbreads, chinchulines or pig intestines, and morcilla or blood sausage, an Argentine favorite that frankly did not capture the favor of my palate.

B and I tried a few steak restaurants during our week in Buenos Aires. Viejo Gomez was a fancy establishment chosen as a desperate last resort in the face of indecision; our first encounter with parrillada that was mediocre at best (of course, Argentine beef mediocrity far trumps the standards of American beef). My favorite part was probably the Quilmes beer and the dulce de leche candy the doorman handed me on my way out.

Then there was La Brigada, recommended by the husband of Teresita, who instructed our cooking class (more about that to come). The place was also a bit too ritz for us with its business meeting crowds and high brow patrons, but the meat was delicious enough. I ordered a milanesa, a popular breaded patty reminiscent of German snitzel, in lieu of the bife de lomo that had run out. While it wasn’t terrible, I stuck to steak at every ensuing restaurant venture after that meal. B wisely choose beef and was handsomely rewarded.

The ultimate crown of glory went to El Desnivel, a small, out-of-the way place in the neighborhood of San Telmo, where our humble hostel was located. After a day of bone-chilling, pouring rain, B and I snuck in for what was the best meal of our entire trip. Along with handmade spinach pasta covered in thick bolognese, we ordered an asado de tira, a rack of the crispiest, juiciest short ribs we will likely ever consume in our lifetimes. B still dreams about the chunks of fat he meant to tear off the bone and then felt compelled to swallow because of the outrageously wonderful flavor. I may or may not have contemplated licking the plate after the ribs had been devoured. We returned to the restaurant for our last meal at the end of the week, and agreed that if we lived in Buenos Aires, the homey, unpretentious El Desnivel would be a definite spot to take visitors.

But really, the biggest draw I think of Argentine beef, and food in general, was the price. We ate so well during our entire trip for so little money. The generous portion of asado de tira in all its meaty glory and juice at El Desnivel was a mere 8USD. Combined with the homemade spinach pasta, unlimited bread, chimichurri and a 1.5 litre soda, the meal cost barely 20USD, tip included. And we basically had to be rolled out of the restaurant, we were so stuffed. Talk about a serious bang for your chuck, er, buck.

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