Pump up the ham

photo (22)Although it’s taken a while, Naiara Calviño’s cookbooks have finally found a new home. And about time too.

One of the younger talents making waves in Buenos Aires right now, the dynamic bundle of energy that Naiara is has turned her hands to a cool and innovative project: Chochán.

Before we get to the nitty gritty of this Monserrat/San Telmo eatery, a quick rundown on her CV to date.
She studied sommellerie at the CAVE wine institute, completed her culinary education at IAG gastronomical institute, and worked at Ocho7Ocho, Bar Urondo and Hernán Gipponi Restaurant to round off her experiences.

Naiara also ran Aipim, her first solo entry into the restaurant world yet even when that reached its conclusion, she set up the Under Food Festival with fellow cook Diego from Blanch restaurant.

Idle hands she does not have.

While these past few months have kept Naiara and co-owners Luciano Vigevano and Micaela Baum busy scrubbing up the joint, they opened up pretty much on schedule around five weeks ago.

And you know what. Chochán is a veritable stroke of genius.

Running for the hills
With a mainly pig-based menu that will have all good Muslims and Jews running for the hills, I bet a heap of other chefs are wishing they’d come up with the idea first.

In the land of beef and ribs where cow is king, Chochán — the backslang word for pig (chancho) – stakes a mighty claim on pork. Fresh, innovative and about time too.

I love devouring a steak the size of my head, one so raw that if I gave it a little mouth to mouth it would bounce back to life. But bucking the beef religion for a whole different animal is an interesting move, especially if Chochán gains a reputation as the pork specialist. (And while you lose two religions as friends, you gain another…)

It’s not even like pork isn’t a known quantity — the fundamental ingredient of any picada is cured sausage or Serrano-style ham) and guess what that’s made out of?) while it also goes into classic dishes locro and lentil stew — so if you think about it, it’s strange not to see tender medallions or slow-cooked pork on the table more often.

But rather than go fancy pants, Chochán’s style is essentially street food served up under a roof. The team has revamped an old house and the fun piggy logo is embossed on the windows. Knock on the door — it’s generally locked — and wheel up to a red or white folding chair at either a small or communal table. The vibe is casual yet staff is efficient, always a winning combination. A large flatscreen TV that was probably wheeled in for the World Cup almost takes centre stage next to the red bar, that’s stocked with local beverage suspects Cynar and Campari.

Specials are posted on the left-hand blackboard and change up regularly. The right-hand one perfectly explains all the porky cuts in an colourful diagram and also houses the short, sweet and perfectly formed wine list. Besides piqueo starters and fat porky sánguches (sandwiches), there’s also a daily dish (that might not be pork, goddamit) for around 70 pesos.

Everything is created in house — kudos to the team — from pickles to bread rolls, so if a pulled pork sandwich seems pricey at 73 pesos, well, remember that every last crumb or droplet of sauce was created on site.

Piqueos venture strongly towards red offal — think blood sausage and potato croquettes, or cured liver —but I went for the heart anticucho (38 pesos) on a bed of plantain chips. The kebab-style starter served in the white and blue edged metal camping bowls that are so in vogue right now was well packed, no skimping and plenty tender. But the real highlight was the proud presentation of five tempting sauces, including sriracha to jalapeño and green mayo. Needless to say, to be presented with such a variety meant I tried them all and while the sriracha was hotter than summer, the honey mustard hit that heart square on.

The main game
Onto the main game and besides the pulled pork and barbecue sauce, other sánguches include braised bacon (75 pesos) and glazed tongue (69 pesos), teamed up respectively with peanut cream and pickled carrots, and caramelized onion, blue cheese, pears and arugula. Pescatarians are catered for thanks to fried fish tacos (73 pesos and available the day I went, at least), while sides are well priced at between 15 and 18 pesos for potato and hard-boiled egg salad, pumpkin mash or homemade pickles.

I dove headfirst into the pulled pork sarnie and felt not an ounce of guilt for not sharing when Gabi and Lorena joined my solo pig fest. Once again, this was a dish well stuffed with pork and red cabbage, succulent but the sauce lacked some BBQ punch. Soft meat meeting crunchy cabbage is a great combo, but overall it wasn’t as smoky or as tangy as hoped – in hindsight perhaps I should have slapped on some extra salsa to pump up that ham.

Given that there’s a substantial repertoire of dishes under Chochán’s belt, I’ll be headed back for more taste testing and adventures in unusual pork cuts next time I’m in the hood.

With my porky belly more than sated and as happy as a pig in shit, this little piggy then went to school to sit a test, hoping there might be a question about pork on the exam sheet. There wasn’t.

Piedras 672, Monserrat
Tel: 4307-3661
Monday-Saturday lunch, Thursday-Saturday dinner

Buenos Aires Herald, July 6, 2014

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