El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

April 30, 2013 by · 13 Comments 

The world’s most beautiful bookstore, in Buenos Aires!

Buenos Aires is a bookworm’s city: cozy cafes for snuggling up with a novel on every corner, bargain bookshops on Corrientes Avenue, famous literary personalities, and high taxes on technology make Kindles and Tablets rare (that’s right, porteños still read real-life, scribble in the margins, flash them on the subway, wallow in the scent of musty spine, thumb the velvety pages BOOKS!). And of course, Buenos Aires is home to the most beautiful bookstore in the world.

El Ateneo bookstore

[Photo credit: m4caque’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the biggest bookstores in South America and certainly the most luxurious. Located in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood, El Ateneo is as splendid as its name, and exudes Buenos Aires’s nostalgic elegance.  The building originally housed the theater Teatro Grand Splendid, designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol in 1919. After years of popular shows, including performances by the famous tango singers Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini, the Grand Splendid was converted into a movie theater in the late ’20’s, featuring some of the first sound movies shown in Argentina.

All the bookstore’s a stage

Beautiful bookstore Buenos Aires

The El Ateneo publishing house converted this old theater into a bookstore in 2000, thankfully conserving its original aspect, but replacing seating with bookshelves. The theater’s spectacular cupola (dome), painted by Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, depicts an allegory for peace after WWI. Framed by plush crimson curtains, the stage is now a cafe where literary types and people-watchers alike form part of the spectacle; acting like a porteño by sipping a cafe and struggling over a Cortázar story has never been so literal!

Opened in 1912 by Spaniard Pedro Garcia, El Ateneo started out as a publishing house whose initial catalog included The Divine Comedy, Montaigne’s essays, Shakespeare, Ruben Dario, Machiavelli and Homer translated and printed for an Argentine readership. In 1968, the publishers launched “The Spring of Letters”, a series of lectures and signings with famous authors which eventually evolved into the International Book Fair held annually in April. Today, the editorial forms part of Argentina’s most important literary conglomerate with many bookstores throughout BA and the rest of the country.

BYOB: Bring your own book

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

[Photo credit: violinha’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

If you want to be one of the 3,000 who visit this glorious temple of books daily, I recommend waiting for a spot in any of the reading nooks housed where the box seats once lay. Snuggle up with your selections, admire the ornate views, and watch people from all over the world snap photos and delve into texts.

Don’t be disappointed by the English book section, though; it contains almost exclusively romance and mystery novels with an occasional classic. There are, however, many books on Latin American art, regional cuisine, guide books, and Argentine culture which make for fun browsing for even those who don’t understand a lick of español. Check the basement for music, DVDs, and an extensive children’s section, and the upper floors for great views. The first floor houses mostly medical, psychological, and education texts, and you can find Classical and Opera music on the third floor.

dome at El Ateneo Grand Splendid

[Photo credit: kara brugman’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Don’t believe it’s the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Neither did The Guardian; in this article they placed El Ateneo at second. Call me dramatic, but I hold to my claim that El Ateneo is number 1! For a great description of the store, try Atlas Obscuro, and if you want to see some more magical bookstores check out this top twenty list at Flavorwire. Or just sit here and watch the following short video on El Ateneo instead:

Location of El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Avenida Santa Fe 1860, between Riobamba and Callao, Recoleta
Telephone: 4813-6052

Monday to Thursday: 9am to 10pm
Friday and Saturday: 9am to 12am
Sunday: 12pm to 10pm

Anuva Wine Tasting in Buenos Aires

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

*PLEASE NOTE: Anuva Wines unexpectedly closed down permanently on January 12th 2017. We are currently looking into alternative wine tasting options in the city to be able to update the below article – feel free to contact us in the meantime to ask for a wine tasting recommendation in Buenos Aires*

A lovely wine tasting in Palermo, Buenos Aires

Anuva Wines offers wine tastings in Buenos Aires, for those who wish to sample some great boutique wines, but can’t necessarily make it to the wine producing regions of the country. Located in a luminous loft in the chic neighborhood of Palermo Soho, this wine club opened in 2007, and offers tastings with English speaking experts that are both educational and fun. All of their wines are boutique, which means you won’t find them in the grocery store, here or at home.

Anuva wines

I recently attended a Friday afternoon tasting (lucky me!). Upon arrival, a delightful English woman named Cara showed me to my seat, and our table quickly filled up with a lively set of international travelers. I made small talk with the other guests and the staff of Anuva, who graciously answered questions about Buenos Aires and offered suggestions for dining and activities.

And then came the moment we’d all been anxiously awaiting: the tasting!

Surprising white wines

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First came a sparkling wine from Hom Espumante. Poppy, who lead our wine tasting, gave us some general tasting advice and then explained the different processes by which wine makers convert whites into sparkling wines. This light and refreshing blend was deliciously drinkable. Once we’d sipped, everyone at the table agreed that Poppy’s explanations deepened our appreciation of the bubbly! Each wine was paired with an Argentine tapa specifically selected to accentuate certain flavors in each of the wines, and I found our blue cheese and pear hors d’oeuvre went perfectly with the espumante (sparkling in Spanish).

