Archive for the Tierra del Fuego Category

Wonderful Patagonian Parrilla in Ushuaia

Posted in Argentina, Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia with tags , on November 12, 2011 by gannet39

Parrilla La Estancia (Intermediate A-), Godoy between San Martin and Deloque, Ushuaia

A Parrilla is essentially a grill house (although they often have other dishes) and they can be found everywhere in Argentina, often on every block in big cities. These kinds of places are always going to score an A with me; just for the very concept of roasting half a dozen whole animals ‘a la estaca’; on a scaffold circling a huge open fire.

Asado
The best known parrilla in Ushuaia is probably Moustacchio on San Martin which I’m sure is good, but they don’t do the ‘tenedor libre’ deal (literally ‘free fork’ or all-you-can-eat buffet) that La Estancia on the side street opposite does for just $97, about £15.

Side grill

Basically you take a fresh dish from the stack each time and go to the hatch where a gaucho with a kerchief and an impressive moustache will pull your request off the side grill, hack it to size with a huge cleaver on a massive wooden chopping board and deposit a bloody oozing hunk of meat onto your virgin white plate.

Gaucho at workIt’s best to stand well back at this point because even at a distance of a few yards I got spattered with flying bits of flesh.
Make sure he paints it with a brush load of ‘salmoera’ (I ‘m guessing that’s the spelling) from the bucket on the counter which will bring the flavour out even more.  Although I was smilingly told it was a secret recipe, I think it included water, lots of salt, parsley, lemon, green pepper, tomatoes and scallions.

Salmorae

You also choose between chips (C) or helping yourself at the extensive salad bar (C+), although I managed to swing both.
The star here this far south is not the beef as you might expect but the Cordero Patagonica, or Patagonian Lamb, quite possibly the tastiest little baa-baa I have ever had the pleasure to chew on, the best bit being the leg with its crispy skin (A+).

Lovely lamb
I did try other things as well, like the morcilla black pudding, which was even more juicy (although less flavourful) than the one I had in BsAs and exploded all over the plate when I pierced its tough little hide (A).

Morcilla

The chorizo on the other hand was disappointing (again) and needed chimichurri (usually parsley, oil, garlic, mlld pepper, it can be red or green in colour according to the capsicum used, here they had both) spooning over it to bring out the taste (B-). Although still very dense it tastes totally different from Spanish chorizo which would include paprika or chilli (they don’t like things hot here).

Chimichurri by the way is apparently a corruption of Jimmy McCurry, an English-speaking colonist who invented the sauce, although there are lots of variations on this myth.

Chimichurri

I also tried ‘intestinos’ which were a bit chewy but full of flavour (B).

Intestinos

I passed on the chicken and pork possibilities but had sirloin (bife de chorizo) and flank steak (vacio), both good cuts of beef (B) but I had to save my last gasp for a repeat of the lamb, this time the ribs (B+).

VacioI came here three times in nine days, the second time after my hike on the glacier, so I felt justified in returning to eat as much lamb and morcilla as I possibly could! On each occasion I went up to the hatch five times and had to be rolled out of the restaurant at the end of the night.

Armando at workFor every visit I got excellent service from Armando (ask for him), a great waiter and all round nice guy who speaks good restaurant English and looked after me really well. He recommended some great wines, taking me a stage higher each time.

rutini.jpgOn the first occasion a Malbec ‘Sant Felicien’ 2008 from Bodega Cantina Zapata (B+) and the second, a Cabernet Malbec ‘Ruitini’ 2008 from Bodega Rural, which just kept getting better after he’d decanted it (A).

Angelica ZapataFinally another Malbec ‘Angelica Zapata’ , also 2008, from Bodega Catena Zapata which I wasn’t allowed to touch for a frustrating 15 minutes after decanting (should be an hour ideally) which I paid about £60 for but was worth every penny (A+).

I got short shrift however (in a nice way) when I asked whether wines from Mendoza (his home town, and the wine capital of Argentina where all his suggestions came from) were equally as good as those just over the border in Chile (same terroir, no?). Apparently the vines grow at a higher altitude in Mendoza which makes for better wine.

malamado.jpgFor my digestives I had a fortified ‘Malamado’ Malbec  from Familia Zuccardi (B-) and on another occasion a Tres Plumas Limoncello, which was great but would have been even better frozen rather than kept in the fridge (A-).

LimoncelloNitpicking aside, this is a great place, come with an appetite! Total cost with tips the second time I went was $400, about £65 at the time, but it will be much less if you have the house wines or beer.

