Wining On: Top of the pots

Although a certain amount of prep work went into organizing a trip to Colombia — essentially, the booking of hotels and domestic flights between the capital, Medellín and Cartagena — when I actually came face to face with my mother and friend, it emerged that most of their (read as “our”) decisions had been based on other people’s experiences.

That’s all well and good — a writer opines and in theory, you, beloved reader, lap up that information, given that said scribbler has a greater level of expertise or inside information. But instead of mother and friend trusting a guide book, newspaper article or even my ample research skills, they swore by the lethal weapon that is Trip Advisor.

Currently the most powerful travel marketing tool available to hotels, restaurants or any entity working in the tourism industry, Trip Advisor is the new Lonely Planet, with the crucial difference that its appeal is wider given that tourists themselves contribute to it. Which is fine but what frustrates me is that Bill C. from Arkansas and his two cents may have an impact on the bed I sleep in during the limited free time I am granted each year because my mum takes him and his comments seriously.

And in terms of restaurants, I have further objections. Bill C. from Arkansas may never have tried a deconstructed tamal, created from ragout beef, sweetcorn foam and garlic air, as a main course (and I hesitate to suggest that he may not know what a tamal is), however: if he had chosen to dismiss it for any reason, I may not have ended up at a particular restaurant for that tamal, deconstructed or otherwise.

Back in Buenos Aires and on the other side of the coin, various restaurateurs, especially those who run closed-door empires, also take the website very seriously. It surely can’t be any coincidence, that in this past week when I’ve taken a peek, that four of the top five are indeed puerta-cerrada restaurants, savvy to how seriously the tourists take these rankings. Although Trip Advisor says opinions are “unbiased”, I’m not so sure they are at times…

But how can 117 reviewers be wrong? They have kept a restaurant which seats just 18 bottoms scaling the heights of the Buenos Aires TA list for the past 12 months.

To my shame, Aramburu only hit my radar when Sharyn asked my opinion: should she celebrate an important birthday there? Six months ago, I’d never heard of it but after that question, the whispers started to reverberate increasingly louder, and so the decision was made for me: I needed to find out what all the fuss was about.

Saucepan with a Kataifi pastry-covered langostine for one? Yes please
Gonzalo Aramburu opened his establishment five years ago, so clearly I’ve been in a hole. Shame on me again. Because it means I’ve been missing out on his signature cuisine, lovingly served up in 10 or 12 steps, to include vegetarian delights, a seafood cycle and of course Argentine steak in the shape of a perfectly rare filet mignon.

Of course, the day we went, Aramburu had slipped to rank second for the first time in a year. Twelve months at the top is some feat, and the restaurant appeals to tourists, judging by the English language reverberating around the red-brick walls, assumedly because molecular cuisine is more affordable here than back home in Arkansas.

Parked at a table for two with a kitchen view, spying on the chefs as they kickstarted the ovens into motion was inspiring, and with so many cooking implements in view, it was evident a treat was in store.

Dining at Aramburu is so much more than just being served up food in a restaurant. It is a gastronomic performance, with every last detail carefully planned. Who would think of presenting grissini standing to attention in a rock? Of serving a yukka and cucumber cracker on a cute cake stand? Of woody smoke billowing across the table than evaporating to reveal the sea and earth concoction, combining pine mushrooms from the Atlantic coast and Patagonian scallops? A deconstructed tamal? Of placing my own little saucepan filled with a Kataifi pastry-covered langostine in front of me, the seafood sauce poured before my very eyes onto the scorching stone to enhance the sense?

Service was impeccable. Every ingredient was explained, the history and essence of each wine covered by sommelier Agustina de Alba. And the pairing was the perfectly compliment: this drinker has now been converted to Chardonnay after Urraca’s fabulous varietal from Luján de Cuyo, while the Colomé Bonarda 2010 was a blood-red liquid ruby, caressing the mouth with each silky kiss.

Two issues need to be addressed, as they receive so much more attention than the issue at hand, the phenomenal food. In my book, 280 pesos a person is expensive — include the wine pairing for the same price and there won’t be any change from a 1,000 pesos — but considering the ingredients, innovation and quality, the experience, in my humble opinion, is worth it.

Second, the location. According to Guía T, officially it is located in Constitución, but never fear. A taxi to and from will deal with barrio-phobes.

And frankly, to taste for yourself the 10 (or 12 course) reasons the establishment was top of the pots for a year, why let a little thing like a grotty street corner stand in the way of a night with Gonzalo Aramburu and his team?

Wining On verdict: Save up the centavos because this fabulous restaurant is worth every last one you’ve got — and is cash-only. For a more economical night out, although it’s a shame to ditch the wine pairing, order a bottle of wine instead.

Aramburu, Salta 1050
Tel: 4305-0439

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