Next came a marvelous Las Perdices Torrontés. This white was floral on the nose but when paired with two yummy gelatos, the wine’s different fruit notes really stood out.  Poppy spoke about the Torrontés grape, one of Argentina’s most important and lovingly nicknamed “la uva mentirosa” (the liar grape; can you guess why?). She also explained the wine growing regions of Argentina and how the characteristics of each influence the taste, acidity, and alcohol content.  Tasting the Torrontés, I could tell that the terroir of Salta province has a direct effect on its flavor!

Red, red wine!

Our table discussed the wines we’d tasted so far and raved about Argentina’s ice creams as the Anuva staff filled our remaining glasses with three reds.  We were all eager to begin and grateful when Poppy presented the first wine: one of Argentina’s famous Malbecs from Carinae vineyards, which was paired with an Argentine picada of cheeses and salamis.

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The spectacular hostesses answered questions about wine production in Argentina as we enjoyed the malbec; each of these women is highly knowledgeable of the industry, and I recommend asking any question that occurs to you about the vino (wine in Spanish).  Indeed, the tasting was professional but not at all pretentious, and unlike in other tastings I’ve been to that give you two drops of each varietal, Anuva gives generous servings and offers refills.

We moved on to what I found to be the stand-out wine of the afternoon: a San Gimignano Syrah! Wonderfully light and minerally, Poppy joked that this wine is a woman’s wine, because it’s so delicate on the palate.  Here we sampled a traditional meat empanada, yum!

By the time we arrived at the last wine, a robust and velvety Bonarda from Mairena, our table had become best of friends. Anuva’s team (and their wines) creates a welcoming, convivial atmosphere, and I learned from my fellow wine tasters! For example, the Australian at the table was impressed that Argentine wines weren’t as heady as the Aussies are used to, and Poppy explained how growing conditions affect alcohol content; the pair from San Francisco compared Argentina’s dry, high altitude conditions with the more wet Napa Valley and Sonoma county, and considered how that affects sulfide content.

And oh yeah, the Bonarda was to die for, a perfect way to end a delightful tasting!

Anuva wines tasting

Here I am with my tasting buddies, happily smiling for the group photo! Once the tasting was through, the staff offered refills and let us know that all the wines sampled (and more) are available for purchase. Best of all, they even deliver to the US with free shipping!

To reserve, click here to book a tasting with Anuva Wines

The price is US$52 per person. Exact location details are revealed by Anuva upon booking, but as mentioned, the wine tasting is held in a specialist tasting room in the Palermo Soho neighborhood. The tastings last for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, and are usually scheduled at 3pm or 6pm Mon-Thu, or 2pm or 5pm Fri-Sat (although other times may be available upon request).

 

La Bomba de Tiempo

April 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A must-see show in Buenos Aires

La Bomba de Tiempo

You can feel the beat hit your chest. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the stage, mouths attached to their big-cup beers and ears enjoying the thump of congas and djembe drums. The ones not slurping beer are dancing and smiling, kissing their date or just letting the music sink in. If anyone had a case of the Mondays, it left a long time ago.

La Bomba de Tiempo attracts an eclectic crowd to the Konex, their Abasto venue, every Monday night. The event has become a must for many travelers and Porteños in Buenos Aires. Its popularity could have made it an over-touristy event if it weren’t for its consistent originality, affordability and great music.

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The best of Abasto

Located only a few blocks from the historic Abasto Shopping Center, The Konex is an open-air venue with some fun design. (La Bomba de Tiempo is a rain-or-shine event because the stage is covered. It’s actually a fun event in the rain). A large orange staircase, which hosts the mixing desk, is in the middle of the audience. There’s a huge metal bug stationed on the roof to the left of the stage. Colorful graffiti covers the walls. But all of these details fade away once the drum band takes stage.

A 17-person band provides the nights’ entertainment. They play on an array of drums – congo and djembe mostly – and everyone seems to get a solo of some kind. Mid-way through the show last week, a saxophonist accompanied the band for a few songs, playing for about 30 minutes. The music was lively, perfectly executed and energized the crowd.

The band involves the audience too. In a performance that resembled the Isley Brother’s song Shout, the drum band gradually lowered its volume, motioning the audience to kneel down. The entire crowd lowered to the ground until the beat slowly, and then rapidly, picked up. Not before long, everyone was back on their feet, clapping hands.

La Bomba de Tiempo

Although the venue is standing-room only and packed, there isn’t a rowdy vibe in the audience. Whether because of the music or not, the jovial, peaceful crowd makes the performance even more enjoyable.

Given its popularity, La Bomba de Tiempo is an event to show up early for. You don’t need to worry about tickets selling out, but the line can literally be around the block, and an hour-long wait. The main, La Bomba de Tiempo show starts at 8pm, but there is an opening act at 7pm. Try to arrive at the Konex by 7pm to avoid missing any of the La Bomba show.