Eating out in Ushuaia

Posted in Argentina, Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia with tags , , , , on November 12, 2011 by gannet39

Despite it being a tax free zone, eating out here seems more expensive on average than Buenos Aires, presumably because transportation costs are higher. The local delicacies in Tierra del Fuego are trout (trucha), king crab (centolla) and lamb (cordero). The first two were good but the roasted lamb is perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted (sse next post).

Another local indgredient you should try if you see it is Maqui. It’s a mega-healthy ‘super berry’ with the highest known anti-oxidant content of any known food (two or three times more than Brazilian Acai the former holder of the super berry crown) , and is found only in the southern regions of Chile and Argentina. You may find it in the shops as a jam or a juice.

Kalma Resto (Advanced B+),  Antartida Argentina 57, Tel: 2901 425786

The only fine dining choice in town, there are only 8 tables so it’s best to reserve. The decor is modern but cosy and they were playing trombone dub reggae when I was there, great music to listen to when eating.

Georges the chef and owner is very warm and personable. He was at pains to explain that he keeps the menu simple (half a dozen mains and starters). The hake and king crab were his personal recommendations.
To begin then, the ubiquitous complimentary cream cheese which you seem to get in all restaurants in Argentina, but beautifully presented here.

cream-cheese1.jpg
The starter proper was the “Centolla Tibia con Mejillones de Almanza, Langostino Erguido, Vinagreta de Pimientos Morrrones y Olivia Extra Virgen” for $120. This involved lukewarm king crab, the best I had whilst in town (A), with Almanza mussels (B), ‘upright shrimp’ (B) (which restored my faith in local prawns after a bad experience at Volver), and a capsicum vinaigrette and extra virgin olive oil. Again beautifully decorated, this time with edible flowers from Georges’ garden.

Crab with mussels and prawns

santa-julia1.jpgTo accompany the food I had one of the cheaper whites on the list, the ‘Santa Julia’ Chardonnay, a reserva from Mendoza (B).
Next I had “Merluza Negra SobreEspejo de Suquet Patagonico, Malfatti de Espinica, Ciboulette Rizado y Mini Gajos de Naranjas a Vivo” for $120. The seared black hake was one of the best things I have ever tasted (A++) and made it worthwhile coming here, despite the subsequent price tag. Shame there was only a tiny fillet. The Patagonian tomato sauce and curly chives were unnoticeable as were the spinach malfatti (like gnocchi but made with ricotta and spinach?) which looked great but tasted of nothing. The mini-orange wedges didn’t appear on the plate for some reason.

Merluza

Unfortunately the portions were too small for my sizable appetite and I also wanted to know what he would do with another quality local ingredient, so I had a second main of “Lomo Cordero Fuegino, Sobre Colchon de Hongos de Pinos Salteados, Tomates Cherrys y Papas Doradas al Tomillo”. This was strips of lamb tenderloin on a bed of sauteed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and golden potatoes with thyme for $90. Sadly the lamb was overdone and tough and the mushrooms tasted pretty unpleasant too (C-), a real disappointment after the first two wonderful dishes.

My camera ran out of battery when the lamb arrived so apologies for the lack of photos. The final chocolate crumble with nuts and ice cream cheered me up again though, in preparation for a hefty bill of just under a hundred quid! Whoops I did it again…

Kalma was the top pick from Trip Advisor, which I don’t always trust (it can be manipulated) but it deserves the accolades and was the best prepared food I ate while was here.

All the following places where recommended by locals. With thanks to Andrea, Diego et al.


Tia Elvira
 (Intermediate B), between 367 and 337 (sic) Maipu, closed Sundays

A place with a great rep with the locals, due to being a longstanding institution.

Tia ElviraShould have had crab here really but was in the mood for meat so had a sirloin steak (A, seared to the point of being burnt on the outside and red and bloody on the inside) with a tomato salad (B) and boiled spuds (C cos unsalted for some reason).

Seared steak
I had a pretty good Malbec (B) from Bodega ‘Navarra Correas’ 2009. After eating I had to flee from my neighbour, a crazed drunken Porteno (Buenos Airean) who wanted to tell me about his fuckin cool times in Nottingham maan, and how the Brits are a great nation of pirates (fair comment). Sometimes I get the impression some of the Argies actually admire us Brits for our sheer cheek in pinching one of their nearby archipelagos.

Navarra Correas Malbec

Casa de la Mariscos (Intermediate B), 232 San Martin, between Rivadavia and Roca)

The place to come for your local seafood apparently. I couldn’t decide what I wanted except to try the famous local Centolla so I threw myself at the mercy of the young camp waiter who duly took advantage of me. The ‘cassoulet’ of King Crab with Octopus in tomato sauce and petit pois was very good (B+).

