Cumana Empanadas

May 26, 2007 by · 7 Comments 

In search of the perfect empanada in Buenos Aires…

Crayon silliness at Cumana

It’s tough to try to find the ‘best’ empanadas in Buenos Aires (just ask Saltshaker). Primarily because there are so many different places to try them at, and of course many different types of empanada from across the different regions of Argentina, and even the rest of Latin America. At Cumana in Recoleta, the empanadas are very good, are of excellent value, and your empanada craving will be properly satiated.

Empanadas, vino tinto and… colorful crayons?

At Cumana, the empanadas are not the only fun to be had. As shown in the photo at the top of this post, colorful crayons are available for children and grown-up kids alike, to be used on the paper tablecloths. This of course inevitably leads to silliness such as chalking down your order on the table in front of you. Still, if your Spanish pronunciation is a little rusty, it definitely beats plain old pointing at the items on the menu that you want to order.

As well as creating this fun juvenile air with the crayons, the general atmosphere at Cumana is also buzzing, busy and brash. The tables and seats are fairly small and packed in tight, and the place always seems to be full at both lunch and dinner sittings, so it is not a place to go for a quiet, relaxed or intimate conversation. Instead, Cumana is there for traditional Argentine food in a traditional energetic, rustic Argentine setting.

Cumana Empanada Restaurant, Recoleta

OK, so the service is pretty slow, but this is something forgivable in Buenos Aires, because it really is the norm here. You just have to adjust to it, and change your expectations accordingly: i.e. let go and relax, there’s no rush.

But enough about the service and atmosphere, and on to the main reason you’re here. To sample…

Cumana’s Empanadas

Empanadas, delicious empanadas

As you can see, the empanadas at Cumana look pretty tasty. They should be properly browned in places on the outside, and even slightly burned here and there. It just adds to the flavor a little. So Cumana delivers on that front.

For an introducion to Cumana empanadas, below you will find a more detailed description of a few of the more popular fillings and flavors:

  • Lomo Picante – Chopped lomo (tenderloin) steak in a mildly spicy, meaty sauce. This is a great one to start with. It’s not as spicy as the name suggests, but the more subtle flavors of a frankly delicious sauce to come to the fore. And the chopped lomo steak easily beats the standard minced beef from your average empanada de carne.
  • Humita – Creamed corn. Cumana’s version outdoes most local attempts by using a lot of corn, and just the right amount of tasty white cream sauce, and so their Humita gets the thumbs up.
  • Jamon y Queso – Ham and cheese. Apart from beef, jamon y queso is the next most common empanada filling you see in Buenos Aires. It is a basic, rarely spectacular empanada filling, and to be honest, quite hard to mess up. Cumana does a respectable version, with a good amount of ham, which sometimes can be a problem.
  • Choclo, Calabaza y Queso – Corn, squash and cheese. A great combination of fillings that really work wonders together. Not a traditional mix, but one of Cumana’s creations that really make their selection a step above the rest.

So, all in all, above average empanada fillings with a couple of stand outs. And, although fairly small as compared to their counterparts at El Sanjuanino, they offer good value. Cumana’s empanadas are cooked in a traditional large wood-burning oven, as shown in this picture:

The Empanadas in Cumana are baked in a traditional stone oven

Other Traditional Argentine Dishes at Cumana

Cumana also offers up many other great regional dishes from around the rest of Argentina and Latin America. Their Locro, Mondongo and Tamales are all very tasty. In fact, in addition to enjoying the same empanada fillings at Cumana, Saltshaker also speaks very highly of their Locro.

Gnocchis at Cumana

Also very traditional in the city of Buenos Aires are noquis (gnocchi). Pictured above are noquis con crema de tomate y albahaca (gnocchi in a creamy tomato sauce with basil). They are cooked in a clay pot in the same oven as the empanadas, and with lots of cheese in the creamy tomato sauce, which produces a lovely crunchy top, and a delicious gooey creamy, cheesy mess underneath. Simply spectacular.

Share the goodness

Go with a few friends, order a bunch of different empanadas (especially the delicious lomo picante and choclo, calabaza y queso versions), maybe a few other different traditional Argentine dishes such as the Locro, and share the lot. You will eat extremely well for very few pesos. Wash it all down with the house vino tinto (red wine) and your Cumana experience is complete.