For more opinions on La Bomba de Tiempo, check out Wander Argentina‘s post, Diego’s write-up on Expose Buenos Aires and this review by Matador Network.

Where is La Bomba de Tiempo?

The Ciudad Cultural Konex venue, at Sarmiento 3131 (between Jean Juares and Anchorena) Abasto, City of Buenos Aires.

Check out La Bomba de Tiempo’s website and Facebook page for any updates. You can also buy tickets on the Ticketek website.

Phone: (+54 11) 4864 3200     Email: info@cckonex.org

The Argentine Experience

March 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Food, wine and instruction on all things porteño

Group shot at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

Dinner at the Argentine Experience is much more than its headline dish of exquisitely cooked fillet steak accompanied by free-flowing Malbec. It is more like an intensive crash course in Argentine culture, complete with empanada and alfajor making sessions.

From the Porteños’ fondness for expressing themselves with a wide range of hand gestures to the intricacies of the mate ritual, Argentine customs can be baffling (first-timer mate drinkers beware: NEVER use the bombilla (metal straw) to stir the yerba). For this reason the Argentine Experience is jointly hosted by an expat who understands how strange such idiosyncrasies first seem to outsiders and a local who offers an insider’s view.

Shaken, not stirred

The recipe for a Raspberry Blush cocktail at the Argentine Experience, Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

Arriving early for the optional pre-dinner wine cocktail mixology and aroma class, first up was a cocktail making workshop in which the secret ingredient in every ‘Malabeca’ or ‘Torrontea’ was wine. Setting the tone for an evening in which interaction was key, we were invited to don a bow tie and step behind to the bar to have a go at mixing ourselves. It’s safe to say the raspberry, gin and Malbec & Merlot based rose wine ‘Raspberry Blush’ cocktails I prepared were a hit. Less successful was my attempt to identify the 20 aromas commonly found in wine by smelling a condensed liquid essence of each one. Not as easy as it sounds.

Ready, steady… cook!

The Argentine Experience started life as a ‘closed doors restaurant’ in the apartment of founder Leon Lightman and even after the move in 2012 to more restaurant-like premises in Palermo Hollywood it has retained an intimate atmosphere. The new building is modern and light with a sleek downstairs bar area and an upstairs dining room, with two large chunky wooden dining tables and shelves of colorful mate gourds serving as decoration.

Making empanadas at the Argentine Experience in Palermo
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

The communal dining tables are the first clue that the Argentine Experience is very much a group effort. Socializing with your fellow guests is compulsory, and the first act of team bonding is to put on a checked apron and chefs hat, ready for action. Our first task was to prepare empanadas (the ubiquitous little savory pastry pies that are usually filled with minced beef). With bowls full of slow-cooked beef stew, onions cooked in Malbec, vegetarian ratatouille and cheese in front of us it was difficult to heed our host Richard’s advice not to overfill the empanadas. He showed us how to seal them and fold the pastry in the traditional way.

With our empanadas cooking in the oven, our next challenge was a creative one: the novelty empanada competition. Entries ranged from a recreation of Maradona’s ‘hand of God’ goal to a dinosaur, the winner being a graceful, meat and onion filled ballerina. The winner received a jar of homemade chimichurri sauce and eternal glory in the form of a place on the Argentine Experience empanada wall of fame.

Twenty-four hour steak-out

As the Malbec flowed freely and mini dishes of provoleta cheese and choripan were brought out, we exchanged travel stories and talked to our hosts about Argentinian football. Then, proceedings were brought to a hushed standstill as the evening’s star guest was introduced.

Delicious fillet steak at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

The steak, Richard explained, had been subject to an extensive screening process. Owner Leon had embarked on a six month pilgrimage across Argentina, tirelessly visiting cattle ranches in search of the perfect beef. The tenderness of the fillet steak we were to eat, he continued, was the result of a finely-honed 24 hour preparation process, involving leaving the meat uncovered in the fridge overnight before flash frying in a hot pan to seal the juices, then flipping it rapidly to ensure an even distribution of meaty juices. For this reason it could well be the most tender meat we had ever eaten, Richard concluded with a flourish, as drool ran from the corners of our mouths.

Naturally, such a steak deserved a serious wine to accompany it, so we would be served a deeper, more full-bodied Malbec. As we ate our main course, the intelligent conversation of earlier in the evening was replaced by a series of grunts and munching sounds. Nobody was disappointed with their steak.

Note: Fish and vegetarian options are also offered, and those who went for them on the night were very impressed with the quality of those dishes. 

Post dinner parlor games

Drinking mate at the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires
[Photo credit: courtesy of the Argentine Experience]

And so in a Malbec and steak induced state of bliss we were entertained by tutorials and practice sessions on Argentinian hand gestures, preparing mate and making alfajores (dulce de leche filled, chocolate covered biscuits).

