Buenos Aires – Retiro – Places to Drink, Eat or Avoid

Floreria Atlantico (Intermediate A) 872 Arroyo, www.floreriaatlantico.com.ar, Tel. 4313 6093

This is the kind of place I’d like to open at home. They should sort the décor out but the space itself and the concept are great. To the outside world it just looks like a florists but down in the cellar it’s a whole different world.

The flower shop assistant is actually the bar greeter and the solitary customer is in fact the security guard in casual clothes. Just go in as if you know the score (with just a ‘hola’, no password necessary) and one of them will open the secret portal (a fridge door) that allows entrance to the bar below.

Downstairs there is just one long room with a very long bar and high stools, and on the opposite wall there are tables that seat four that can be reserved (a good idea, do it with the greeter for next time). I’ve been here several times and have tried a few of their cocktails. They are a bit expensive (around AR$100) but top quality.

My favourites were firstly the bar’s version of Agua de Valencia, made with fresh orange juice, triple sec and gin I think (A+). Secondly, the ‘smoked’ Negroni, made with the bar’s own distilled yerba mate gin ‘Principe de Los Apostoles’ (I bought two bottles from the bar it was so good), Campari, Amaro Averna (unusual, it’s usually vermouth), Agua de Mar (no idea), Eucalyptus leaves and pine nuts, aged and served in its own little bottle. I was told the gin had been put in a bucket on the grill so that the smoky flavours could infuse into it. For a lover of Negronis this is all very original and highly delicious (A+). The gin cocktails served in a mate gourd with a metal straw were also a nice touch.

DaDa Bar (Interemediate A), 941 San Martin, Tel, 4314 4787

This is another little spot that I adore. The downside is that, as it deservedly gets great write-ups in all the guides, it can get crowded and queues can form at peak times. It’s a small place, about 30 seats, so go before 9 if you want one. In 2004 it was just over the road from the Dazzler Suites San Martin where I was staying, so it became my regular after-work haunt.

The walls are covered with period paraphernalia, particularly surrealist and pop art and there’s a swinging, jazzy soundtrack. The bar staff are really on the ball and highly attentive to their customer’s needs, which isn’t always the case in BsAs.

Mattias the mixologist in 2004 was a master of his trade and knocked me up ‘the best Pisco Sour in the South’ (A+), even if he said so himself. However, his personal recommendation of a ‘Mexico City’ with tequila, curacao and lots of lime juice was ok but didn’t blow me away (B).

The tipple of choice in this town is Fernet, an Italian bitter (amaro) with Coke, which to my mind would be totally unappealing, but I decided to try it here to see what all the fuss was about. It’s basically alcoholic coke with a bitter aftertaste, refreshing but it’s nothing to write home about (C+), although I am.

They have a good selection of wines too and I had a glass each of Malbec (B) and Cabernet Sauvignon (A), both from bodega Ruca Malen, one of the better cantinas on their list, to go with my Caesars Salad (B+). In 2014 I came for lunch and had the lomo which was fantastic (A+). A great little bar that should definitely be experienced.

Marriott Grill (Advanced A), Marriott Plaza Hotel, 1005 Florida, www.plazahotelba.com

For a posh cocktail in nice surroundings there’s nowhere better than the Marriot, where they have been serving the rich and famous for over 100 years. I can vouch for the G&Ts and Negronis. They aren’t cheap at about US$18 a pop but you do get plates and plates of nibbles to go with each drink. I’m sure the grill restaurant is good but I’ve never tried it.

Irifune (Intermediate B), 426 Paraguay, www.irifune.com.ar

A decent bit of fish is very hard to find in Argentina so I came here to get my fix before shipping out to the provinces. They have a good rep for Japanese food and apparently are one of the few places in town where you can get tuna. I’m not keen on the ambience (C) as it’s very brightly lit and not particularly attractive but the food is okay (B+).

I had the Chirashizushi and loved the rice (A) as I’d been craving it for a while. Also the Salmon ‘Geisha’ with Philadelphia cheese and tiny avocado was okay (B), as were the Kimchi (B+) and Misoshiru (B+).