Location of Cumana Empanadas

Rodriguez Pena 1149, between Arenales & Santa Fe, Recoleta

Tel: 4813 9207

Morelia, Palermo Hollywood

March 2, 2007 by · 7 Comments 

Morelia is located in Palermo HollywoodPizza abounds in Buenos Aires

When reviewing the restaurant scene in Buenos Aires, you will certainly happen upon a number of pizza restaurants, and the reason is simple: People here LOVE pizza.

If you do too, then Buenos Aires is a great place to be. Pizzerias like Guerrin in the City Center Banchero in La Boca and Piola in Recoleta, and each has all it’s different styles and attractions. However, Morelia Pizzeria of Palermo creates it’s own style and ambiance that adds even more flavor to the already long list of notable Buenos Aires pizzerias.

Morelia’s Pizza a la Parrilla

In short, pizza a la parrilla means pizza cooked on a grill. A parrilla is the traditional Argentine grill that is usually used for cooking basically an entire cow’s worth of meat, either outside at a gathering of family and/or friends, or in one of the many parrilla restaurants that are so common in Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina. But in this case, at Morelia and other similar pizzerias, it is a wafer-thin pizza crust that is placed on the parrilla/grill, topped, and warmed through in a matter of moments. The technique is explained in this post by Saltshaker (which also happens to include a review of Morelia). Head to Palermo Hollywood to try it out for yourself…

Morelia Pizza Restaurant and Lounge

Morelia is apparently a lounge in addition to being a pizza restaurant. This is the kind of thing you come to expect in the ice cool area of Palermo Hollywood, and the lounge part is explained by the addition of a few sofas with coffee tables near the entrance and the slightly lounge bar vibe you get from an occasional in-house DJ. No actual lounge music played though, for the record. Ignore the music, ignore the lounge (whatever that is), most certainly ignore the Palermo Hollywood pretensions, and just head to the back, grab a comfy booth seat if you can, and eat some pizza. That’s why you’re here.

Morelia does a fine pizza a la parrilla

The Pizza

The pizza may seem overwhelming in the previous picture, and in diameter it certainly is, but the thinness of the crust means appearances are a little deceptive. This is actually a Pizza Chica, which is slightly confusing because it is their middle size on the menu (flanked by individual and grande) and meant for 2 people. The toppings? Pictured above is a Calabresa, which in addition to the usual suspects of mozzarella, tomato sauce and green olives, features slices of calabresa sausage (a bit like chorizo, only with a faint hint of spiciness) and some strips of red and green peppers. And it goes down like a charm. The pastas are also of top quality, and the melt-in-your-mouth gnocchis are pictured below.

My fiancee is addicted to Noquis! Here they are once again at Morelia...

Palermo Hollywood vs. Las Cañitas

Morelia has two locations in Buenos Aires, with both areas having pretensions of being extremely hip. The Las Cañitas restaurant is the original, and is also a fair amount larger than the Palermo Hollywood one, due to it’s two full floors. However, both the food and the service at the Palermo Hollywood location are generally better. Wherever you go, if you order pizza a la parrilla at least you know you will not have to wait long… it comes lightning fast because the thin crust takes no time at all to cook. And the surroundings in both restaurants have a pleasant, subtle design, providing for a very comfortable meal.

The bar in Morelia, Palermo Hollywood

Location of Morelia, Buenos Aires

Humboldt 2005, corner of Nicaragua, Palermo Hollywood
[Other branches: Baez 260 (Las Cañitas)]

Tel: 4772-5979

Pizza Piola

February 11, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

Outside Pizzeria Piola, City CenterAn International Pizza Phenomenon

Piola is an international chain of pizzerias, originally hailing from Treviso, Italy, but now with many restaurants in the USA, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. However, it seems as they spread far and wide, they didn’t lose much of the supposed stereotypical Italian arrogance on arriving in Buenos Aires. Here’s a little example from the Piola website:

“Piola opened in Argentina in 1993, straight from Treviso, Italy. It revolutionized the Buenos Aires food scene to the point where the local press talks about pre and post Piola eras.

A little dramatic, yes, but it’s all well and good that they are so sure about the groundbreaking quality of their food. Read on to see if Piola’s claims are strong, or if their exaggerations are nothing more than just that.

Stylishly Decorated Interior, Stylishly Slow Wait Staff

The surroundings and atmosphere are certainly not disappointing at Piola – it’s clearly hip, trendy, cool. Based in up-market Recoleta, pop-art adorns the walls, the long thin entrance bar is very stylish, there is a lovely little courtyard out the back (see picture below) – perfect for summer evening meals with friends, and of course, many of the thin young waiters and waitresses are as pleasant to look at as the surroundings.