Those of us for whom the bottomless wine had made everything a little hazy were reassured to learn that note-taking would not be necessary; an Argentine Experience aftercare email with all the essentials would arrive the next day. So there would be no excuse not to put our new cocktail-shaking, empanada-baking, alfajor-making, mate ritual-partaking and hand gesture mickey-taking skills into action. Try saying that after one too many glasses of Malbec!

For more on the Argentine Experience, check out Cara from Anuva Wine’s write up, this post by Tim Fitzgerald on the BBC travel blog, Not quite Nigella’s thoughts here and this post by Alison Westwood on the Getaway blog.

Location of the Argentine Experience in Buenos Aires

The Argentine Experience, Fitz Roy 2110 (between Soler and Guatemala), Palermo Hollywood

Las Cabras Parrilla

March 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Lively, open-air steakhouse in Buenos Aires

Las Cabras

Walking through Palermo Hollywood for the first time in September, I saw several chic restaurants . Then I got to the corner of El Salvador and Fitz Roy, where a crowd hummed outside a bustling restaurant, and something immediately appeared different.

Las Cabras had me at hello.

This parrilla offers big plates, wonderful ambiance and a price tag that will satisfy any patron. Simplicity distinguishes Las Cabras from other restaurants in the area. Red, wooden tables dot a pebble-covered, shady patio on the Fitz Roy corner. White, crayon-ready paper serves as your tablecloth. The warm lighting from inside helps illuminate the patio, which encompasses both sides of the corner. The place beams with energy and smiles from one table to the next.

Las Cabras

Las Cabras is great for a couple’s dinner or a reunion with friends. I often see people on dates inside and groups of ten or more outside. It’s the kind of place where dinner can last for hours and you can sit, enjoy your company and indulge in Argentina’s prized commodities for as long as you like. You’re bound to see other travelers or expats at Las Cabras, but porteños dine here nightly as well.

Delicious Argentine foods

My go-to for steak is entraña (skirt steak), which comes with two healthy strips of meat and a Caesar salad. Asado de tira (braised short-cut ribs) is another popular choice among my expat friends. Typical Argentine cuts – ojo de bife (rib-eye steak), bife de chorizo (sirloin) – are on the menu as well.  However, despite being very much a parrilla, the diverse menu at Cabras also reaches out to vegetarians.

The pastel de calabaza y miel (Squash and honey and pie) may be the most delicious, filling and affordable dish in Buenos Aires. It comes in a heavy clay bowl, topped with a layer of melted cheese. The pastel is mashed squash filled with veggies, a really tasty creation that will end any of your hunger pains. The honey adds a light, sweet finish to the taste buds. The salads and antipasto plates at Cabras are also big hits given their ample size and tasty ingredients.

But if you’re a carnivore and you only have one night for Las Cabras, you must challenge yourself to the Gran Bife de Las Cabras.  This huge plate includes a sirloin steak, cooked to your preference, and a plethora of sides: fried veggies, a slab of grilled provolone cheese, French fries with a fried egg on top, rice and mashed squash. You may not need to eat breakfast the next day.

Las Cabras

The only precaution with Las Cabras is the wait. If you arrive after 9pm, especially on the weekend, expect to wait at least 30 minutes. An 8pm or 8:30pm arrival time should help you avoid rush hour.

Despite any delay to your meal, the fun atmosphere, quality of food and affordability will keep you coming back to Las Cabras for more.

Where is Las Cabras?

Getting there: Unless you know the bus system or take a taxi, bring your walking shoes. The nearest subte stop on the D line is the Palermo station. From there walk two blocks up Santa Fe, go left on Fitz Roy and walk seven blocks to the corner of Fitz Roy and El Salvador.

On the B line, get off at Dorrego, walk twelve blocks along Bonpland, turn right on El Salvador and go one block to Fitz Roy.

The 108 bus line stops within a block of Las Cabras, and it also goes through Recoleta on Av. Santa Fe, plus through Palermo at Plaza Italia.

 

Carlos Gardel

March 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Carlos Gardel: Argentina’s beloved tango crooner

Carlos Gardel is by far Argentina’s most famous Tango singer and is a nationally adored figure. They say that if you’re itching to get into a fight with an Argentine, just insult any one of their holy trinity of heroes: Diego Maradona, Evita, or Carlos Gardel.

Carlos Gardel Argentina Icon tango

[Photo credit: Alfredo Davies’ Flickr/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Carlos Gardel was born Charles Gardes to single mother Berthe Gardes in Toulouse, France in 1890.  To escape the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock, Berthe migrated to Argentina, claiming to be a widow.  While we take these facts for granted today, Gardel’s origins were something of a mystery for many years: speculators argued over whether he was born in Uruguay, France, or Argentina.  This uncertainty only added to the mystique of the tango legend; similarly foggy are details of his love life and of his death.