Crab cassoulet

rutini-sauvignon-blanc.jpgHowever, the wine he suggested cost five times more than the food! (note to self, for the nth time, ask the bloody price before accepting suggestions). It was a wonderfully fruity (A) Sauvingon Blanc (Rutini 2010) though and probably worth £35, but it didn’t fit in with my budget plans. Total cost $310, about £50.


Volver 
(Intermediate B), 37 Maipu, on the corner of Yapanes,Tel: 433 977

Another suggestion from the teachers I worked with who recommended it for the decor, but suspiciously made no special mention of the food. It certainly has a great view of the harbour and an excellent ambience with nicely laid tables and very quirky decoration with a huge collection of paraphernalia covering every inch of surface space. The soundtrack ain’t bad either, Amy Winehouse was about as energetic as it got but anyone who likes her is basically ok in my book.

Volver

king-crab.jpgThe chef Lino Adillion is a local character who takes his wardrobe inspiration from John Lydon and knows how to wrestle a king crab so respect to him for that at least.
Unfortunately though the food just didn’t cut it for me; two of my favourite things in life are mussels and prawns so, in need of cheering up, I ordered them consecutively as starter and main. The Meijonlles Provencal where huge (I thought these were Cholgas but was told they are even bigger! Get them at Tia Elvira if you’re interested) and perhaps because of their sheer size, they were too fat and chewy (C-). The preparation did nothing for me either, I could do better myself.

Mejillones
The following prawns were also king-size and would totally have lacked flavour if they hadn’t been sprinkled with paprika (C+). This additive was telling because as far as I’m concerned this is certainly an ingredient that should be able to speak for itself, but cold waters or no these didn’t cut it (and as a demi-Norwegian I know a good prawn when I taste one). The best thing foodwise was the complimentary cream cheese and toasted mini-buns it came with, so I took my main gratification from them.

Garlic prawns

famiglia-bianchi.jpgThe saving grace was the excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Famiglia Bianchi (2006) that was recommended by the waiter (A). The final house digestif was a wonderfully scented grappa

valleviejo-grappa.jpgSo, a great place to come for the view and the general vibe but I would respectfully suggest the owner concentrates on the atmosphere and choosing the wines and lays off the kitchen.

Ushuaia at the End of the World

Posted in Argentina, Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia with tags , , , , on November 11, 2011 by gannet39

Imagine flying for 4 hours and still being in the same country! Argentina is huge, in all directions, and here I am going to the southernmost tip, literally the end of the world before you get to Antarctica.

Meandering landscape

Beagle channelLocated on the Beagle Channel, along which Darwin made his famous voyage, Ushuaia  is the largest urban area  (64,000 people) on the Argentinean side of the main island of Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost city in the world.

Ushuaia from aboveOnce a penal colony it has reinvented itself as a tourist town and ski resort. A lot of the people that throng San Martin, the main shopping street, or packing the fifty plus restaurants in the town, are from other countries. Even the Argentinean population aren’t generally local but have come here to work from other areas of Argentina (there are no taxes to encourage people to settle). English is the lingua franca in town and a lot of people speak it very well.
Although in theory I was here in summer (17C is considered warm), we regularly got all four seasons in one morning, alternating between rain showers, glorious sunshine, occasional snowflakes and small fierce gales that blow themselves out in a matter of minutes.

Morning view of the harbourLocals say you have to dress like an onion and be ready to put on or shed layers at any given moment. If you’re up early, the morning skies can be incredible with bizarre, beautifully-coloured cloud formations.

Morning light
The centre of town is based on a grid system so it’s fairly easy to get around, although house numbers sometimes inexplicably jump up for no reason.

Ushuaia house

For city maps and excursion info, the Tourist Information is on the corner of San Martin and Juana G.Fadul. Their webpage has a list of addresses for all the restaurants in town. You can also get them to put a special Ushuaia stamp in your passport for free. The post office is on the corner of San Martin and Godoy.
I was here for six days in all, but only had one day off, so didn’t get to do many of the possible activities, other than eat a lot. I’d missed the main penguin watching season (best in winter when there’s more of them around) so decided to give the catamaran boat trip down the Beagle Channel a miss. Walking in the nearby National Park would have been a good option too but I really fancied going to see the local glacier (there are more than 40 on the Argentinean side of the main island) so I hired a guide to take me trekking.