The nice little courtyard at the back of Piola Pizzeria

Well, the wait staff had to be hired for something, because they certainly don’t do much waiting. The diners are the ones that have to wait at Piola. Service here can be painfully slow, starting with waiting to be acknowledged when seated, and continuing all the way through the night to the long-awaited arrival of the bill. Even by Buenos Aires standards, service is very slow and impersonal at Piola, so take that into concern when planning the rest of your evening.

The Pizza at Piola

My Quattro Formaggi Pizza. All miiiiiiine...

Above is the small Quattro Formaggi, representative of  the pizza at Piola which is, as you would expect, more traditionally Italian than the Argentine versions you get in most pizzerias in Buenos Aires (not that the Argentine versions are bad, try the pizza at Guerrin and Banchero for a more local style). Whereas those Argentine pizza versions are big on mozzarella and fluffy dough, Piola does a more understated Italian style (‘less is more’ for the toppings) that also goes down very nicely indeed.

It is pizza a la piedra, in that it is baked directly on the stone (piedra) floor of the oven (which just about can be seen in the next picture below, behind the chef) and a thin crust version of this style, although it is soft rather than crispy.

Now that's what every Pizzeria chef should be doing in a photo!

Piola Argentina: Nice Food, But a Little Pricey

Yes, the pizza is very nice, but it is a little on the caro (expensive) side. A small pizza for one may cost twice as much than many grande (large) pizzas at local spots. Also on the menu are pastas, including a nice but simple affair called Spaghetti Alla Crudaiola (fresh pasta, tomato, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, basil and parmesan shavings), as well as coffee and desserts – all a bit overpriced. Nevertheless, it must be noted that BA blogger Robert says that the tiramasu at Piola is ‘to die for’ (see the 1st comment of that post, by Robert), so it may be worth a taste.

Location of Pizza Piola, Buenos Aires

Libertad 1078, between Av. Santa Fe & Marcelo T de Alvear, Recoleta

Tel: 4812 0690,  Website: http://www.piola.it/

Pizzeria Guerrin

January 7, 2007 by · 25 Comments 

The Best Pizza in Buenos Aires?

Sign outside Guerrin Pizzeria

Pizzeria Guerrin is regarded as one of the best traditional Pizzerias in Buenos Aires, and definitely lives up to its reputation. This is a major accolade in a city where Italian food is so popular and widespread, due to the history of Italian immigration that provides the back bone for much of porteño culture. To read a little more about the Italian effect on culture here, check out articles on Banchero Pizzeria and Caminito, both in the barrio of La Boca, which is traditionally the main Italian community of BA.

But for now it’s all about Guerrin, and its fantastic Pizza, so read on to find out why this restaurant is a must visit if you are ever in Buenos Aires.

Moscato, Pizza y Faina

Something unique to Buenos Aires is the tradition of eating a slice of faina, which is basically a very thin chickpea-based pizza, on top of a slice of standard pizza, kind of acting as a second crust on the top, making a sandwich of the cheese, sauce and toppings inbetween. At first, this may sound strange, but is in fact quite a logical arrangement…

Pizza con faina in Guerrin

You see, Pizza in Buenos Aires can be a lovely, sloppy, cheesy affair. Placing the slice of Faina on top, as seen above, helps to neutralize things by acting as a sponge for all of the gooey mess. And it just seems to taste right, somehow. Why didn’t they think of this in Italy?

To make things even more traditional, the pizza and faina should be washed down by a glass of inexpensive moscato; a very sweet, white dessert wine. Porteños have indulged in this eating ritual for years, and again, it just feels like the right thing to do when sitting in a pizzeria on Avenida Corrientes.

Table Upstairs at Guerrin, with Moscato!

Perfect Pizza at Guerrin

Of course, the tradition would be pretty pointless if the pizza don’t hold up in the quality stakes. Luckily, at Guerrin, it more than delivers:

Pizza Especial con jamon y morrones at Guerrin Pizzeria

The pizza pictured above is a Pizza Especial Guerrin grande, the house pizza. This is pretty much standard argentine fare for a pizza, with slices of ham and long thin strips of red pepper, in addition to the usual sauce, cheese and olives. Highly recommended, especially when joined by a few slices of faina and washed down with moscato, to really get you into the traditional spirit of things here in Buenos Aires.