Ms. Gardes and son, nicknamed Carlos, settled into the barrio (neighborhood) of Abasto.  As as a child, Carlitos worked in opera houses (Buenos Aires had five at the time, of which the Teatro Colon is the surviving example) organizing props, lifting curtains, and even rousing audiences as a professional applauder.  Inspired by the most important singers of the time, Gardel built his name singing in bars, horse races, and for private parties across Buenos Aires.  He was ultimately launched to fame by the fates of tango when he performed one of the first tango songs known to have lyrics, Mi Noche Triste (My sad night) in 1917.  The recording exploded across the Americas and established Gardel as tango’s original singer.

Gardel toured the world, and began filming movies with Paramount Pictures in Paris.  Fellow Argentine Alfredo Le Pera wrote tango lyrics understandable to a diverse Spanish-speaking audience for the films, breaking with the tradition of writing tangos in lunfardo (the slang dialect of Buenos Aires).  This duo is memorialized in multiple recordings of some of Gardel’s most famous songs, such as Mi Buenos Aires Querido (My dear Buenos Aires). Listen below:

Gardel’s tragic death and memorial

Gardel grave Chacarita

In 1935, Gardel and Le Pera were promoting their newest film, El día que me quieras, when their plane crashed during take-off in Medellín, Colombia.  Neither artist survived.  Gardel’s body was carried across Colombia, by steamboat to New York, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and back to Buenos Aires. Huge street processions met the coffin in each city to mourn the loss of “Carlitos”.

Gardel is buried with his mother, in the Cemetery of Chacarita.  His grave, declared a National Monument by the late President Néstor Kirchner, boasts plaques of memorial from admirers around the world.  Taxi drivers are known pull up next to his grave, play a tango at full blast, and light a cigarette.  When the song is over, the driver places what’s left of the cigarette in the statue’s hand.   Fans also tuck a rose into the statue’s lapel, so Gardel remains ever debonair.  Since his death, Gardel’s memory persists such that there’s even a common saying, “cada día canta mejor”: he sings better every day.  It must be true, since in 2003, UNESCO declared Gardel’s voice to be Patrimony of Mankind.

Abasto: Gardel’s neighborhood

Gardel lyrics Pasaje Zelaya

Carlos Gardel was a true man of the arrabal, meaning a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.  In his time, Abasto marked the edge of the city, populated mainly by Italian immigrants, and life revolved around a market fair which brought produce from the country to the city.  Eventually, the Mercado del Abasto, a beautiful Art Deco building, was built to house the fair.  Though the building now contains a shopping mall, it’s a stunning jewel in Buenos Aires’s architectural pantheon.  Today, almost everything here is named after Gardel, from streets to cafes, and even newspaper stands boast the name of “El morocho del Abasto” (“The dark one from Abasto”).

Tango fans will find this part of town worth visiting.  Take a stroll down the Pasaje de Zelaya, a short pedestrian walk full of images of Gardel, and song lyrics on the walls and sidewalks.  Two of Buenos Aire’s best alternative theatre spaces are also on this walk: El Cubo and Teatro Ciego, the blind theatre company!  While shows at either of these venues are entirely in Spanish, they sometimes show dance productions or musical (and other sensory) works.

Gardel Abasto Fileteado

Turn the corner onto Jean Juares and enjoy houses decked out in fileteado artwork, the popular decorative art found on shop windows, buses, and sign posts around BA.  After one block you’ll find the Carlos Gardel Museum, which was the singer’s (and his mother’s) home.  The museum shows relics of Carlos’s life, and often hold events and shows.  If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a tango lesson or music performance!  Then check out the Carlos Gardel pedestrian street, where you’ll find a statue of Gardel, posing under the Abasto’s arches, plus a tourist shop called “Regionales del Abasto”, worth visiting if only for the extraordinary fileteado artwork on the walls, as pictured here.

Note that even the subway stop for this part of the city is named Carlos Gardel.  Luca Prodan, another late Argentine music legend,  also lived in Abasto, and in the song Mañana en el Abasto, he sings about waking up in this ‘hood, sleeping in the abandoned Abasto building in the late 1980’s, then taking the subway from the Carlos Gardel station.

For more information on Gardel, listen to this piece on NPR or read on Rhythm Planet about a chance meeting between Carlos and Frank Sinatra!

Location and hours of Gardel attractions

Chacarita Cemetery:
Avenida Guzman 680 (between Elcano and Federico Lacroze), Chacarita
Sunday – Sunday: 8am to 6pm

Pasaje Zalaya:
Zelaya between Aguero and Jean Juares, Abasto

Carlos Gardel House Museum:
Jean Jaurés 735, between Zelaya and Tucuman, Abasto
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 11am to 6om
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays: 10am to 7pm
Tuesdays: closed
Entrance fee: $1, Wednesday free

Carlos Gardel Pedestrian Street
Carlos Gardel between Jean Juares and Anchorena, Abasto

Abasto Shopping:
Corrientes 3247, between Aguero & Anchorena, Abasto
Open 10am to 10pm daily

El Tejano – BBQ in Buenos Aires

February 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Could the best American BBQ be in Buenos Aires?