There’s another Japanese place called Sipan just down the road at 626 Paraguay www.sipanrestaurants.com which also has a good rep. I just popped in for a look and haven’t tried the food. The atmosphere is darker and more intimate, and the staff seem nicer, but it’s more expensive. Eat Like A Girl recommends it.

Dora (Advanced B), 1016 Avenida Leandro N. Alem, www.dorabaires.com

A very good, if slightly expensive, traditional restaurant with old waiters in black and whites and an air of formality. I came here in 2004 for one of my first meals in BsAs and hopefully it’s still okay. I remember having a good steak and bottle of wine.

And some places I’m not so keen on…

Filo (Intermediate B+ or D!), 975 San Martin, Tel, 4311 0312

Just a few doors down from DaDa you will find this trendy modern pizzeria that’s plugged in many guides. It’s massively popular with office workers and you’ll find it hard to get in at midday due to their business lunch deal. I used to be a big fan (modern decor, live DJ playing chilled tunes while you eat) but then they poisoned me with their Patagonian mussels when I first came in 2004 and I still haven’t forgiven them. Stick to the pizza (thinner than elsewhere) and you should be ok.

Fervor (Advanced B), 1619 Posadas

This is a posh high end restaurant that seems to attract richer tourists. I came for the seafood grill, supposedly the best in town, but it was too expensive. I ended up with half a grilled chicken, Pollo a Las Brasas (A), and some rice as I’d been craving it. On the plus side the Alamos Torrentes was one of the best I’ve ever had (A), even if it wasn’t cheap at $139. The glass of Santa Julia Tardia (late harvest) dessert wine I had was okay too (B). Total cost $463 which priced me out of going again.

La Dorita (Intermediate C), 798 Avenida del Libertador

20141119_213437I ended up here after discovering the place I wanted to go to was closed. It’s very popular with locals, perhaps because it’s fairly cheap. I wasn’t keen on the Ribs de Ternera y BBQ con Papas Fritas (rack of veal ribs with fries) that I had, although I did eat it all out of sheer hunger (C). The Imperial Lager was a new one on me (B).

Broccolino (Intermediate C), 776 Esmeralda, www.broccolino.com

This Italian place was recommended to me by a school director who loves his food and a personal friend, so I was really disappointed when I had one of the worst meals ever in Argentina.

20141120_205834I started with the house special their ‘most famous dish’, Calamaretti Broccolino; a huge portion of squid flambéed with white wine and onions. It was absolutely rank and I couldn’t eat it (D).

I drank the wine and left as I’d lost my appetite but they were generous enough not to charge me for the food. When I reported back to my friend she said, ‘Oh, you should never eat seafood in Baires’. Well thanks for telling me…

And so to finish, here’s my rant…

I’ve been to Argentina three times and have never been overly impressed by the standard of cuisine anywhere I’ve been in the country (or in Chile and Uruguay for that matter). In Argentina you’d think that a society of people predominantly descended from Italian and Spanish immigrants would know how to cook but it’s almost as if these two great national cuisines cancel each other out.

The chorizos have no spice, the pasta is never al dente, the Fugazza pizza is horrendously thick and drowned in gloopy ‘muzzarella’ (and is never the ‘real’ buffalo milk version), the limoncello is always warm and good chocolate and decent coffee are really hard to find (thank god the Kiwis have arrived). The national dessert Dulce de Leche (made from caramelised milk that has been browned very slowly) is far too sweet and is seemingly used in every single dessert, although admittedly the ice cream and pancake versions can be quite nice.

Obviously there’s no disputing the quality of some of their ingredients, the beef (from the North) and the lamb (from the South) are fantastic but they’re always overcooked. If you want a rare steak (vuelta y vuelta, muy jugoso) it will come medium rare (poco hecho), although if you know this and order one level down from what you actually want, you can get round it. However, decent seafood doesn’t happen and vegetarians will struggle.

My advice is to keep your choices simple and generally avoid anywhere with pretensions. If you stick to what they do best, parrilla, it will mean eating a lot of meat which can get quite samey when you come here for a month or more as I do. Thank God the wine is good!

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