Twisted trees

river.jpg

this-is-a-warning1.jpg

Sebastian or ‘Seba’ was a really nice guy and as a certified guide, knew his stuff. He is a member of a group of professional guides called Guias del Sur who can arrange different expeditions, including a gourmet trek! Sadly this option wasn’t available the month I was in town.

Im liking this lichen
The medium level trek up the Martial Glacier (aka Bat Wing Glacier) took just over three hours to get to the top and a bit less than that to get down again. We tackled it in three stages, the first with me following in Seba’s footsteps in the soft spring snow, or where possible over the exposed moraine screes. Starting off, we each had a walking pole for extra stability.

Bat wing glacier top centre right
The second stage was in deeper snow where we also put on leg coverings to keep the snow out of our boots and stop us spiking ourselves later with the crampons. Seba stamped in each footstep twice to give me a stair to put my weight on.  This didn’t always help though and we would frequently both sink into the snow to above knee height.
Before the final stage we stopped for lunch by the weather station and its bizarre devices for measuring snowfall and wind speed.

weather-measure.jpg
After all that climbing the plain cheese and salad sandwich tasted amazing!  We washed it down with a couple of cups of sweet mate (maa-tay), the quintessential national brew. I’d never liked it before but up here it tasted heavenly. I’m sure the view and the super-fresh air added to the flavours!

Cheese and bun
The third stage was the glacier itself which required crampons, a helmet and an ice pick to drive into the surface if we started sliding.

Trotskyists beware
You could see some of the ten thousand year old ice peeking through but most of it had a thin covering of snow that could be very slippy.

seba.jpg
This time I was in the lead so Seba could catch me if I skidded off. Thankfully this didn’t happen!

Mountain manThe view just kept getting better as we ascended and the final vantage point on a razor sharp ridge was just simply stunning.

dont-do-it-seba.jpg

The way down was much easier of course, it felt almost that we could run back down, except our legs regularly kept disappearing up to waist height in snow drifts!

Way down
So after all that exercise, a huge nosh up and night on the town was totally justified…

Of course at the end of the world, there’s an Irish pub (Dublin at 9 de Junio 168) which has the best craic in town (there are night clubs but they are crap apparently). Personally I don’t share the opinion that so-called Irish pubs should be avoided on principle. At the end of the day, this is where all the characters (pissheads) are most likely to be, whether local or tourist, and it was full to bursting at the weekend.

Dublin

I had a Pisco Sour smoothie (cocktails not a speciality) and on another evening I sampled one of the local Fuegian beers, draught Beagle blond, which was slightly less disgusting (C+) than the Austral also on offer. Maybe the red or dark varieties are better. So, a great for meeting people if you’re a solo traveller like me, but I’ve yet to find something I’d want to drink regularly here. But they do have Wi-Fi.
Another bar for more peaceful post-prandial drinking and blog writing is Ramos Generalis, a century-old corrugated tin building (like many places here) down at 749 Maipu.

ramos-generalis.jpg

This is also a good place to come for a chocolate penguin (the nearest I got to a colony) or a fruit tart (B+), amongst other attractive looking sweets, and a digestif. NB when asking for this you will get tea unless you specify alcohol!

penguin-colony-e1510354401608.jpg

I recommend Legui, an Argentinean herb and caramel flavoured liqueur, drunk in a wide glass with a lump of ice.

legui-e1510354500616.jpg

Ramos Generalis has a peaceful, friendly atmosphere with low lighting, restrained ambient music (if anything too quiet), lots of wood and an impressive collection of paraphernalia on the walls. Their locally brewed Cape Horn draught pilsner was foul to the point of being undrinkable (D) however they kindly changed it for the marginally better Austral (C). Stick to wine and spirits here too.

I stayed at the Hosteria Patagonia Jarke, an unsophisticated but pleasant hostel with clean, spacious rooms, satellite TV (although no English programming except Warner soaps) and free Wi-Fi. The breakfast is a bit basic but  they do have fresh fruit. The staff are friendly, especially the English-speaking Diego who took good care of me during my stay and made me feel very welcome. See the other posts on Ushuaia for my food adventures.

Not so grand Rio Grande

Posted in Argentina, Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego on November 11, 2011 by gannet39

On the road trip to the north east of the main island you pass through two totally different landscapes. Leaving Ushuaia, you thread your way between towering mountains and along the sides of huge glaciated valleys till you get to Lake Fagnano, formed thousands of years ago by a super-glacier that shaped the whole area.

Lake Fagnano
Once you get past the lake  the land is totally flat without any distinguishing features, except strange untended forests of dead trees and fenced off plains with grazing cattle and sheep.