El Tejano

The smoked meat hit my taste buds, I dropped my utensils, sat back in my chair and smiled. This progression of events occurred several times last week at El Tejano (The Texan) in Palermo. An East-Texan expat who landed in Buenos Aires seven years ago, El Tejano is introducing Buenos Aires to BBQ in a way I’ve never seen in the United States.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but I am a BBQ foodie. I’ve eaten brisket and ribs in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. You could say I like it.

Buenos Aires boasts of its world-renowned steaks. Steak grilled on the parrilla (large, brick grill) is a staple here. Meat is never cooked on anything but a grill.

Smoked meat is an untold story in Buenos Aires, largely because it doesn’t exist. No restaurant in the entire city uses a smoker to cook its meat. Tejano built his own smoker. Thus, when I heard about his private dinners, I quickly contacted him. My expectations were high. El Tejano guaranteed the dinner would be all-you-can-eat. Given that my group of five hadn’t seen BBQ all year, barely ate all day and didn’t stop talking about our dinner for the week before, I doubted if we would actually have as much as we wanted.

Puerta Cerrada in Buenos Aires

El Tejano

We arrived at a beautiful, private dining room in Palermo Soho. Puerta Cerrada – closed door – dinners are a tradition in Argentina. Although often held in someone’s home, El Tejano serves his clients in the Anuva Wines tasting room.

We started off with homemade guacamole, hot sauce and corn chips – all three tough finds here – to appease our hunger. Shortly after, Tejano brought out a black-jalapeño cornbread with dill and pickles. Sweet cornbread with a small, spicy kick. Once the freshly-made coleslaw and sweet tea came to our table, I knew the meat had to be next. Expectations peaked, glands salivated and five friends waited in anticipation for a taste of home.

El Tejano

When Tejano walked the brisket to our table on a huge cutting board, my face froze in half-smile, half-jaw-on-the-floor. It was huge. He cut through the black outside and unveiled a perfect, pink-ringed brisket. Slow, wispy smoke billowed out. It was so tender, when Tejano cut it, the slices crumpled into little pieces. Paired with a sweet, hint-of-cinnamon BBQ sauce, the 8-hour-smoked brisket had excellent texture, flavor and color. My first servings quickly turned into seconds and thirds. It was only the beginning.

El Tejano

If I had any regrets, it was sprinting too soon into this marathon. I thought when we finished with the brisket, Tejano had run out. But I was happily wrong, as our empty cutting board was exchanged for a new one with another slab of brisket. This time we only got through half of it.

After my third serving of mouth-watering, smoked brisket and second of coleslaw, Tejano served us the pork ribs. Juicy, soft and flavorful come to mind. Although the BBQ sauce paired well with the brisket, the pork ribs stood better on their own. To aide our meat binge, Tejano gave our table a corn-bean-jalapeño salad that helped compliment the BBQ.

El Tejano

To put an exclamation point on our dinner, a creative, third meat – Matambre – finished the meal. Stuffed with green apples, cinnamon and onions, the Matambre was also “injected,” with Coca-Cola to break down the fat deposits and offer the cut a sweet, meaty taste. Matambre – which basically means “kill hunger” – is a fairly typical meat cut (similar to flank steak) in Argentina, and that’s exactly why Tejano uses it. With some creative design and additions, Tejano presents Argentine meat in a whole new light.

A wonderful glass of Malbec completed the marathon to BBQ heaven. Through the food, we really learned about a veteran expat…

The Man Behind the Meat

El Tejano

While serving endless portions of BBQ, Tejano, or Larry, detailed how he smoked the meat, made the cornbread and decided what to pair the BBQ with. This wasn’t just a waiter telling us the specials at a restaurant. It was a man explaining his passion. His electric smile glows while he describes smoking the meat and all the details involved. We had no idea what a black jalapeño was until he educated us on the pepper’s varieties and why he experimented with this one on his cornbread. We learned that growing up in Austin, Tex., BBQ wasn’t something he learned about, it was inherited, passed down through his family.

Larry also provided snippets of his life here in Buenos Aires. He moved here seven years ago after literally flipping a coin. One side meant a move to Chile, the other to Argentina. It landed on Argentina. Larry began serving private dinners earlier last year, and is hoping to do much more. He sells his own homemade hot sauce and wants to to have it manufactured in Argentina soon. The idea of a BBQ food truck in Los Bosques—the parks in Palermo—also interests him. Larry grows his own peppers in a green house in Buenos Aires. When he talks about his plans, clear ideas percolate in Larry’s mind at all times. His conviction, energy and enthusiasm make his customers his biggest supporters.

It’s his story that puts his BBQ over any other I’ve ever eaten. The food on its own will keep me coming back, but such a unique expat tale will interest any visitor to Buenos Aires.

The personal attention and stories, accompanied by an exceptional dinner of such an iconic, American food genre, make El Tejano stand out among food innovators in Buenos Aires. We left the dinner hungry on only one question: what will he do next?

