Fourth time lucky

An abundant carpaccio starter at Demuru.
An abundant carpaccio starter at Demuru.
At the start of the week, the forecast was a bit miserable. I’d dined at three restaurants participating in round two of Buenos Aires Food Week, and it was relative doom and gloom.

In contrast with other food or restaurant weeks around the world, which try to wow new clients by showing off what they can do but at favourable prices, lots of corners seem to have been cut this time round in the need to make money.

Obviously no one wants anyone to lose money, but three restaurants in and I was feeling hard-done by.

First up was Sipan Palermitano. Aware they had a revamped menu, the intention was to try new dishes. I’ve been to Sipan a few times, back when the patio sported sofas and a gurgling water feature, and the food has always been excellent. Perhaps we were the only ones ordering à la carte, but that is permitted within the realms of Food Week. The white fish for the tiraditos was tasteless and textureless, the hot ceviche (a stew rather than anything else) could have been boiled in ketchup, and service, while friendly, was slow. Strike one.

Strike two came at Social Paraiso. I’ve only ever had good experiences there, and was pleased to get a Friday night reservation. While service was excellent and very attentive, a lamb ragú seemed to have an odd mixture of meat and liver, two different textures within the dish, and all of them chewy, according to eater and dining companion Adrian.

Meanwhile, my spinach and prawn giant ravioli was merely stuffed with Popeye’s favourite veg and sported two or three prawns that had been cut into several pieces and strewn on top of the pasta, perhaps to make it look more abundant. Given that fennel sauce was on the short side, essentially I ate a mountain of steamed spinach. A diet might be on the cards but I don’t need my restaurant to hint at it.

Strike three was Restaurant Jardín Japonés. Given a stunning garden-side table, the panorama was splendid. Excited to try the sushi, unfortunately they couldn’t accommodate my avocado allergy, so I went for the salmon. No big deal. An amuse-bouche came out, cabbage and bean sprouts sprinkled with curry powder. Last time I checked, curry powder principally formed part of the South Asian repertoire. Odd.

A all-time favourite dish of mine is gyoza so I went for that. But the dough was too thick, the pork inside the dumpling not spiced enough and the whole effect was soggy. The salmon was really nicely cooked, crunchy skin, but the rice was an epic disaster of cheap rice badly cooked. On the other side of the table, Mr. Links was getting cranky about his sake-soaked pork as it wasn’t uniform and a “muddy mess.” Ice-cream for dessert was a lame option. Nothing seemed to be authentically Japanese.

The saving grace came at restaurant number four Demuru on Tuesday as these guys are using Food Week the right way. The three-course menu morphed into four, thanks to a complimentary pumpkin and parmesan soup, a nice touch and very delicious. Portions were abundant, my carpaccio could easily have done for two, and it was tasty and fresh. The confit octopus was also substantial and nicely dressed. Then came the rib-eyes. Erring on the side of caution from other experiences, we both opted for steak, on the basis it would be cooked then and there. There was certainly no skimping, it was grilled perfectly medium rare, and came with various sides such as a whole roasted onion and creamed spinach. In fact, it was so filling, we couldn’t finish the main and had to refuse dessert. A first all round.

In short, I’ll be back for the real-life Demuru experience. Cute without being sickly and located on a busy Soho corner, you’ve probably walked past a million times and never noticed it. A sweet spot for a touch of romance, it was an impressive experience, despite the 50-plus woman deciding on a new ringtone, then repeating all the options, who ruined about 15 minutes of dinner. I’ve put a hit out on her.

While September was a packed month for foodie events — Catalan sommelier and co-owner of the world’s best restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, Josep Roca, gave a turn and some workshops at the Usina, Food Week of course took over a fortnight, BA Market popped up as did a new French market in an old warehouse in Almagro – but October is set to be bigger and better.

From tomorrow, Semana de los bodegones porteños (Bodegones Week) kicks off with more than 25 classic porteño restaurants showcasing their equally classic staples. On October 10, French chef Christophe Krywonis will be popping up at Crizia to whiz up a splendid, one-off five-course menu with Crizia’s Gabriel Oggero, while October 7-11 sees top restaurants such as Tomo 1 participate in World Egg Week, organized by the International Egg Commission.

Sparkling Nights makes a glorious return to Hotel Panamericano with 35 of Argentina’s top wineries frantically popping corks from October 23-25.

But this month’s pièce de résistance is part two of Masticar, the Acelga food association-organized fair that caused a sensation last year. Get up close and personal with top chefs cooking up storms and holding workshops, dive into the wine tunnel (I might not come back up for air), and splash your cash on rare fungi specimens and cheeses. Be sure to stop off at the Paraje Arevalo food truck — the stencil-covered van will be tended by Latin America 50 Best winner and restaurant owner Matías Kyriazis himself. Full report next week.

Buenos Aires Herald, September 29

Enjoy this piece? Check out my review of Latin America’s best restaurant, Astrid & Gastón, in Lima.

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