Wining On: A, B, D,

A fire worth fighting for. Pick a warm spot at Olsen.
And so there were three Herald ladies out for dinner, a simple affair, definitely nothing fancy or pricey, and what better a simple, unfancy, economical affair, than pizza?

I’d recently tucked into a most delicious garlic mushroom topped pizza with a thinnish base with me old mucker Sharyn.

A haunt just metres from her apartment located on Santa Fe opposite the Botanical Gardens, she swore it was go-to pizza — which although it doesn’t meet the thin, round perfection of Siamo nel Forno that we require — in times of need. And this was one of them.

We had tucked into a substantial amount of red wine, put the world to rights, I had regaled her with tales of disastrous affairs, the more scandalous ones which always can always garner some kind of a titter even from the depths of a sad soul, and then, determined to feed her, we stumbled off to Michi.

And so it was Michi that we Herald ladies went off to, for convenience, a decent dough and reasonable prices, that Wednesday evening.

Of course, that was the first error of my way. Worse for wear with Sharyn, I had totally forgotten that we paid a takeaway price in return for garlic breath, and so that was strike one. The high prices.

That evening, some sporting activity which affected the males in the vicinity was going on. Had we cared — because we ladies merely wanted a gossip — we would have switched on our own table’s TV. But frankly, we did not give a damn.

Granted, the waiter was distracted, no doubt influenced by the testosterone around him, but once we finally got our three cans of 7-Up — mine with a spoon to beat out those bubbles for a more comfortable digestive journey — we realized just how much we were forking out before we even got to food.

I was last indignant at a cubiertos service change a month ago at another pizza joint, Filo, downtown. Bearing in mind this is a dish you can eat with your hands, I was furious about paying 12 pesos a head for sharing a pizza, at lunchtime. It turns out that if you sit at the bar, they only charge four pesos, but still. Objection, your honour. Why not give me a choice of eating with my fingers to cut back on costs?

Well, at Michi, cubiertos also cost 12 pesos but I almost swallowed my tongue at paying 16 pesos for a can of pop. Multiply that little lot by three, and that’s right, number crunchers, we’re at 86 pesos without any food. I was fuming. And the base, to a simple muzzarella pizza, was overcooked. I was so angry I can’t remember how much the pizza cost but the bill came to 150 pesos.

The moral of this story is that if you decide to eat out, splash some cash, as you might as well make it worth your while. Now this not a comparison of eggs, but of pesos. And I know you can’t compare a pizzeria with an eclectic restaurant, cuisine de auteur if you will, but the point is that dining out is increasingly more expensive,so if you are out for dinner, add on some extra cash, if you can, and dine somewhere better than decent.

And the good ship Olsen is one such joint which I reckon is worth splashing out on. It opened its sleek patio and Scandinavian-influenced doors during Argentina’s last financial crisis, and has steamed through all rough weather since then. In the midst of a low-key tenth anniversary celebration, it is intriguing to see what this Scandinavian-style restaurant has been doing right all this time — and particularly as the “c” word (crisis, dear reader) is being whispered again.

Let’s call it a simple ABC that owner Germán Martitegui may or may not have applied, but these are three key points that in my book, are key to Olsen’s success. Architecture. Brunch. Cena (dinner). (ABD doesn’t sound quite right.)

Wander past the wooden gate and water greets you, flowing down the wall. A zen moment before you’ve even taken in the garden, oh so green, and the simple yet comfortable outdoor seating. Then: where to sit? In or out? Because even in winter, thanks to fabulous heated tubes overhead, you can still enjoy the great outdoors.

Pass through to the main restaurant, look up and be captured by a great beast watching over one and all. A wonderful painting of a bear looks down from above, and maybe he even sneaks off the wall and collects wood for the centrepiece downstairs, the salamander stove which crackles away and must cause a ruck between amorous couples.

With an all-glass front, comfy chairs around the fireplace and a bar stacked with vodka (this is Scandinavian style, after all) this lofty space is in fact welcoming and pretty warm — unless you’re close to the front door in winter.

And it must certainly have been looked upon like a rebellious teenager 10 years ago, given its unusual twist on Scandinavian cooking served up in so modern a looking establishment.

Martitegui, whose favourite Olsen dish is corn smørrebord with smoked trout and salmon, says: “We opened in the middle of the 2001 crisis, and so from then everything has been fairly easy, looking back. Olsen has managed to integrate in the neighbourhood, it really isn’t a pretentious place, and has a faithful clientele. You can even come here in your pyjamas on a Sunday if you want!”

Well, now you mention it, that might just have to be put to the test…

On to B and brunch. Although this isn’t a review of breakfast-lunch, the pick and mix element has always been a fun option. Smoked salmon features, and Mimosas are part and parcel. And although every Tomás and Ricardo is doing brunch these days, Martitegui can rest assured he was one of the first in BA.

And now Cena. Now this writer has been known to sip at a vodka, and so it was the three-vodka taster that was a pre-starter choice. We tried neutral, herbal tea and a cranberry fusion, knocking them back from test-tubes and scoffing some smørrebord (58 pesos) — smoked salmon, pear and goat’s cheese and beef and boiled quail egg. Great way to get a meal going.

One starter was gravelax (60 pesos) with a seven-grain timbali, a baked mound of grains which was in fact hollow with melted cheese inside just waiting to ooze out, while the second starter was pan-fried goat’s cheese surrounded by lovely beetroots (45 pesos).

Although some may balk at main courses costing close to the 100-peso mark, I personally balk at paying 16 pesos for a can of pop, and would rather shell out a bit for a rather more lavish dinner. Dining companion Mr Links went for Bondiola Olsen (pork shoulder) — a wise man once told me to choose the dish a restaurant proudly puts its name to. Mr Links clearly hadn’t. Accompanied by a magical mash, this main was 95 pesos and the plate was pretty much licked clean.

My beef was a lomo Rydberg which turned up as succulent hunks of steak, a perfectly poached egg, fried onions, and potato chunks which were a little limp and not as crispy as I’d have liked — an upmarket steak and chips if you will, also for 95 pesos.

Although we were way too full to give dessert a go, I did consider forcefeeding myself a rhubarb compote. Enquiring as to where they get their ‘barb from, the patient waiter come back with a lovely explanation of how it originates in England. I know, dear. It also turns out an acquaintance, Pablo, is a barman, and is keen show off his drinks. He speaks perfect English, so tell him I sent you and ask him to do his best (or worst).

Wining On verdict: If I knew how to say je ne sais quoi in any Scandinavian language, I assure you that is what Olsen has.

Michi, Malabia 2495, Palermo
Olsen, Gorriti 5870, Palermo Hollywood

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on July 15, 2012
Photo courtesy of Mass Media

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