MASA Club de Tacos – Private Taco Dinner

September 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Inventive Mexican food in an intimate setting

review of Mexican food Argentina

[Photo courtesy MASA Club de Tacos Facebook Page]

When I tell Argentines that what I miss most about the US (other than family) is the Mexican food, they don’t get it.  You see while famous for its beef and wines, Argentina is not known for its food diversity – and forget about spicy foods.  Growing up in Arizona, Mexican food formed the nucleus of my diet, and continued to do so when I moved to California and basically survived on burritos.

So when I heard about a new Mexican-inspired puertas cerradas restaurant in Buenos Aires, I knew I had to check it out. I’ve scoured Palermo for good Mexican food joints, but I usually end up disappointed and nostalgic. Somehow spending 300 pesos on mediocre tacos and leaving without flaming lips, having doused my food in the “extra spicy” sauce, feels traitorous to my roots. I figured a fellow West Coast yanqui would get it.

Simple, tasty, and creative Mexican-inspired cuisine

Kevin, the creator of MASA Club de Tacos, gets it. MASA is named after the heart of Mexican cuisine, the masa or dough used to make tortillas. In Argentine Spanish, however, masa while still meaning dough, is also a slang term for a cool person. Dinners are hosted every Thursday night in a residential home alternating between Belgrano and Almagro. Guests typically reserve in small groups, and the mixed company provides a perfect opportunity to meet new people — especially Argentines! The experience feels more like a warm dinner among friends than a private restaurant, and the price scheme adds to that feeling: each guest pays what they deem to be the value of the meal, and brings their own beverages.

cooks MASA taco club

I arrived with my Argentine partner last Thursday at the Almagro MASA location, and was immediately made welcome by Kevin, a laid-back and friendly California native. He lead us to the kitchen where his quirky and fabulous right-hand-lady Evy was busy with prep work. We chatted about Mexican food in BA and the US as the cooks prepared appetizers. When the rest of the guests arrived, a family from Bahia Blanca and a few young Argentines who work in the tech sector, we settled into the living room, discussing the emerging kite surfing scene on Argentina’s Atlantic coast.

Dinner is served!

While we chatted with our fellow guests, Kevin and Evy served us baskets of fried avocados and a creamy jalapeño salsa. To my delight, the salsa sent steam zipping through my nasal cavities! The Argentines seemed a little overwhelmed by the spice, and warned me against dousing the palta slices, but I just couldn’t get enough. The avocado was warm and creamy, without being over fried. Delicious.

Buenos Aires Mexican food

To avoid gobbling up all the slices on the table, I ventured to the kitchen to find the Negra Modelo I brought with me. With the new Daft Punk album and some classic Outkast tracks pumping in the background, the cooks were preparing the first dish. I asked about the concept of restaurant, and Kevin explained it as an elevated spin on Mexican street tacos. He founded the project after working on a local website with a cultural agenda, with the ideal that going out in Buenos Aires shouldn’t have to be exclusive to those who can afford a pricey meal. That’s how he came up with the unique, pay-what-you-can price: it makes the hip closed-door phenomenon accessible.

I scuttled back to the table as they plated the salad, an absolutely divine grilled cabbage salad with mango, tomato and a creamy vinaigrette. The cabbage was perfectly grilled to eliminate bitterness but still be crunchy, and my boyfriend has been begging for grilled cabbage since. Peppered with mango slices, the salad was mildly sweet but still light and refreshing.

Grilled cabbage Mexican salad

“Don’t judge your taco by its price” -Hunter S. Thompson

As we awaited the main dish, our fellow guests told us about an application they invented called Cook App which allows you to search puertas cerradas restaurants in Buenos Aires. It’s like a go-to spot to find different venues on the lively underground restaurant scene.

MASA club tacos closed doors restaurant

And then came the main event: two tacos filled with pork carnitas with onion and cilantro, and chicken slow cooked in honey, jalapeño salsa, and blueberry juice, both served on homemade corn tortillas. The tortillas were the best I’ve eaten in Argentina; they were light and not overwhelmingly corn-y (as corn tortillas often can be), with a perfect touch of griddled flavor. Both meat fillings were delectable, and the pollo (chicken) was particularly juicy. The tacos were served with another salsa, this time made with the Peruvian Locoto chili, and I doused my tacos with the two spicy spreads to the horror of the Argentines. Once again, the tacos delightfully blended sweet and savory flavours.