To reserve a dinner with El Tejano

Website: www.eltejanoba.com.ar/events

e-Mail: info@eltejanoba.com.ar

Note: As with all “closed door” restaurants, El Tejano will send the exact dinner location upon booking.

Top It Frozen Yogurt

February 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Buenos Aires: Is Fro Yo the new gelato?

Top-it-frozen-yoghurt
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

At its hottest and most humid Buenos Aires can feel like a sauna and even a gentle stroll can leave you in serious need of a cooling pit-stop. But another ice cream? Really? Sometimes it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and if all those steaks and empanadas are making your waistband feel tight you might want to consider opting for a frozen yogurt from Top It in Palermo Soho. It’s fat and additive free and contains only 100 calories per portion.

top-it-cute-dog-buenos-aires
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

You can’t top this

But a trip to Top It is not just for the pious. Not only is the frozen yogurt guilt free, it’s also delicious. There are only two flavors – original and a seasonal fruit flavor (e.g. peach or passion fruit) – but, as the name Top It suggests, the variety comes from the choice of toppings. Choose three or four revelations or the yogurt churning machine and then decide what you want on top. There are more than 20 different options, including fresh mango, kiwi, strawberry and chopped nuts.

Top-it-Palermo-Buenos-Aires
[Photo credit: from the Top It Facebook page]

Frozen Yoghurt delivery

You can order your frozen yogurt to take-away, enjoy the air conditioned coolness and eat inside the air conditioned shop in Palermo Soho with its bright seating area and shiny perspex covered walls, or bask in the sun on one of the pavement deckchairs. For those days when leaving the house is unappealing, there is also a delivery service. Top It has proved so popular since it opened in October 2010 that it is now available in two branches of sandwich joint Open Kitchen on Reconquista 620 and 1054 in the city center and there is talk of further branches. It seems like frozen yogurt is fast becoming the city’s newest (and fairly virtuous) addiction.

For more about Top It take a look at this post on the BSAS ARGENTINA blog.

Location of Top It in Palermo Soho

Top It Frozen Yogurt, Gorriti 4721 (near corner with Malabia), Palermo Soho

Telephone: 4833 2260,  Website: http://topit.com.ar/

Arkakao Gelato, Buenos Aires

February 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Classy ice-cream for discerning customers

arkakao-recoleta-icecream

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Arkakao is the smartest ice-cream joint in town. Here your gelato (Italian ice cream) will be delivered to your table by an elegantly dressed waiter complete with white starched shirt and waistcoat, who afterwards will present you with a tiny towel that expands when wet with which to wipe your sticky hands. Chandeliers complete the ice-cream boutique experience. This is a place for people who take gelato eating and afternoon tea drinking seriously. Somewhere to keep in mind for a treat for most of us, but possibly an ordinary afternoon outing for certain well-heeled Recoleta residents.

arkakao-italian-gelato-buenos-aires

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Authentic Italian gelato in Buenos Aires

Arkakao is the Argentinean version of Kakao, a luxury ice cream parlor, chocolateria and tea salon in Aosta, northern Italy. The Italian owners of Kakao decided to open a branch in Rosario, the home of Argentina’s largest Italian community and now they have a third store, the Buenos Aires branch on Quintana 188, in the heart of Recoleta.

The ice cream is additive and preservative free and made fresh everyday, so you’ll never be served yesterday’s leftovers (which begs the question, what happens to the leftovers? Could this be the best place to work in the city?).  Aside from the dairy products used, many of the ingredients are imported from Italy, which, according to Arkakao is the country where the best hazelnuts (Piemonte), pistachios (Sicily) and chocolate (Torino) are produced.

arkakao-gelato-buenos-aires

[Photo credit: Arkakaó Facebook page]

Recoleta Flavor conundrum

Just when you thought you were finally getting the hang of the names of all those flavors in Spanish, in Arkakao the gelato is labelled in Italian. If you get really confused, use it as an excuse to taste your way around the different flavours on offer. As well as cups and cones, you can order Banana Split, fruit cup, coffee, hot chocolate and ice cream frappe made with any flavor you like. But if the choice on offer overwhelms you, take our advice and go for chocolate orange – sublime.

Arkakao Gelato, Quintana 188 (near corner with Montevideo), Recoleta

Website: www.arkakao.com.ar, Telephone: 4813-7585

National Museum of Fine Arts

February 8, 2013 by · 2 Comments 

A day of art and history at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

National Fine Arts Museum Argentina

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA), or the National Museum of Fine Arts, should be a destination on the route of every traveler who comes to Buenos Aires (the only reason to miss it would be if you absolutely hate art, history, and free things!).

The building is as pink as the Casa Rosada, and houses an impressive collection of Argentine and international art.  On the ground floor, you’ll find pieces spanning from the Middle ages through the 20th Centrury.  Keep your eyes open for classic European artists like Rembrandt van Rijn and El Greco.  The Bellas Artes museum also hosts a breathtaking body of impressionist and post-impressionist artwork, with paintings and drawings from almost every one of this movement’s heavy hitters; you’ll find Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Eduardo Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, and Camille Pissarro all represented in one wing, plus an additional room of drawings by Degas and Paul Cezanne.

