Tango, fabulous restaurants and delicious cheap wine… with two months you might expect that I’d come up with great topics on where to dance, eat and drink in Buenos Aires … however, not exactly how you might expect! Here is a roundup of my favorite experiences throughout the city.
It’s true. The Tango culture is immensely presence throughout Buenos Aires, however, absolutely everyone doesn’t tango and you won’t find spontaneous dancers in every public square. That said, on any given night, there are a number of milongas, organized places to dance tango. Before arriving here, I’d tried tango dancing only once, and to be honest, I wasn’t immediately enraptured. I have to follow the man?? As you might be able to guess with my romantic track record, I don’t really do that very well. As such, my decision to come to Buenos Aires hadn’t been prompted by a passionate desire to immerse myself into the world of Tango, nevertheless, I was awfully curious, and the romantic in me wanted to at least witness this spirit first hand, partaking less so.
The first sighting I had was in the La Boca area, where you’ll find tango dancers posing for photos and doing little numbers for the clapping tourists. Not the most authentic, yet we did enjoy some nice tango music at one cafe on a side street. Luckily, I got to visit three milongas during my stay in BA, two on a little scouting mission with one of the dancers who leads our Tango Tour, and one during my tango lesson mentioned in my post on making friends. I was great to have this real glimpse into the world of tango, not as real as you’d have by coming late at night (supposedly 3 am on Saturday night at this one dancehall is when all the professionals come out and dance “for fun”). I was a little terrified about surviving through the class, but it was fun in the end and I didn’t completely crush all the toes of my male dance partners.
My favorite “dance” moment came near the end of my stay. The night before I’d been out till 4:30 am dancing up a storm at a gay club with some of my greatest friends visiting from Toronto. we were not going to have another dancing till dawn night, so we opted for a stroll in San Telmo. I was hoping that there’d be some dancing in the Plaza Dorrego. I’d heard that this was where you could go to see “real people” dancing tango, and so on one of his last days, I’d come here during the day to find a couple of similar dancers to those we’d seen in La Boca, nice but still not so genuine. You have to go on Sunday night, informed my landlady. And she’s wasn’t wrong. We indeed found part of the square alive with dancing couples to lively music blaring from a sound system under twinkling colorful lights. They weren’t always tangoing as when we got there were doing a traditional folk dance, never mind, there was ambience. We inched out some space on the steps to watch, the best part wasn’t the wonderful adult dancers with their sophisticated moves, but this adorable little girl, who first observed, then launched onto the dancefloor, a future star in the making!
As some readers will recall, I’m a vegetarian. I can’t tell you how many times people said upon hearing I was going to Argentina; oh la la what are you going to eat? to which they would receive a scowl in reply. Sure, it is a paradise for meat lovers with parrilla steak houses galore, but don’t worry, I’d done my research in advance, tons of it, I would not starve, and if I did, that would help me lose the few pounds I’d been wanting to shed… Alas, those came back with me, proof that I didn’t go hungry, not with all the tasty selection empanadas, olives, pasta (Argentina had strong Italian roots after all), beer and wine I had to choose from. Besides my new found love of empanadas, especially the cheese and onion ones from la Americana, I had two favorite culinary experiences, but shhhh there are a secret…
Puertas Cerradas, closed door restaurants or supper clubs are a huge rage in Argentina. Attending a few was high on my list of BA things to do. These aren’t just enthusiastic home-cooks who’ve opened their doors to open-minded dinners, they’ve really become an art, and some even gourmet experiences. The first bookmark in my special South-America Google folder was this article in the NYTimes. I’d attend one on that list, but in my browsing, the one that struck a bigger cord on my vegetarian heart was the Colectivo Felix, a pescatarian venue that would happily prepare purely veggie-friendly dishes.
The gang at the Colectivo Felix have been on the PC scene since early days, starting up in 2008. I’d initially made a reservation for just myself, so eager was I to go, however with my brother’s return I had to push it back. When rescheduling I invited my Baltimorean friend, who cheerfully accepted. Upon arriving at the appointed address, we were whisked away into their whimsical back garden for a welcome cocktail, granting us a short time to chitchat with our fellow diners. Most were anglophones; some Alaskan vegans, some San Franciscan ex-hippy types and some girly Brits… some locals did appear about a half an hour late, as dictates normal Argentine etiquette.
Mr Baltimore and I had been to a wine tasting just before (described below) and so we’d already had a few drinks and some snacks. This double booking might not have been so wise, but I was trying to slot in all the things I still needed to do in BA. Considering our wine tasting, it wasn’t entirely prudent of us to have chosen the wine pairing with our meal, but we couldn’t resist. No regrets, well not at the time, the next day’s headache had a different opinion.
The meal and the pairing was an amazing experience. It truly was one of the best meals I’d ever had. Their creativity, use of seasonal ingredients and sincere skill at creating intense flavors was exceptional and could possibly convert anyone over to vegetarianism… or at least encouraging a serious love of them.
Back to the NYTimes article. Snooping around further at their list, I found that one had a vegetarian option listed online. Well, if they were advertising one, that would mean that they’d have put some thought into creating a special menu. A few emails later I had a reservation at Paladar for my visiting Toronto friends (the start of our dancing till dawn night!).
