To work at the same place for two decades seems unfathomable but Martín Rebaudino led Oviedo’s kitchen for 19 years — until last week. Flying solo for the first time, it was a now-or-never moving-on situation for the chef whose work was recognized in last year’s Latin America 50 Best awards, when Oviedo ranked at an extremely respectable 27.
Going out on a high? For sure. On to bigger and better things? It looks likely. Softly spoken and looking slender after a two-month whirlwind putting together Roux while minding the good ship Oviedo, Rebaudino is clearly emoted with his own project.
With a brand-new team in place — “none of us have worked together before” — he also admits to missing Team Oviedo over these first seven days because “they are like a family to me.”
Well, it’s okay to have new kinsfolk in the shape of cooking in-laws and adopted waitstaff siblings who are getting stuck into the bistro-style Roux, which is set on a sunny and bustling Recoleta corner. Knock on the glass door to be buzzed in, and a compact yet well-organized restaurant for 34 awaits.
Given that Oviedo’s speciality is fish and seafood, it’s of little surprise that those staples — trout, baby cuttlefish, mussels, hake and oysters — are reflected across the menu. That said, a terroir less travelled including quail, rib-eye, wild boar and Italian classics also feature; piquing my interest are the lomo de jabalí steak and the osso buco ravioli. In fact, much of the menu sounds fascinating and is played down in writing, because what arrives at the table is an explosion of colour and flavour — Rebaudino even uses rocoto chili pepper in one of his dishes, practically unheard of in Argentine cuisine despite the hot little thing originating in this continent.
As we prepared to tuck into a five-course tasting menu, Rebaudino and team are still working on the best pairings — it’s only been a week after all — but it really is the finest way to get a feel for what he has started to do.
While the cold starter (griviche underwhelmingly explained as couscous and seafood salad, 110 pesos) appears, its healthy green coriander salsa demands a finger to be dipped in — this is the dish with the rocoto and true spice fans should ask for an extra addition, as I’m sure the chef will oblige. You can separate every piece of couscous with a fork, and each bite of seafood is fresh and firm, from the chunky prawn to the perfectly cleaned mussel, the smoked rolled trout and baby cuttlefish. Visually tempting and tangoing around my tastebuds, this dish is a cracker and could well become a Roux classic, set to stay no matter how many times the menu is revamped.
Part two of this tasting feast puts the pump into pumpkin for the fanciest gourd soup I’ve ever sampled. With some bountiful mussels, the heart of this elegant liquid starter is shrimp stock, which gives it great depth and flavour that the poor pumpkin could never hope to achieve on its own. With some cubed vegetable and sunflower seeds for a crunchy texture and baby beet greens and a little aioli atop it, this broth (80 pesos) dispels the myth that Argentines don’t know anything about soup. With a drizzle of olive oil from Rebaudino’s fair hand (he admits to being a fan of the liquid gold and even offers an olive oil tasting on his menu), it’s a great second course.
Patagonian trout (160 pesos) is up next, just cooked through and backed up by a mélange of organic tomatoes and perfectly cooked green beans lazing around on a bed of scalloped potatoes — not too crunchy and not too soggy. This cook knows his veg.
In fact, he takes such pride in his veggies that he brings over a bowl of the most beautifully crooked organic tomatoes sourced from La Plata for inspection: from the vine, Indigo Rose and the beef variety.
The trout fillet is delectable, succulent and bursting with flavour, and really well matched with the vegetables — another winning course.
The only letdown was the young Patagonian Chardonnay pairing that was fruity but didn’t enhance the fish much.
Of course, no Argentine restaurant worth its salt (did I mention the salt? The French Le Saunier de Camargue fleur du sel appears on the table at various intervals) can avoid serving up beef and Roux is no exception. In fact, Mr Links and I shared the rib-eye (150 pesos) portion meant for one, accompanied by a rainbow of mushrooms — Portobello, Paris — teeny tiny bite-size Andean potatoes and salsify.
Rebaudino recounts going to Central Market for supplies and coming across a single packet of this root vegetable. Naturally he knew what it was but the sellers didn’t. He snapped it up regardless and it’s been on the menu as a supporting cast member to the beef.
The appearance of salsify sums up Roux — original, tasty, quirky. Head there for a later lunch once the suits have gone back to the office to work out how to claim back the bill, or book a window table come dinner for enhanced privacy and romance. And let Rebaudino’s dishes do the rest.
Peña 2300 and Azcuenaga, Recoleta
Buenos Aires Herald, June 8, 2014