Gourmet Almagro

Beaten by a lamb: the carré at Darío Gualtieri''s Bistró.
Beaten by a lamb: the carré at Darío Gualtieri”s Bistró.
Gourmet catering has finally taken to the cola-coloured waves of the Delta. What better way to float your boat than by hiring a converted 19th century tug for an afternoon, and let the captain and his crew take charge of affairs?

Gourmands will already know that celebrity chef Juliana López May runs her cooking school, Estudio Cocina JLM Tigre, up river, while the Mercado de frutos has undergone quite the revamp, now housing Palermo-esque eateries such as Belinda Café and Deli (see On Sunday, March 25, 2012).

That’s plenty of development a-foot in Tigre and this latest floating venture from the crack team behind Fuudis dining tours has got their fingers all over it. The latest feather in their cap takes all the heave-ho out of organising the food and wine, easily turning an afternoon out into a booze cruise of the most sophisticated kind on board La Costerita I.

Think salmon and dill mini scones, cheese platters and handmade chocolates, at the hands of Claudia Rossi Catering. Provided it doesn’t kick up a torrential storm like it did for me last Sunday – meaning I had a bit more deck time than usual – your captain will anchor up in a quiet nook, letting fair-weather sailors slip into the river for a dip.

So it’s been quite a week for gourmet action, but the second experience was rather closer to home in Almagro at the hands of Darío Gualtieri.

This compact restaurant deals in contemporary and rational tasting menus and is very much the thinking man’s kind of establishment – dishes such as steak-mustard-sweet potatoes-smoke or lamb without lamb are bound to get the sharpest knife in the drawer wondering just how he pulls that off.

Gualtieri, whose spectacles-and-moustache look gives off the air of a slightly mad professor, has set up shop in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Almagro and Bistró by Darío Gualtieri in Casa Umare, a stunning boutique apart-hotel that threw open its doors four months ago. The space is a turn-of-the-century mansion that has seen substantial investment and undertaken quite the facelift.

The narrow restaurant leads out onto a beautiful patio, perfect for these still-balmy evenings, and also has a wine cellar with tables set up for the ultimate in intimate dining.

In comparison with other high-end tasting menus whose courses may pass double figures, Bistró’s tasting menu comprises a mere five dishes (450 pesos). But rest assured that other treats and amuse bouche will wind their way to your plate.

Settled into a high-backed banquette, some tempting suggestions came from waiter Carlos, including the duck confit and catch of the day, sole. And so we decided to mix and match those. With an emphasis on French cuisine, six starters kick off proceedings, and octopus marinated in yaki (140 pesos) was our obvious top selection. Presentation is stunning and attention to every detail impeccable. A chunk of grilled tentacle lay across a carpaccio of the same, decorated with a passion fruit emulsion, and topped with a tuile – looking like a piece of back paper, this was squid ink in solid format (helped by some potato starch). It was declared “excellent, and beautifully cooked,” by dining companion Mr. Links.

I went for Carlos’ suggestion, the duck confit. Always a pleasure (for me, not the poor bird), another no-brainer. Disguised inside two substantial canelones, this dish also came with port salsa, poured by Carlos, on a bed of red lentil dahl (100 pesos). The Indian and French fusion was quite special, and bursting with flavours. Another great combo.

Everything was gently paced, which meant a chance to linger over the Trumpeter Petit Verdot. I had no idea the label stretched over to PV, and it was a great choice, prune and dark fruits, which didn’t overkill Mr. Links’ seafood choices.

A pear sorbet dribbled with some Rutini grappa lined stomachs for the next course, served in the cutest of antique sherry glasses.

Keeping ingredients local, it was great to see that the sole main (150 pesos) had been seasoned by saffron from Córdoba. Never again need we look to Spain for crocus stems. Cherry tomatoes and a yellow pepper rouille on its own spoon backed up this catch, and again, a bouillon was poured over the dish in front of us. “Very delicately flavoured and delicious, especially the broth, which brought out the sole’s flavour,” said Linksy. A real respect for the primary ingredients.

I went for the lamb carré with its own sweetbreads on quinoa, which was a mistake. Why? Simply because my starter was pure indulgence, and I should have opted for a lighter main, probably the sole. But that is entirely my fault. Suffice to say, I damaged as much of this gigot (180 pesos) as I could, as well as its delectable sweetbreads. The quinoa was very meaty and hardy, and accompanied by the roast pepper salsa, it was a really delectable dish, but on the heavy side due to my duck starter. If I’d had the octopus, I would have polished the lot off, it was so delicious. Defeat is not usually a word in my food vocab.

Another if. If there’d been room for the cheese selection, I’d have devoured it. But there wasn’t. As it was, we shared a magnificent, gloopy chocolate soufflé (70 pesos). Chocaholics will not be let down. As we left through the Italian stained glass doors, Mr. Links skipped down the street, more than content with his lot. I was squeezed into a taxi and driven home.

Wining On verdict: If you’ve got some post-Valentine’s making-up to do, worm your back into your beloved’s heart with a Gualtieri dinner. Stunning French-influenced cuisine, excellent service, top wine list, stunning venue. Wallet-crunching but worth it. Share a main for extra romance (or for budget reasons).

Bistró by Darío Gualtieri. Billinghurst 362, Almagro. 4861-2030. Reservations only.

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald</em> on February 17, 2013.

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