Buenos Aires Round Up

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You know you’ve taken an amazing vacation when you’re so relaxed you can’t even form complete sentences nor sit up straight. And that’s exactly how I feel after my trip to Buenos Aires, a city I love so very very much.  This third trip to Argentina’s capital was a bit different for me, filled with amazing traveling companions and a much more relaxed schedule. There were good meals and there were great meals. There were some duds, too. But more on that later.

Because a few of you have already emailed asking me how it went and if I have any recommendations I’m just gonna jump into this blog post. Consider it kinda scrapbooky and all over the place, ok? Oh, and I wrote a poem, too. Thank you. I love you.

»» Restaurants

Tegui «  Costa Rica 5852
Called the hottest spot currently in Palermo, this new joint is headed by the former chef of Casa Cruz Germán Martitegui. The tasting menu was great and creative but I did not take notes. I’m sorry. But I can tell you that it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve seen in quite some time. Super chic. The graffitied exterior and hyper modern outside door really made the designer in me weep. I’d certainly go back as it was one of my favorite meals in Buenos Aires.

Bahia Madero «  Alicia Moreau de Justo 430
No trip is complete without a visit to Casa Rosada and then a stroll down to Puerto Madero. It’s touristy (think Fisherman’s Wharf but not so out of control) but a great place for lunch. Bahia Madero is a great place to sit outdoors, people watch, have a glass of wine or five and enjoy some nice pasta dishes before returning to the task of sight-seeing.

Drinks at Faena «  445 Martha Salotti
Go ahead, be a lookie loo and have a few drinks in the hotel lounge. Located in Puerto Madero, it’s not in the part of town I’d want to stay in but for those business travelers seeking lux and quiet I’m sure this hits the spot. It’s really a gorgeous hotel. It’s too much for me but great to check out. I had a cocktail that tasted like an almond muffin topped with Barbasol. And I actually liked it.

Ponza «  Gorriti 5996
I know there is a shortage of seafood in Buenos Aires so I’m a bit reluctant to say this is a bad place; let’s just say it’s lackluster. While I appreciate its seafood-driven concept I’ll be the first to admit I have annoyingly high standards when it comes to fish. It was fresh, I’ll give them that. But perhaps you’ll like it when you find you just cannot eat another piece of meat.

Olsen «  5870 Gorriti
Olsen shows its wear and tear and may not be the darling it once was but in a town of beef it’s nice to have a change of pace. Great sandwiches and a perfect spot for brunch. Or just to come and drink. I love the space, I hated my bloody mary.

La Cabrera «  Cabrera 5099
Yes, it’s now completely overrun with tourists and packed to the gills, but this parrilla is worth checking out. Keep in mind that portions are insane and you’ll be best suited if you don’t eat a day before dinner.  I warned you. If you want to read more about it you can click here.

Grappa «  El Salvador 5800
Oh, I’m conflicted. The Pizza Pedant in me must go away — far, far away — for me to enjoy pizza in Argentina. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s not the kind of pizza I enjoy. But the large, freshly grilled flatbread pizzas at Grappa hit the spot on Sunday night. A bit salty with too much cheese but it proves my point: put enough prosciutto and arugula on anything and I’ll eat it completely.

El Bar del Gallego «  Bonpland 1703
I’ve written about this place before and was ecstatic to find it now has its own Facebook group. And even after all these years this joint is still one of my favorite places in the world. Even if they made fun of us over and over and over and over again. Not much in terms of variety, but is that really necessary? Ojo de bife, a few Milanesas, some quilmes. You think you actually need anything else? I’m almost embarrassed to say I’ve been here about 15 times.

Osaka «  Soler 5608
Oh, Osaka, how I wanted to like you. Especially since you were so highly recommended by sooooooo many people.  Peruvian Japanese fusion is the rage, I understand this.  But you know what? I didn’t care for it. It just wasn’t there for me in terms of flavor, sophistication and taste. And while it might be a great place for a special evening out with friends it was too expensive and too trendy with lackluster service. My deconstructed ceviche saved the evening otherwise it would have been a complete bust. Remember, I live in Los Angeles where I can get my fill of crowded trendy places every night of the week and some of the best Asian food you’ll ever have.

La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar «  Bolivar 865
From Food & Wine, May 2009: “Alejandro Diglio applies his training at Spain’s El Bulli to the bargain 10-course tasting menus in his San Telmo wine bar—with more than 70 local by-the-glass offerings.”  In my opinion there were some hits but mostly misses. That’s really all I’m going to say.

