You don't have to be crazy to open a restaurant in Buenos Aires, but it probably helps. Galloping inflation (expected to reach an eye-watering 30 percent by the end of 2014) has left many restaurateurs facing an unpleasant dilemma: Do they pass on their rising costs to their customers, or take the hit themselves in the hope that something will turn up? Owners don't scrawl their menus on chalkboards because it's cute; they do it so that they can adjust their prices every fortnight without going back to the printers.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. The economic and entrepreneurial turmoil has created a restaurant scene of uncommon dynamism. Palermo Viejo, in particular, is a seedbed for new culinary ideas, from the inspired (like the tapas-style accompaniments at La Cabrera's steak house) to the dumb (a place that figured it would be cool and lucrative to serve everything wrapped in aluminium foil; it wasn't, and it wasn't). Eating out in Buenos Aires can be many things, but dull is rarely one of them.
Calling itself a cross between a general store, restaurant, wine cellar and rotisserie, this… whatever-it-is occupies a quiet street corner in Núñez. Split over three levels, the handsome interior mixes hardwood furnishings, azulejo tiles and raw concrete. The menu presents classic local ingredients—salchicha parrillera, for example, a spiral sausage usually cooked on the backyard grill but here mounted en brioche—in fresh ways, and the excellent wines are sold with very little markup.
You can get, and then regret, a hot dog at almost any kiosko in Buenos Aires – just look out for signs saying pancho or superpancho. Garden-variety dogs are fished out of a pan of tepid water and slathered in commercial mustard, but at DOGG they come fresh off the grill, topped with the sauce of your choice (try the guacamole). This is fast food done right.
Once you get past the disappointment that it’s not a branch of Thomas Keller’s culinary empire, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at this glamorous new Palermo hotspot. Tempting options on the three-course set menu include tender grilled octopus and an earthy wild mushroom risotto. Finish with a perfect banana parfait. Chef and co-owner Emiliano di Nisi is a rising star, so watch your back, Keller.
I once asked Gonzalo Aramburu what he would serve Nelson Mandela for supper and he replied, “Sweetbreads, cooked two ways.” That sounded pretty brave—but no more so than opening two fine-dining restaurants in gritty Constitución. This latest endeavor offers Mandela-worthy dishes such as suckling pig cooked sous-vide and pheasant stuffed with chestnuts, honey and pearl barley.
Astor: Manduque Porteño
In Lunfardo, the old patois of Buenos Aires, “manduque” means “nosh.” But don’t expect to stuff your face at Antonio Soriano’s latest venture, even if you opt for the eight-course tasting menu. The emphasis instead is on small plates and striking flavor combos, with dishes like black pudding tempura, rib-eye steak in a chocolate-infused reduction, and venison with beets and lentils.