Swooning in a taco-induced reverie, we cleaned the juice off our hands and discussed the spectacular tortilla masa. The strawberry cupcakes came right at the perfect time and perfect closure for the pallate. Again, these were not too sweet, and the cake itself was spongy and exuded fresh strawberry goodness.

Strawberry cupcake desert

While the family had to leave early, we stayed and talked with Evy and Kevin. We laughed about Argentine and US American cultural differences, and Kevin even admitted that he made corn tortillas since he knew I was coming. Argentines, apparently, are much easier to serve Mexican food. “They pretty much love anything we serve them,” noted Evy, while those of us from the US, on the other hand, have lots of expectations about Mexican food. True enough. Overall, I felt the dinner combined traditional Mexican ingredients into fun, and unique dishes.

Our hosts regaled us late into the night with stories about demanding clients, the joys of menu planning, and what it was like serving the rock group The Black Keys.  The MASA Club de Tacos is a unique, friendly experience.

If you’d like to reserve a spot at the next MASA Taco dinner, find further details on the MASA Club del Taco website, or visit their Facebook page. Vegetarians and those with diet restrictions, never fear! The MASA team is willing to accommodate to your requests. Read  more reviews of the restaurant on My Beautiful Air or The Argentine Independent, and happy eating!

La Francisca Deli

February 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Charming deli in Palermo Soho

La Francisca - Feria de Campo

Palermo hosts a bevy of restaurants, but few sandwich spots. For the shopping crowd, it may appear difficult to find a quick, tasty bite to eat to fuel your feet to the next boutique while you lug your mounting collection of bags. Plus, you may want to save your budget for the next store and not indulge in a time-consuming lunch.

Near the corner of Malabia and Niceto Vega, a small, colorfully decorated window welcome sandwich-lovers to one of the newest, and best kept, secrets in Palermo. La Francisca looks like a typical fiambreria, offering typical cuts of cured meats and fine cheeses. As you may see, La Francisca’s sandwiches make it more of a sandwicheria – real word in Spanish – than a meat and cheese store.

Opened about two years ago, La Francisca is run by a quartet of lovely ladies, who like to practice their English! Last time I went, I tried ordering in Spanish but they kept replying in broken English. I caved and reverted back to English.

Welcome to La Francisca deli!

A great sandwich spot for shoppers

When I mentioned I was from New York, they suggested I try their hot pastrami sandwich. Yes! Finally, I found hot pastrami in Buenos Aires. Although they made comparisons to Katz’s delicatessen in New York, which offers arguably the best pastrami sandwich in the world, this sandwich was quite different. But not in a bad way. In hindsight, I realized I didn’t want a gigantic, melted-cheese sandwich that would leave me bloated the rest of the day. La Francisca’s pastrami was wonderful, included all the same ingredients of a regular pastrami sandwich, didn’t overwhelm and put a smile on my face for my walk home.

A great sandwich in Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires

Despite the small space, any visitor can immediately see that the owners have packed plenty of character into the place. If you have to wait, there is a huge red lounge chair next to the cashier. They sell an artesanal (microbrew) beer brand “Boj,” along with a small, but good collection of wines. Several high-quality jams, sauces and spices dot the shelves on the walls too. The price tags and descriptions are hand written. An outdoor bench lets patrons enjoy sunshine while nibbling on a mid-day sandwich.

The sandwiches are about a foot long, and there’s plenty of options. My favorite is their proscuitto (jamon crudo), brie, dried tomatoes (soaked in olive oil) and arugula on a French baguette. Other sandwiches include salami, ham, pancetta and other cured meats. La Francisca also has vegetarian options, such as their eggplant-tomato-arugula sandwich. Each delectable item is prepared well, and isn’t sloppy or greasy. The owners also seem unaware of their lucrative location in Palermo Soho because the menu is very reasonably priced – a foreign concept to a boutique-filled neighborhood.