El Obrero « Caffarena 64
Nestled among the car repair shops and factories of La Boca is El Obrero, a gem filled with the working locals.  It’s the sort of restaurant that makes me cry. Framed photos and memorabilia adorn the walls but the real star is the food. We had no business ordering the insane amount of food and I’m in pain just thinking about our overindulgence but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. The tortilla de acelga, a Spanish tortilla filled with chard, was one of the best things I tasted the entire trip. And the tortilla with tomatoes and chorizo, too. And the pastas. Ok, everything. One of the absolute best restaurants in Buenos Aires, I’m telling you. But do take a cab to get there and to leave. You don’t want to wander around the neigborhood.

Standard «  Guatemala 2003
I’ve visited this place right after it opened a few years back and was happy to see that it’s still going strong. The menu has been tweaked, the lighting upped a bit, but the food here was just as delightful as before. The concept: a modern take on the venerable Argentine parrillas of the past, complete with gorgeous wood-paneled walls and waiters in retro sleek attire. Actually quite chic and tasteful and I highly recommend this spot.

Casa Saltshaker «  www.saltshaker.net
A delightful private dinner at Dan Perlman’s Casa Saltshaker was a nice change from the loud crowded restaurants of Buenos Aires. We’re all still talking about the soup and I have every intention of nagging him for a recipe, wink wink nudge nudge.

My friends + butcher shop + parrilla in our loft = two nights of dinners
So this isn’t a restaurant listing but having been completely in love with Argentina’s beef I wanted to get my hands on a few cuts and try grilling. I wanted to see how the cuts differed from what we get here, how the beef looks and feels and most importantly how it cooks differently. Grass fed from beginning to end, the beef is everything you’ve heard about and more. Completely different with the most sublime flavor.

Trattoria il Ballo del Mattone «  Gorritti 5934
I really don’t know how to describe this place. Part gallery, part bar with shows and music, part restaurant, this electic spot serves up good housemade pastas with some nice starters. Completely packed at 10pm with a gregarious crowd, the wait staff and service was delightful and we all couldn’t help but notice how friendly everyone was. We felt as if we stumbled into the space of a group of friends who decided to open a restaurant. It was a great change of pace and one of only places where we found organic Argentine wine on the menu.

La Fabrica Del Taco «  Gorritti 5062
We acted on Lisa’s twitter suggestion and headed to La Fabrica Del Taco for a quick lunch. I’m Mexican American, I’m from Texas, I like to think I have some experience in the Taco Department. Would I like it? Would I hate it? What would tacos be like down here? I’m happy to report that for the most part it was a delightful experience and one of the only place we could find anything with heat. I loved the Vulcan, a tostada with various toppings and the beans were the best thing on the menu. Dare I say I felt like I was back home for a split second? Thanks to this place I have learned to accept that Argentines do not like heat. I will no longer fight it.

Alvear Palace Brunch «  Avenida Alvear 1891
Sometimes it’s just fun to get all gussied up and head to a big fancy brunch where you’re served by waiters in white gloves. We’ve been told about the brunch at this exquisite hotel for ages and finally decided to pay a visit. I’m from the school of thought that a buffet is a buffet is a buffet but Alvear’s is far from pedestrian. Quite nice and fancy but maybe lost on this boy as I couldn’t stop flocking to the salads and raw vegetables after a week of eating in Buenos Aires. I did, however, take advantage of glasses of champagne at noon and again at 12:17, 12:42, 1:03, 1:16, 1:18, 1:40 and 1:52pm.

»» A Poem About Taxis

cab-shotThere is a beautiful dance
Of give and take
Of aggression and grace
When driving in Buenos Aires

Of filling a space
And ignoring the lines
To get you to your arrival

Bits and corpuscles
Flowing in arteries
No judgment, only speed

I’m glad I made it alive.

»» The Product That Prompted A Heated Discussion

blancaflor1File under: cultural (in)sensitivity, gone too far or not gone enough, stereotypes, no big deal, it’s a huge deal, I like her skirt, mixed emotions.

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»» You Gotta Love A Country When…

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You can find Jamon Iberico-flavored chips and snacks and entire aisles devoted to the heavenly Dulce De Leche. And you even have to ask why I keep going back?


»» The World’s Tiniest Alfajortiny-alfajor1

From the tiny dessert tower at Alvear Palace. I can’t decide if it was cute or the world’s cruelest joke. I’ll get back to you on that.

»» And Some Random Shots To Close Out An Already Random & Scatterbrained Post

We had such an excellent time and can’t wait to return.  And Marcela, a million hugs and kisses from us. I can’t wait to make that dessert!