Again here we had the feeling of entering a little intimate universe, this time the diningroom salon of a lovely townhouse. We were escorted to our table of four set for the three of us and the fourth seat soon filled with a single traveler dining alone whom we befriended, an adorable New Yorker. The cozy atmosphere made us feel like we’d been invited by Ivana and Pablo to a dinner party amongst friends. The meal was delightful, creative and well prepared with nice little touches. I also give them the romance award, what a perfect place it would be to take a date.
I’d gotten just a tiny taste of the puerta cerradas and can’t wait to go back to try others, if you’re heading to BA, I’d recommend checking out this great and growing list of reviews on the My Beautiful Air blog.
Now I have you thirsty, don’t I? I won’t bore you with a list of all the wonderful wine I sampled in Argentina, however, I can say that I took a liking for the local juice of the gods. No, not just because it’s rather cheap (I could get a few of my new supermarket favorites for around 4-5$), but because it really is very good. Instead of rhyming out a list, I’ll take about three themes, not all surrounding vino: mate, fernet and wine-tasting.
Mate (or yerba mate) is sort of like tea, however, I don’t even think the British are nearly as addicted to their beverage of predilection as they are to mate down here. Generally consumed in a small hollowed out gourd and sipped from a bombilla straw, those yerba leaves have a high level of caffeine, though my brother and I were certain there was more to it. Serious mate drinkers seem to sip away all day, like serious smokers puff away on their cigs. They even have carry around thermoses to top up their gourds. Now, this isn’t just for old folks sitting gabbing away on park benches. In Uruguay especially we saw tons of young people with their thermos carriers strolling about everywhere! In the afternoon some people switch to Tereré which is a mix of mate and lime, orange or pineapple juice (as seen in the photo above, see how happy she is?).
My brother and I decided to give it a try one night, okay, we actually invented a cocktail mixing chilled mate with fernet, wondering why nobody had tried to mix the nations two favorite drinks together before… we found out why… with bitter chocks, attempting to convince ourselves that wasn’t so bad.
Fernet is an Italian bitter liqueur which is incredibly popular in Argentina where they consume around 25 million liters per year. The most common seemed to be Fernet-Branca. Generally served with Coke, my brother and I first tried this, accidentally, while waiting in line for a concert (silly us, we’d arrived on time… the band we’d come for never did come out – more on that in a future post), peddlers were making their way up and down the line. We’d thought we were getting a beer and were instead handed a giant plastic cup with a dark, mysterious liquid, it kept us distracted from the annoyance of the wait. I can’t say I’m a convert, but it was worth a try.
Wine is a broader topic of my post on Mendoza, yet my experience of wine in Buenos Aires itself was punctuated by two wine tasting events. I love learning, and despite knowing a fair amount about wine, I was definitely not an expert on local vintages. Therefore, in the name of serious research, I attended two tastings.
With my Torontonians we did a tasting at Anuva Wines. This is what comes up in most searches, it seemed a little too formal for my liking, but it looked quite thorough and informative. The experience was more intimate than I’d expected as there were just 8 of us and so we could have more of a discussion. We learned about the different wine regions of Argentina, tasting personally selected wines, each one accompanied with a small dish, either a regional specialty or a good food pairing, that was a nice added touch. Overall, we learnt a lot and had fun laughing with the fellow guests as our lovely sommelier refilled our glasses.
When surfing around I’d come across another option a few times, one which I’d also happened across it on my way to my disastrous date with the Texan… the gigantic wine bottle announcing their wares out on the sidewalk calling out to me, alas, yes, I would have been better off following the wine bottle. JA! or Lo de Joaquín Alberdi is a wine bar and shop in Palermo. They do tastings a few times a week, usually like the one we attended, a sommelier presenting a variety of wines from a special vineyard. This is the tasting I did with my Baltimorean friend before our closed door diner.
I’d arrived ten minutes early, as instructed. No one else was there yet (when would I learn, things never started on time here), but lucky for me, I was enthusiastically greeted by Joaquin himself, sitting with some French tourists sharing a bottle of amazing Patagonian red and some killer cheese, giving me hope for my next trip back that good cheese can be found in Argentina (they have a lot of cows… for other ends…). We laughed away until it was time to go upstairs to the tasting room.
I was a tad disappointed to find tables to easily fit 40 people in their large chalet-style loft. We were only around 20, despite the size we still felt at home, mostly because Joaquin (now on to who knows how many bottles) was cracking the occasional joke in the background of the serious sommelier’s presentation. I thought the portions were quite skimpy, but then at the end they came around and gave us each more of the blend of our choice, accompanied by more delicious queso (and some cold cuts). Then by the end Joaquin had invited everyone back for a parrilla barbecue on Saturday, just because he felt like it. Now, that’s a welcome. I highly recommend a tasting here for the experience, but be sure to check if they’ll have an English translator that day as it’s usually in Spanish. Either way, you’ll leave with a new appreciation of some of Argentine’s finest elements: good food, good wine, but especially good company. Hopefully, I’ll be back to attend one soon… and take on some more of Buenos Aires’s fine dancing, dining and drinking. Cheers!
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