Argentina’s history in brush strokes

The museum originally opened 1896 and was originally located in the Galerias Pacifico (now a shopping mall & cultural center). When you first enter through the main doors, you’ll see a lovely plaster sculpture of two lovers, titled Dulce Francia (Lancelot et Genevieve), by the Argentine artist Pablo Curatella Manes.  Behind this piece is a room dedicated to the art popular with Argentina’s aristocracy at the the time of the Museum’s opening: Pompier.  These sculptures and paintings depict idyllic nudes, most of which are mythological figures.  Also on display is a collection of French furniture of the 18th century popular with the porteña elite, as Paris was considered their “second home” up until World War one.

While all the aforementioned, European art gives an interesting back-story to Argentine life and culture, don’t miss the wing dedicated to Argentine artists!  Here you’ll find Republican artwork of the mid-1800’s, including imposing portraits of the caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas and his daughter, as well as some wonderful portrayals of Gaucho life.  For those interested in military history, the museum contains a collection of meticulously detailed paintings by Cándido López.  These portray different battles in the War of the Triple Alliance, in which López himself fought and even lost his right arm (he later learned to paint with his left).  He was known to outline these works on the battle field, but their emotive colors are the result of painting later by memory.

Bellas Artes Indian Raid painting
[Photo credit: Sebastián-Dario’s Fickr account/ /CC BY-NC 2.0]

Tucked away behind the room with Lopez’s battle scenes, is a small room of Argentine art of the end of the 19th century.  Here you’ll find some striking  paintings and sculptures, which mark the beginning of a particular national artistic cannon.  One is Angel Della Valle’s provocative painting La Vuelta del Malón (The Return of the Raid), which displays a group of malevolent Indigenous men on horseback, complete with an unconscious, semi-naked white woman in tow.  This piece was painted after General Roca’s infamous Conquest of the Desert, a military campaign by the Argentine government which effectively wiped out most of the indigenous population in Patagonia and is reflective of the debate of “Civilization vs. Barbarism” which dominated Argentine culture of the 1800’s.  Another notable piece is Sin Pan  y Sin Trabajo (No Bread and No Work) by Ernesto de la Cárcova which depicts a young couple sitting at an empty table, the man’s ax lying idle, and the woman nursing a baby to her emaciated chest, a powerful critique of turn-of-‘the-century industrialization and modernization.

Finally, the first floor of the MNBA holds a wonderful collection of Argentine art of the 20th century.  Here the artistic canvas of Argentina’s history truly shines, as a unique cultural aesthetic emerges and artists struggle with themes of dictatorship, Peronism, civil unrest, progress, and finally, democracy.  Unfortunately, the first floor of the Bellas Artes museum is currently closed for construction as of mid 2012, with no scheduled date of completion.  Bellow is a detail from the painting Primeros Pasos by Argentine great Antonio Berni, just one of the many exciting pieces to check out once the first floor reopens.

Berni Bellas Artes woman sewing
[Photo credit: Sebastián-Dario’s Fickr account/ /CC BY-NC 2.0]

Location, location, location! High Culture in Recoleta

Recoleta Parque Esculturas

The Fine Arts Museum is located in an ideal area: the cultural epicenter of Recoleta.  To get the best out of this region of the city, we recommend you take our Recoleta Walking Tour, which highlights the rich and famous’s extravagant tombs in the Recoleta Cemetery, as well as the places they loved while living in BA’s upscale neighborhoods of Retiro and Recoleta.  

After touring and checking out the MNBA, have a drink at La Biela cafe, shop the ferias in San Martin de Tours plaza on weekends, then check out a free exhibit at the Recoleta Cultural Center.  After you’ve strolled through the latest in design in the Buenos Aires Design Mall, cross over the bridge covered with murals, which will lead you to the neoclassical building of University of Buenos Aires’s Law School. 

Continuing up Figeroa Alcorta, you’ll hit the wonderful Florais Mechanica mechanical flower sculpture, which opens all day, and “wilts” at nightfall.  Cross back across the Plaza Justo park, but watch out for the runners and people exercising on funky looking gym equipment!  This park also holds an interesting collection of sculptures and is an ideal spot to take a seat and reflect on artwork’s importance in Argentine culture.  Check out even more ideas of what to do in Recoleta on our Recoleta page.

For more information on the current exhibits and the history of the Bellas Artes museum, check out the MNBA website.  And read other travelers’ reviews of the Museum on TripAdvisor.

Location and hours of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Avenida Del Libertador 1473, between Av. Pueyrredon and Dr. Luis Agote, Recoleta

Free Admission
Tuesday to Friday 12:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday 9:30 am to 8:30 pm
Closed Mondays

Website: http://www.mnba.org.ar/english.php

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