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My New Favorite Thing: Salsa Golf

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The best part about visiting Argentina, a country so rich with culture and tradition, is that you’re bound to create new discoveries with each trip. Last week it was something as simple as tasting a condiment for the first time that sent my brain into overdrive. Salsa Golf, a pale slightly orange spread with a salmon hue that straddles the line between mayonnaise and ketchup, appeared on our table when we ordered sandwiches in one of the high rise food courts of an ultra modern shopping mall in Buenos Aires.

“Whoa! Check this out! Oh my god! Salsa Golf!” Adam screamed immediately after emptying the packet next to his small mound of papas fritas. I could completely understand his enthusiasm.

Just so you know, I’m one of those people that gladly mixes ketchup and mayonnaise for french fries. And there’s absolutely no shame in my game. Having felt as if I just discovered Creamy Nirvana Delivered From The Heavens In A Condiment Packet, I felt like I needed to get to the bottom of Salsa Golf. I started asking around Buenos Aires and checked Wikipedia as well as Dan’s blog for clarification. He says it’s known as the national condiment of Argentina (next to Chimichurri, of course) and I can certainly see why. It’s wonderful on sandwiches, hearts of palm, french fries, potato chips, and just about anything else that is at home with a creamy dip. Other than a legend no one has really identified where it gets its name and unfortunately it’s rarely seen outside of South America.

aisles-of-mayoAfter our Salsa Golf awakening we found ourselves strolling the aisles of Carrefour during an afternoon of shopping. I must say I’m happy that my traveling companions love checking out grocery stores when traveling as much as I do. At Carrefour there was an entire aisle dedicated to mayonnaise, mustards and barbecue sauces and then the jackpot!: an entire section devoted to Salsa Golf. I looked at my traveling companions and the idea hit us simultaneously- A Salsa Golf Tasting! And why not? We were staring at hundreds of packages and jars and bottles of the stuff, from store brands to generic to Hellman’s. We all agreed how much we immediately loved the stuff and knowing we’d never find it at home we thought we might as well get to know it as best as we could considering we’d probably never find it back home. An immersion course in Salsa Golf, if you will.

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We filled our basket with various brands and headed back to the hotel. I think the staff caught on to our intentions when we starting asking them one by one about Salsa Golf. Do you like it? What do you eat it with? Do you have a favorite brand? What’s it best with? We told them about our Salsa Golf Taste Off 2009 and they delightfully offered to assist.

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The Salsa Golf Taste Off 2009 Judges, clockwise: Brian L, Wine Marketing. Paul C., Wine Wholesaler. Dana R., Director of Online Community, NBC.com. Adam Pearson, Food Stylist. Aaron A., Buyer Amoeba Hollywood. Wade W., Whole Foods.

We planned and trained; we cleared our palates and made notes. We were serious about the SGTO 09 and meant business. And so did Home Hotel. They took our various brands, decanted and labeled them so that we wouldn’t know what we were tasting. Freshly fried french fries became the official food of the tasting and plenty of Quilmes made sure we were hydrated. But an added element of surprise? Home Hotel submitted their own house-made Salsa Golf into the tasting.presenting-salsa-golf-final1

The blind tasting began with two groups. We chatted about texture, salinity, sweetness, which brands tasted nothing more than a simple mayo and ketchup blend, which brands had more depth, and how one version in particular had more dimension and flavor than the rest. We took notes as our friends at the hotel looked on. We drank beer. We drank more beer. I realized that taste testing is serious business, jars of fattening dressing or not.

danny-final-postAfter a group discussion I tallied the forms, noticing a clear winner. The ever delightful bartender Danny (who has quickly become a group favorite) then took our tallied forms and announced the winners. Now I know how those girls feel standing in front of Tyra Banks. And for the record I’d never trip in heels.

With 22 points, we all selected Danica brand as our least favorite in the tasting. The next was Hellman’s with 24.5 points, followed by Fanacoa with 26 points. And the winner, with a whopping 30.5 points?

Home Hotel’s Homemade Salsa Golf.

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The casera, or house made, was the only Salsa Golf with dimension and character. It had a pronounced acid flavor that held up through the end of the bite. While the others were good, Home Hotel’s was excellent. It held its own with fries and beer.  And the only bad thing about our tasting was knowing that once we return back to California we’ll probably never be able to find Salsa Golf.

Sigh.

I suppose I’ll always have Ketchup and Mayo. But it’s just not the same.

