It’s rather wearing, using the same old excuse but all I can say is: this week I really have been defeated in the quest to unearth Hot Spots (2), and that little mission will continue… at some point, when the need for inflatables as essential accessories is well and truly over.
Which means it’s business as usual and back to rummaging around for top drinks and great nibbles under a sturdy leak-free roof, and there’s been quite the find this past week.
This bar in Microcentro really has been on the radar for a while, and around the time I wanted to go, in winter, it was shut for refurbishment. And then, quite unexpectedly, Mr Links and I urgently needed a drink downtown and found ourselves at Dill & Drinks.
I needed a sip of the hard stuff — it was the end of the working week — and Mr Links definitely needed one after a busy day running around town.
A cucumber Martini was delightfully refreshing, served in a beautiful crystal glass, while the Campari and soda was deemed perfect, which is all the more important as there is a genuine shortage of the red stuff (import limitations blah snore).
Fine, you say, a great watering-hole located a block from Plaza San Martín, in an area surrounded by other decent spots such as Dadá, Filo (for extraordinary thin pizza) and Down Town Matías which alleges to be an Irish pub. But here’s the deal maker.
Perched at the lengthy, well-stocked bar, cutlery was laid next to us, and a pretty large plate of tapas for sharing turned up. Frittata, marinated aubergine, succulent mushrooms, and other treats laid on a bed of leaves, it was an absolutely unexpected add-on that didn’t come with an add-on price. Remarkable. Complimentary! And utterly delicious.
So hearing about chef Leandro Leyell’s latest culinary venture — a five-step gastro tour — I needed little convincing to return: on the contrary, wild horses couldn’t hold me back.
The 35-year-old has worked in restaurants since he was 17, and as he says: “I’ve spent more of my life in them than out of them.” Dill & Drinks doesn’t have a fixed menu per se, as Leandro buys his produce daily, which may sound obvious, but from there he decides what to cook up and posts it on the board outside on the street, a menu comprising all daily specials, if you will.
He has a particular penchant for seafood — shark, red tuna (“I have a great contact for that,” he says smugly, referring to the latter), shrimp — and cooks it so simply that it seems it must have been elaborately prepared. It hasn’t, he assures, as the key really is simplicity, and each dish has its own particular fan club, attracting regulars for shark steak or quiche Lorraine, depending on the day.
The other key to Dill is that not just any old drinks are being served up. Barman Juan Sebastián Ruiz is so much more than that job title, a mixologist if you will, and having left happy the first time round, I was confident he would come up with the goods when I asked for something not too sweet yet not too sour. He hit the jackpot with a smooth and crisp Green Apple Martini, his own concoction.
His bar is extremely well-stocked with plenty of imported vodkas lined up, and he also has Hendrick’s, the only gin I drink, as well as plenty of vermouths. The vibe is friendly and given that it is a small establishment, with just 26 covers, one wouldn’t feel too conspicuous rolling up alone for a drink, plus the staff are a jolly crowd.
Although Mr Links and I sat at an oval-shaped table for two, there’s also quite an alluring sofa and armchairs for four drinkers in the window, which I have my eye on to commandeer another time.
And so to dinner. After assessing that we are seafood eaters and checking for any allergies, our waitress said we had a treat in store.
First up, tapas to share, piled up to dig into. This time we chowed down tender lentils, tasty vegetable frittata, and spicy octopus, all placed on a plate of succulent rocket. We mopped that large square plate back to its original state with hunks of seed-topped bread.
Then, the grouper arrived, a Mediterranean touch, with roast potato and sweet potato sides, on a large plate. A small steak each, I was nearly blown away when a fish knife was laid at my place. That was the night’s highlight — until we tucked into the fish, which had been lightly battered and was perfectly cooked, moist and firm: exquisite. And it seemed the sides had been subjected to top-notch olive oil, perhaps a little butter, as both varieties were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Part three comprised pork medallions in a sticky, plum-like sauce in a nod to the East. It later transpired the pork had been marinaded in some Indian spices brought to Leandro by friends, and there was a little heat going on, although nothing too firey. The pork was accompanied by fennel, a much underrated veg as far as I am concerned, and it was a great match.
One particular touch is that dishes come out family-style, on just the one plate to dig into and share, which is a nice intimate feeling often lost in meals.
After a break, we took on the challenge of round four and a bowl of lamb risotto, and although it had great flavour and was well stuffed with lamby pieces, it wasn’t made with arborio or carnaroli, so I was let down on that front. That said, it is extremely rare to have a risotto made with the correct rice in this town as the Italian stuff is so over priced (imports again), so it wasn‘t really a surprise.
We couldn’t take on the final frontier and course five. A heap of perfectly presented food had been served up, we were defeated and the grouper came out top for immaculate everything. And the real gift? Five courses costs 140 pesos.
Wining On verdict: Remarkable value, delicious home-cooked, gourmet food with a guarantee of fresh produce in every dish. Pop by at lunch for a buzzy atmosphere, or slip in for a post-work cocktail. Plus: fish knives! red tuna! shark! Satisfaction guaranteed.
Dill & Drinks
San Martín 986, Microcentro
Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on October 21, 2012