Location of Pizzeria Guerrin

Av. Corrientes 1368, between Uruguay & Talcahuano, City Center

Tel: 4371-8141

Banchero Pizzeria

November 30, 2006 by · 11 Comments 

Pizza is a serious business in Buenos Aires

Banchero - Creators of Pizza!?

“Today a lot of places make Pizza. We created it…”

Buenos Aires was largely built on huge amounts of European immigration around the turn of the 20th century, with the large majority coming from Italy, not Spain, as many would believe (they came in second). In fact, according to a Yale essay on Argentine Immigration:

“Between 1857 and 1958 the main source of immigrants to Argentina were Italy and Spain accounting for 46 and 33 percent, respectively, of the total. The rest of the immigrants were made up of different nationalities, including French, German, British, and Irish.” This amounted to almost 3 million Italians in that period, most of which arrived in the massive rush between 1880-1916.

The Italians and La Boca

Most of the Italians arrived into the port of La Boca, and they liked it so much, they stayed there. La Boca has since then been the main Italian community in Buenos Aires. In fact, the famous football team that plays here, Boca Juniors, is known affectionately as the “Xeneizes,” which means “the Genoese” (people of Genoa, Italy), in an old Genoese dialect.

What do Italians love to eat? Pizza, pasta and ice cream. All of which, of course, are abundantly available throughout Buenos Aires… some of it, arguably (and controversially), better than back in the homeland. And where better to sample Italian food in Buenos Aires, than in the main Italian community here, La Boca…

The history of Banchero Pizza

Banchero Pizzeria, La BocaDon Agustin Banchero arrived from Genoa to Buenos Aires in 1893, to try his luck in Argentina. He soon became one of the first people to sell Pizza in Buenos Aires, starting a little bakery with his son Juan in calle Olivarria, where the “Fugazza Con Queso” was born! (Fugazza was a Genoese invention of a sauceless pizza topped with caramelized onions, oregano and seasoning. It tastes nicer than it sounds. Banchero added the cheese, and this version is now more widely known as the Fugazzetta).

This was surely one of the defining moments in Argentine culinary history. Pizza is that important here.

Son of a Pizza maker

Agustin’s son, the Don Juan of the Argentine Pizza world (literally, that’s his name, Don Juan Banchero), soon took over the dough mantle from his father, and on 28th March 1932 opened the traditional Pizzeria Banchero here in La Boca, which he ran with his sons Tito and Antonio.

Pizzeria Banchero soon became famous for it’s heavenly slices of pie, and yet more famous after stars like Argentine singer Tita Merello and ‘national-institution’ painter Benito Quinquela Martin began to hang out here on a regular basis.

It is still in the Banchero family, but has since ‘branched out’, adding three other locations, including a branch near the Obelisk on Av. Corrientes 1300.

But what about the Pizza?

Well, the Pizza is great. Deep dish, with loads of gooey mozzarella cheese. Pictured below is a ‘Chica Calabresa’, which is an individual sized Pizza topped with lots of mozzarella, tomato sauce, tomatoes, slices of calabresa sausage (a bit like Argentine chorizo sausage, only a little spicy, and interestingly with a faint hint of aniseed to it) and green olives.

Pizza in Banchero, La Boca

There are also cheaper options if you are with company, for example the Grande Muzzarella, will be more than enough for two people. Throw in a couple of slices of Faina, a chickpea based pie that is eaten on top of a slice of Pizza here in BA, and you are set.

A strangely eerie restaurant

Empty Pizzeria = more Pizza for me!

And the restaurant itself…? Always deserted.

It’s true that most of La Boca has a sad, run-down, ghost-town quality to it these days, aside from the small touristy area around Caminito, as a result of there being very little work on offer in this area. Banchero adds to the deserted feeling; it’s like walking into a restaurant in a seaside resort during off season – and you wonder how, or why, they are still open. Maybe it’s because they feel they have a duty to continue the family tradition of providing the highest quality Pizza to the Argentine public. Or, less romantically, maybe the city center branch is where the profits are made, with the La Boca location kept on for authenticity’s sake.

All in all, Banchero is a great place for some top quality Pizza in Buenos Aires.

Location of Banchero Pizzeria

Suarez 396, corner of Av. Almirante Brown, La Boca
[Other branches: Av. Corrientes 1300 (City Center) and Av Pueyrredon 123 (Once)]

Tel: 4301-1406

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