11 July 2008

The same, but different.

We'd tentatively planned to spend our Friday at the Buenos Aires Zoo, but then we bumped into Larry and Marcia from Seattle. It's their last day in Buenos Aires, and they invited us to join them at Caminos y Sabores, the "roads and flavors" expo at the La Rural Exhbition Center. It sounded like fun! Artisans travel from all over Argentina with their chocolates, oils, vinegars, spices, cheeses, salamis, beers, wines, licors, Fernets, leather goods, wool, silver, etc.

Larry and Marcia suggested we take the subway; the Bulnes station is about five blocks from our hotel, and La Rural is only two stops away from there by train. Cabs are so inexpensive here that we'd never bothered to try the subway. We pay about $4 USD for a typical cab ride across town; subway fare is $0.30.

The subway in Buenos Aires feels oddly like the subway in New York. The air is heavy, warm, and moist, and hits your face at high speed every time a train arrives. We got off at Plaza Italia, and walked up to La Rural. We've seen so many professional dog walkers in Buenos Aires, but this time, we actually had our camera at the ready. We counted sixteen, but there were leashes and paws everywhere.

As we approached La Rural, Steve noticed a majestic old tree. The trunk was huge! Here's a picture with Larry in it, just for perspective. We've seen several trees like this here, and every time I see one, I expect to see a door open up and a family of elves to scamper out.

The expo was interesting. It's open to the public for a small admission fee, but most of the vendors traveled to the big city in hopes of finding stores to sell or distribute their products. There were some really interesting wool and leather goods. One thing that caught our eye was a cow hair "agenda" that was designed to conceal a handgun. Might come in handy with the Supreme Court's recent interpretation of the Second Amendment!

We particularly enjoyed trying the cheeses. We tried one (I think they called it Queso de Campo) that looked like swiss cheese, but was mild and springy like day-old macaroni that's bloated from soaking up cheesy bechamel. Most of the cheesemakers call their goat cheeses "Queso de Cabra"-- goat cheese. We tried several different kinds, all with the same name. We finally bought a disc of a moist, firm one with a texture somewhere between a slicing and crumbling cheese, and took it back to Casa Palermitano (along with a $6 USD bottle of sparkling "Lambrusquino") for a light lunch. We also bought some wildly fragrant vinegars and a chimichurri-inspired dip to take home to the States.

We lingered over our wine and cheese in Lorena's diningroom for a long time, and then decided to read for a bit and take a nap. I know, it's a hard life when you're on vacation! For dinner, Andrea made a 9PM reservation for us at Bar Uriarte. Restaurants often struggle to create spaces that are both attractive and comfortable, but Bar Uriarte is both. It's a gorgeous space, but it's warm and inviting. The service was better than any we've encountered in BsAs, the wine list was extensive, and the food was delicious. And per the post below, we tipped like Americans, not like Argentines.

We started with a burrata and tomato confit salad. Burrata is the freshest cheese you'll ever taste, and it's as milky white and pliant as marshmallow fluff. We've had a lot of bad tomatoes in Buenos Aires. It's winter here, but that doesn't stop restaurants from throwing pale, flavorless tomatoes into their salads. The tomato confit was a much better idea! One thing we've really enjoyed here, besides the meat, is the mushrooms. Hongos are very popular in Buenos Aires, and they're usually delicious. We had a grilled polenta and mushrooms appetizer at Filo that we loved. Bar Uriarte's mushrooms are served alone on a plate with a few shavings of pecorino, but that's all they need. They're like little hunks of succulent, fatty meat. We relented and scooped up the smaller ones with some grilled flatbread that they'd left of the table, but only because we couldn't get them with our forks.

We've been drinking a lot of Malbec here, but it's always very primary and fruity. I suspect the better ones can age, but we never see older bottles on restaurant lists. I don't remember the producer, but we chose a reserve Syrah with dinner last night that was a little older and had a lot more character. It had a slightly herbaceous and coconutty American oak flavor to it, but not to the point of distraction. It worked well with our skirt steak and sweetbreads. Why isn't skirt steak more popular? We've had our share of tenderloin, sirloin, and ribeye here, but nothing packs more meat flavor for the buck than a good old fashioned skirt steak. As a kid, I used to order these "Roumanian tenderloins" for dinner at the Kosher deli. I hereby resolve to cook more skirt steak in 2008.

By 11PM, we'd moved on to coffee and crème brûlée flavored with (what else?) dulce de leche. A man with what had to be hair plugs came and sat next to us. He was at a sunken table for ten, so we were a couple of feet above him and totally fixated on his head. The hair around his head's perimeter was typical-- just coarse, graying, middle aged hair. The stuff in the center was soft, fine, darker, and stuck up like a baby duck's fuzz. We couldn't take our eyes off it. I had an almost irresistible desire to touch this man's hair-- and so did Steve.

Bar Uriarte could have been in Portland. Hell, it could have been in New York or Paris. When we got up to leave, we encountered a sobering reminder of how Buenos Aires differs from those other cities: the front door is bolted shut. A charming hostess peered out the window, and decided it was safe to let us out.

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