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A very special thanks to our friends at Home Hotel in Buenos Aires. I cannot say enough about the owners Tom & Patricia as well as the staff. It’s impossible to have a bad moment at this place, it’s as relaxing and chill as you want it to be. It’s nothing short of magical and you’ll instantly feel like a member of the family once you arrive.

PLUS: I’m working on getting Home Hotel’s recipe for Salsa Golf for a future post. It will be the only thing that sustains me back home in the states until we come back to Buenos Aires. Or I could buy a new carry-on for the flight home and fill it with the stuff.

The World’s Most Unsexiest Recipe? Yes. Stewed Prunes.

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I remember reading her words like it was yesterday. Molly once said that prunes were among the few foods with their own built-in laugh track. And gosh darnit, she’s right. I still giggle when I think about them, even when people were saying they were delicious and I should try them. And you know exactly what this boy is talking about, quit trying to be coy and pretend you don’t know.  We’re friends here.

Luckily I can now tell you that I no longer laugh as hard as I once did when I say the words prune and I can also tell you that I no longer put the palms of my hand to my lips and make mega-sounds.  And why? Because scattered among the yards and yards of breakfast items on the buffet table at Club Med in the Bahamas were bowls of stewed prunes. Looking around I noticed people helping themselves to the prunes without the slightest smirk or giggle. How could this happen? How come no one was laughing or joking about them?

Must be the French.

Ok, back to that unsexy headline. I suppose the you could look at stewed prunes as the choice of the Matlock set but this boy really learned to appreciate them in the Bahamas. They were silky and sweet with just the right amount of body and a touch of tartness.  They were divine on top of oatmeal or warm breakfast cereals and made for a really delightful breakfast. Since the trip I’ve enjoyed them a few times at home with a variety of spices and I must say you can’t really mess them up. Unless you soak them for too long which renders them pretty much useless; they’ll just disintegrate. And then you can continue making jokes while holding a bowl of what looks like, well, nevermind.

Stewed Prunes adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

1 lb dried prunes
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 sliced lemon
1 stick cinnamon

Combine the water and dried prunes and bring to the boiling point.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer, about 20 minutes. Add the sugar and cook for an additional 10 minutes. At this point you can add the lemon, cinnamon, a vanilla bean, whatever you’d like.

Matt’s notes: Some recipes recommend soaking your prunes for 24 hours. I’ve had luck with that method and also a disaster. Go figure.

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37414890_0e1ba87c60Tomorrow we’ll be heading back down south to the land of Quilmes, Maté and Parillas with a group of our best friends. We’ve been to Argentina several times before and I’m just as excited to return as I was during our first visit. Buenos Aires is definitely a favorite place of mine.  I’ll do my best to update between working and playing (I have a little assignment)  but you can always follow me on Twitter.  I hope to meet a few of you when I’m there!




Cilantro Chicken with California Avocado and Pickled Tomato Salsa

Cilantro Chicken

The photo above comes from yours truly and the California Avocado Commission. I’m blessed to work with them on photo assignments, shooting amazing recipes and eating beautiful California avocados until I burst (well, I wait until they leave the studio before I make a pig of myself, actually).  This recipes was created by  Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill and Ciudad, a client I’ve worked with several times and that I adore (Hi Peter and Leah!).  You see? It’s one big delicious circle.

There’s something to be said about being in the presence of people who know their stuff and love their work. It’s contagious and I’ve learned more about avocados this past year than I ever thought possible.  And when Mary Sue and Susan are involved you know you’re in for a treat. So after checking with the powers-that-be (i.e. the Ad Agency!) I’m happy to be sharing this recipe and photo with you.

When you’re on the set working there’s really not as much eating and snacking as you think there is. Food Stylists will have your head on a platter if you mess with their food (I’ve had my hand slapped and received about 12 spankings this past year alone) but for some reason I had a hard time photographing this recipe. It had that savory, juicy look to it and an aroma that was heavenly and I felt like jumping into the plate. It’s all about the avocados and salsa here, made with a combination of spices that conjure up Asian, Latin and Indian influences. If you’ve ever make Mary Sue & Susan’s recipes you’ll notice they are multi-layered with globally-inspired flavors. The salsa here is a perfect example. I took a bit of it after the shoot and I found it remarkably at home on top of eggs but you could use the salsa recipe for just about anything. Of course you’ll need to slice up more avocados each time you want to enjoy it but I don’t really have a problem with that. Perhaps I should. I sometimes think I eat too many avocados. Oh what am I saying? They’re good for you. Enough said.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did. It’s completely appropriate for Cinco De Mayo as long as you do NOT  forget the beer.

