03 July 2008

San Telmo

This morning we took a taxi to San Telmo. Taxis in Buenos Aires are dirt cheap. Plaza Dorrego, in the heart of San Telmo, is about as far from our B&B as any place in Buenos Aires; the 25 minute taxi ride was $6.

Plaza Dorrego is home to Feria San Telmo every Sunday, a huge, open air antique market. The Plaza was empty this morning except for a few vendors selling assorted junque. We wandered around the GalerĂ­a Mercado de San Telmo. It's a 100+ year old indoor market. We usually hate such places, but this one wasn't the "two sweatshirts for $5" variety. There were antique cameras, antique suitcases, beautiful wool scarves, jewelry, fresh pastries, and several butchers. We watched as locals ordered meat and supervised every detail of how it was cut and packaged. We both noticed something interesting at all of the pastry counters-- a crunchy thing. It looked like a large, deep fried flower formed from filo dough. We plunked down two pesoes (about 70 cents) and got one to share. There was a blob of some sort of jam in the middle, but we both agreed it was gilding the lily and tossed that part in the trash.

San Telmo has dozens of antique shops, but it also has a lot of leather shops. There are beautifully made Hermes look-alikes, available in a zoological panoply of different animal hides. Cow hair Kelly? Check. Crocodile Birkin? It's there too. The bags aren't inexpensive, except by comparison to the genuine articles. Then there are the lighting stores. They're everywhere! Do the people of Buenos Aires really buy so many more lamps than the rest of us? We window shopped, but we only went into one store: El Rincon de los Duendes. Our friend Warren has a thing for gnomes, so we left with a couple of souvenirs for him. His wife is going to kill us. We walked around San Telmo for hours, and we loved its funky vibe. Another thing we loved was the dearth of dog droppings. Not only do the dogs seem to walk on leashes in San Telmo, but professional dog walkers, paseaperros, take them out in packs. We saw one man handle a dozen large dogs with Cesar Millan's "dog whisperer" finesse. We stopped at El Hippopotamo, a famous old café across from Parque Lezama. We ordered cappuccinos, and people-watched from our table at the window.

We paid a visit to Casa Bolivar, the San Telmo B&B where we originally planned to stay. It's a beautiful building, and it's representative of the architectural style we saw all over San Telmo. We never found out why Casa Bolivar canceled our reservation, but we learned at TripAdvisor that they canceled a lot of reservations. The buzz is that they, like so many Buenos Aires B&Bs, are unlicensed and were shut down by the city until they comply with licensing requirements.

Not far from the Gnome shop, we spotted El Establo, a restaurant that our friend Margaret highly recommended to us. Margaret told us she visited El Establo three nights in a row for the incredible palmitos and sweetbreads. We made a mental note of its location, and returned at 2PM for lunch. Our table had a nice view of the grill, which was in the middle of the restaurant, just as Margaret had described. We started with the ensalata de la casa, the only salad on the all-Spanish menu with palmitos. Margaret had described it as a dinner plate covered with a triple layer of palmitos - nothing else; no sauce or dressing. Our ensalata was not Margaret's ensalata. Ours had lettuce, tomato, corn, beets, small pickled palmitos, and a giant blob of mayonnaise in the center. Margaret hates mayonnaise. We shrugged and pressed on. The steaks were good, and were served with a very pungent red chimichurri. We ordered a 35 peso Malbec just to see what a $12 restaurant wine could be like. It did its job-- it was tooth-staining and tannic, which was a nice complement to the steaks. It was a nice enough lunch, but it seemed all wrong. It just didn't seem like the kind of place Margaret would visit three nights in a row. On the way out, we took a closer look at the sign. We had lunch at Del Establo; El Establo is halfway across town.

Not to worry. We have eleven more nights in Buenos Aires.

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