Although La Francisca’s sandwiches make it my go-to lunch place, the service almost outdoes the food. The ladies always make me feel welcome. I always find some new detail inside – old golf clubs, a dusty guitar – that add to its abundance of charm. La Francisca is a classic, local deli with Argentine character.

Al fresco lunch at La Francisca, Palermo Soho

Where is La Francisca?

La Francisca, Niceto Vega 4712 (near the corner with Malabia), Palermo Soho

Telephone: 4771-0172; La Francisca Facebook Page

Open Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 8pm

California Burrito Co – CBC

December 4, 2006 by · 12 Comments 

***UPDATE: The California Burrito Co has since closed down in Buenos Aires. It does however still have an outlet in Argentina in the city of Rosario, and several others in the countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. We’ll leave this post here for posterity, in case they ever decide to come back to their roots in BA. You can read more about the company on their website.*** 

Burritos in Buenos Aires?

California Burrito Co - CBC, Buenos Aires

Yes, that’s right, Buenos Aires – the city that spicy food forgot – actually boasts a burrito restaurant whose efforts do not fall flat. The California Burrito Co, CBC for short, is spicing up the lives of residents and visitors alike. Word of mouth amongst Yanqui expats and resident food bloggers like Saltshaker (read here – Wrap it Up! In a tortilla please) have put CBC on the map as the real deal in your search for an authentic burrito in BA.

As a quick aside, for those of you who don’t know Saltshaker, he writes a food-themed blog with excellent, regular reviews of restaurants in Buenos Aires, in addition to recipes (he is also a chef by trade – with his own ‘closed doors’ restaurant called Casa Saltshaker) and his thoughts on life in BA. He really knows his stuff when it comes to food, so a Saltshaker thumbs-up for a restaurant means you are in for an excellent meal.

So if you are tiring of the usual Argentine menu suspects, head down to the city center and try your luck with Cal-Mex fast food.

California Burrito Co Counter

Yes, that’s right, Burritos in Buenos Aires

The restaurant is very clean, sleek and modern looking, and based on the pedestrian street of Lavalle in the bajo (low, sloping down to the river) area of Buenos Aires City Center. The set-up is as follows: you head up to the counter and order your combo:  select either a California burrito, a fajita burrito (has peppers & onions instead of beans), a veggie burrito, or 2 tacos (each combo includes a beverage). Then you proceed to select your meat (grilled steak, grilled chicken, beef strips or braised pork) if not going veggie; decide on your extras from a list of rice, beans, cheese, salads, sour cream and guacamole; and finally your sauce, including the spicy rojo, and the even spicier fuego, in addition to some tamer offerings.

It’s all put together in front of your hungry eyes, wrapped up in foil and chucked into a basket. Pay the man at the register and you’re off to your table to wolf it down with you bare hands, making a lot of lovely juicy mess in the process.

Yes indeed, a true BA Burrito.

Pictured is the California Burrito, with chicken, rice, all the extras that would fit, and the spicy rojo sauce. These burritos are huge, very tasty, and satisfying. The sauce is fairly spicy, and they even offer one more step up on their salsa spectrum – fuego (fire). Cool your tounge with a mineral water, fountain soft-drink or pay a little extra to indulge in a Negra Modelo or Corona beer with a slice of lime. CBC also occasionally holds Happy Hour promotions where the Margaritas are two-for-one. Not bad.

A Burrito, in Buenos Aires!

Just like Burritos in the US, only in Buenos Aires

CBC Buenos Aires StaffAmerican expats will tell you that California Burrito Co is a little bit like Chipotle in the US, which apparently is a good thing, and the two, they say, are on a par in the quality stakes.

The staff (see right) in CBC are also very friendly, a mix of the American owners and Argentine staff, and they do an excellent job of packaging up your burrito in front of you, advising you on what extras they have, and I am sure, for visitors to Buenos Aires, that there would always be an English speaker on hand to help out if you are feeling a little lost trying to order.

They are famous too! The Associated Press covered the three American CBC owners in a feature earlier this year, entitled ‘Foreign Entrepreneurs Spice Up Argentina’, which is worth a quick read, and also profiles some other expats making their way into the Argentine world of business.

Oh, and CBC also do salads for those who want to shed the flour tortilla. But don’t let health concerns get in the way of your Burrito.

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