Cilantro Chicken with California Avocado and Pickled Tomato Salsa recipe courtesy Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger and the California Avocado Commission.

Ingredients
4 (6 oz.) boneless chicken thighs or breasts, with skin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ Cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
4 scallions, trimmed
Pickled Tomato Salsa (recipe below)
2 ripe Fresh California Avocados, peeled, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 Cups cooked brown basmati rice

Instructions
1. In a shallow, non-reactive dish, season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Combine olive oil, lime juice, cilantro and cumin in a small bowl. Brush mixture on scallions and pour remainder over chicken, tossing to evenly coat. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.
2. Preheat broiler or grill. Beginning with skin side toward the heat source, broil or grill chicken until just cooked through, about 12 minutes per side for thighs and about 9 minutes per side for breasts. Grill or broil scallions about 2 minutes per side.
3. Toss Pickled Tomato Salsa with diced avocados and reserve until chicken is cooked.
4. To serve, arrange grilled chicken over a bed of basmati rice. Mound avocado salsa mixture on top of chicken. Garnish with grilled scallions. Serve immediately.

Pickled Tomato Salsa

Ingredients
1 Pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut in quarters
½ bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 Serrano chiles, with seeds, thinly sliced in rounds
½ Cup white vinegar
2 ½ Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne
½ tsp turmeric
½ Cup extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
1. In a large bowl, toss tomatoes with scallions and chiles.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring vinegar to a boil. Add brown sugar and salt, and cook until dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and reserve.
3. Measure ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, cracked peppercorns, cumin, cayenne and turmeric onto a plate and place near stove. In another medium saucepan, heat oil over moderate heat until just smoking. Add spices and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until aromas are released, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar mixture. Immediately pour over reserved tomato mixture. Stir to combine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or several days.
4. Before serving, remove tomatoes from juices, roughly chop, and return to pickling liquid.

Note: To peel tomatoes, remove the cores and score an X on the underside. Blanch for 15 seconds in boiling water and immediately plunge into iced water to prevent continued cooking. Peel with a paring knife.

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Matt’s P.S.: In light of all the Ethics Chat happening in the Food Blogging World I must tell you that this is not a paid posting nor did I receive any compensation from any parties mentioned above. I just happen to like them and California growers. So there.

Introducing Studio b.

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My class at studio b. has been postponed. Check back shortly for updates.

Ok, I’m trying to contain my excitement about this upcoming project but I can’t, I just can’t! It’s called Studio b. and it’s the brainchild of Colleen Duffley, photographer and image-maker extraordinaire. After 25 years of shooting people, places and gorgeous things all around the world she’s decided to embark on a creative endeavor of the different kind. Studio b. is a creative venue that brings together the best of the best and the up and coming in the fields of photography, art, design, literature, food, and wine. It’s a big relaxed creative mixer and “a playground for the imagination” as she calls it.

There will be seminars, classes and inspirational lectures by some of the world’s most creative folks like India Hicks, Donna Hay, Paula Lambert, my pals William Smith and Pouke, Kim Sunee, and Simon Doonan, to name a few, all held in the beautiful location of Alys Beach, Florida. Just looking at the “classroom” space is enough to send this boy into a dreamy haze.

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I’m particularly thrilled to be joining the line-up in September. While I haven’t worked out my lesson plan just yet (yes, there will be a pop quiz!) I’ll be teaching a class on blogging, photography, dorkiness and a few other secret topics dancing around my noggin. It’s currently scheduled for the end of September, I’ll have exact details for you very soon!

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Studio b. kicks off its summer schedule with style maven India Hicks on June 5, 2009. Many of you may know her from Bravo’s Top Design (I’m a huge fan of her father David Hick’s design work) and if you’re interested in the schedule please make sure to check it out. My pal William Smith will be teaching a class as well and I’m sure it will be extra fabulous.

I’ll post updates as the schedule firms up and I’ll also nag Colleen for photos of events to share with you. Hope to see you at Studio b. in September!

For more information please check out Studio b.’s website and also this clip.

Home Sweet Home

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Relish Austin at the Austin American Statesman / Austin 360.com has a quick lil feature on the contents of my fridge and boy, it sure ain’t pretty! But hey, when the delightful Addie Broyles asked if I’d participate in “What’s In Your Fridge Friday” I knew I had to say yes!  Even though I’ve been a West Coaster for 14 years Austin is still my home, no matter what. You can’t really take the Texas out of a boy, can you?

Check it out and please be prepared: Not everything in my life is nice, pretty and neat. Which reminds me that I need to eat that leftover chili and cornbread soon!