Change from 100: POKE

The challenge: Dinner for two people, including soft drinks for both, in Buenos Aires. The challenge does not include pizza, empanadas or milanesa.

This has been an arousing week, both visually and gastronomically speaking. My senses have been touched, just in the nick of time before the Christmas gorge fest of turkey, mince pies and brandy butter. I wish. I don’t even like any of those festive food stuffs apart from the former, and none of those foodstuffs will be finding their way to me this, or any, year.

Just when I thought I was going to turn into a pizza — round, doughy and covered in basil, or better still, sorrel — fortunately a few key incidents have taken place and made me reassess my situation. Of huge importance was the fact that I now remember I’ve got tastebuds yearning for a kicking, and from now I shall endeavour to cater to their needs. I gave those remaining crusty crusts a one-way ticket to the rubbish bin…

I was gutted to miss out on slumping into a korma coma at the Indian food festival at the Sheraton in Retiro this week. Time simply did not permit an appearance, so in order to get a dose I shall endeavour to head to Barrio Norte’s Tandoor for a fish curry lunch next week.

But first off, I was visually aroused at the launch of The President. This brand-new store run by South Africans, which opened on Tuesday, doesn’t only feature their favourite things from home, such as books, textiles and sweets, but you can also pick up the December 2011 issue of US Vogue in December 2011. Anyone who has ever tried to buy that mag from a newspaper stand in Buenos Aires will know that it is, in fact, impossible. However, The President has made the impossible, possible (next week, water into wine?). Food-wise, you can pick up three varying degrees of curry spice and I’m overly confident that the “hot” one will do exactly as it says on the tin.

It was such fun, and so enlightening to see different brands and use of colours and West African textiles featured on the clothes, handbags, and even logos. Change is good.

My eyes watering from such visually enchanting goodies, I then headed off to Mr. Links’ for supper. Greeted by wonderful aromas that led me to think I was, actually, going to get that long-awaited taste of India, my mouth started watering too. He handed me a paper tissue to mop up my eyes and drooling lips.

In fact, no curry at all. But a delicious, already-rotisseried, shredded half-chicken accompanied by caramelized onions and a fabulous salsa. Four simple ingredients made up Linksy’s salsa: onion, coriander, mango and chilli pepper. Slap on some shredded finger-lickin’ chicken into a warm wrap, slather on some salsa, fold it up best you can, shovel into mouth, repeat. Okay then.

Simple, simply delicious and refreshing, the salsa can be adapted to more delicate (read as Argentine) palettes, and so that evening was very easy on the eye and the mouth.

The following night I had a mate date with Maria and Corinne. While the prospect of the Indian food feast almost lured us in, instead we opted for dinner at POKE in Palermo as we’d all been meaning to go for a while.

I’ve written about POKE before, in the context of pop-up restaurants, and its owner-chef Mychael Henry has made POKE a more regular feature by “popping up” once a week to take over the kitchen at the bar, Magdelena’s Party.

However, the only time I’ve tried Henry’s pan-Latin and Asian-inspired dishes was on his very first outing, catering at a private party. That was a good 12 months ago, and I can remember something, chicken perhaps covered in sesame seeds I think, on skewers, but not getting much, as demand was high for a slow turnaround of dishes.

With just four dishes on offer, Henry can keep costs down but also dedicate himself to getting those absolutely right, and this time there was little waiting. We certainly didn’t hang about much more than 15 minutes. Fried chicken drumettes cost 23 pesos (and are gluten-free, fact fans), filling and tasty sesame noodles in peanut sauce with grilled chicken is a snip at 25 pesos, and if you and your dining partner share a soft drink at 12 pesos, you can also squeeze in a carne asada plate for 38 pesos — and get two pesos’ change from a 100-peso bill.

I was surprised by the good value. Really surprised. Although the priciest dish is ahi tune poke at 47 pesos, order succulent drumettes as a starter to share and two noodle bowls as a main, and, well, I don’t need to do the maths for you — you get even more change for your 100 pesos.

The food is fresh, the fusion of tastes refreshing, and overall POKE was super good value for flavours which are often hard to find for all the pizzerias. I was visually and gastronomically pleased.

What was a let-down, however, was the need to continually remind the bar’s waitstaff for our wine. We three ladies were pretty perturbed by that, as you can well imagine.

Change from 100 pesos dinner for two at POKE: two pesos
POKE opens Wednesdays at Magdalena’s Party, Thames 1795

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on December 11, 2012
Photo courtesy of Adrien de Bontin

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