Plains and mountains
Our minibus (Lider the most reputable bus line) stops halfway at Tolhuin, a small town at the end of the lake with just 1400 souls, but the third largest town on the Argentinean side of the main island. The rest stop is Panaderia La Unión, a bakery famous in Argentina for the number of celebrities who have stopped off for a bite, and who’s photos line the walls.

Slippery slopes
We finally got to our destination after 3.5 hours of rough roads and bizarre weather conditions (burning heat on the way there, rainstorms and sunbursts on the way back).

Sunburst
Rio Grande
 is the second largest urban area (55,000 people) on the non-Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, but unlike Ushuaia, it’s hard to find anyone who has anything good to say about it. Coming into town it looks like a large rubbish strewn industrial estate, although it gets nicer the closer you get to the sea.

Heavy Chevvy
I was told I was very lucky to get good weather as the usual meteorological situation is lots of rain and strong winds (they even have to close the schools sometimes because of the wind!).

Points of interest include a large plastic fish on a roundabout on the outskirts of town which proudly announces that Rio Grande is the international trout capital, whatever that means and they also apparently have the world’s largest sheep shearing shed. It’s also the nearest land to the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas as the locals call them. The islands are always marked on maps as belonging to Argentina and geographically speaking, you would have to agree with them.

Trout as big as your house

I only spent two nights here, thankfully, and was put up at Posada los Sauces which, although there are other hotels, is probably the best place to stay. It’s on a main road facing the sea so you can get a good walk or run in along the waterfront path. The Posada itself is clean and neat and there’s Wi-Fi in the rooms. The restaurant is supposedly one of the best in town but is closed on Sundays (the day I arrived) and they only had sandwiches in the upstairs bar.

All the places suggested by Lonely Planet and Moon Travel either had imprecise location information or had moved or shut down (except for Tante Sara, a cafe chain from Ushuaia, untried except for their excellent salty or sweet medialunas and other bizcochos) so I asked reception (not usually a good idea) to suggest somewhere and they sent me to La Colonial (Intermediate C+) at 828 San Martin, (turning right off Belgrano, go past Carrefour and it’s two blocks down on the right after Estrada) open Sundays.

On the face of it, a posh modern Italian, but really a backwoods interpretation and not like anything you’d get in Italy, despite the number of Argentinians with their roots in that country.  I was the first to arrive at 8.40 (think they open at 9 usually) and all 70 seats were full by 10. I liked the music, trombone dub reggae, which seemed to be playing everywhere I went in Tierra del Fuego.

To start ‘tallarines’, or durum wheat noodles, a popular pasta which looks like cubic spaghetti, that you will see on menus everywhere in Argentina. You get a choice of sauces so I went for Arrabbiata, hoping for some heat. No chance of that here, the locals are not fans of the chilli pepper and this variation instead had diced bacon and spring onions, edible but disappointing (C).

Tallarines with Arrabiatta
I had to try the trout which the city is famous for and went for the Fines Herbes sauce option, which was gloopy and yellow (D) but once you had scraped it off, the trout was pretty good (B).

Glooped trout
To finish, the panna cotta with delicious stewed forest berries (B), if a bit heavy on the gelatin. There was too much of the creamy bit and not enough berry sauce and I only got through half of it.

Panna cotta

The saving grace was the house white, a wonderfully fragrant Torrontes called ‘Cafayete’, from Bodegas Etchart in Salta, which was a steal at only $40, about £6 (A+). Total cost with a salad and another delicious (but not frozen) Tres Plumas limoncello was $226, much cheaper than anywhere in touristy Ushuaia, but not as good.

The next night I tried the in-house restaurant at the Posada which I had been told was the best in town by the local teacher I was working with. According to my friendly waiter, the best choices were the king crab, steak or the lamb. I went for the latter, wanting to relive my Ushuaia experiences, but was not impressed.  Bland meat, with meagre gravy, stuffed with tasteless spinach and palm hearts and served with equally flavourless steamed pumpkin, potato, beans, carrot, peas and more very bitter spinach (all C/D).

The house red; ‘Trapiche’ Malbec was also a big disappointment (C), the worst wine I’d had so far on this trip. Perhaps I made the wrong choices, or perhaps they’re not as good as they’re cracked up to be.

If you take fourth right off Belgrano, down Leonardo Rosales, you will find lots of shops, including a chemists, and a tourist information (do they get any?) in Plaza Almirante Brown, about halfway down the street.

Rio Grande is a town to come to do business but not to visit for leisure. Foodwise, they have great ingredients, but choose carefully as to how they are cooked.

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