Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Travel Dish: Bar Uriarte (Buenos Aires)

This is part of a series of reports recapping my recent trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Check back every Monday and Tuesday when I’ll be giving you a taste of my food adventures in this South American metropolitan city.

Italian Cuisine in a Club Atmosphere
Uriarte 1572 (between Honduras and Gorritti), Buenos Aires
Palermo Soho neighborhood
PH: 11/4834.6004
Reservations, major credit cards accepted (AR$6 cubierto or cover charge applies)

The night scene in Buenos Aires is all about the clubs. So it’s no wonder that even the hip restaurants in this city are blaring with club music as they gear you up for the long night of partying ahead.

That’s what I discovered walking into Bar Uriarte, a popular restaurant by the same people behind the also-chic Sucre. Bar Uriarte is at the north end of the Palermo Soho neighborhood (formerly known as Palermo Viejo). And when you arrive, you see the kitchen front-and-center through the glass wall. You can watch the chefs busily making pasta or preparing that night’s orders. (I don’t know for sure if the woman up front was Executive Chef Julieta Oriolo.)

Eating late at night means many of the places are dimly lit — again, it’s the whole club feel. I was seated at a table near the entrance, which almost seemed like bar dining. (All I had for light was a tiny votive candle, so my apologies for the poorly photographed food.)

Along the long wooden bar was a lounge area in the center, where you can also order food. (While this area seemed fun and relaxing, I couldn’t understand how anyone ate in that setup. A low, cushioned banquette surrounded equally low tables, making it seem like you were dining at your friend’s coffee table in the living room.) In the back is the more formal dining area with a view of the wood-burning mud oven, which churns out thin crusted pizzas all night.

The décor had a hip but quirky appeal. On one wall were the written words of Julio Cortázar, one of Argentina’s most noted authors. The passage was “Instrucciones para sybia una escalera,” which after some researching on the Web, I think, means “instructions on using a ladder.”

The staff is friendly and courteous, and the people who served me were very comfortable speaking English. The crowd in this packed restaurant was a mix of tourists and what looked like porteños (the word for a native Argentine) out for a casual dinner.

The extensive menu (with English translation) included many familiar Italian specialties like charcuterie plates and ravioli, as well as Argentine specialties like grilled beef from the parrilla. Like I mentioned earlier, pizzas are made fresh from the wood-burning oven.

I started with the Baked Quail Bruschetta (AR$28 or $9.50), which were perfectly roasted quail pieces sitting on top of toasted baguettes. The tender quail meat was caramelized with a balsamic reduction, and I detected some sweet jam between the meat and toast. It was so good, I just grabbed the quail pieces by the little bones and just ate the meat off. (I really didn’t understand the concept of making it into a bruschetta; I would have loved the dish if it came out with the quail by itself.)

Side note: Bar Uriarte is one of the few modern restaurants in the city that offers wine by the glass. I had a 2003 premium Malbec that paired nicely with the quail.

For my main course, I was tempted by the duck confit risotto or grilled sweetbreads, but since this was early on during my trip, I felt I needed to try the famous Argentine beef. So I ordered the Entrana al grill marinada, or Ribeye Steak (AR$35 or $12), which came with mashed potatoes and whole roasted tomatoes (a common side at other restaurants I ate later in my trip).

The beef was nicely grilled and easy to eat, but I wouldn’t describe it as amazing. Like traditional Italian cuisine, all the dishes were slightly salty (with sea salt evidently used to season everything). I didn’t mine the extra salt flavoring, but if you’re sensitive to salt, this might not be the place for you.

I also ordered with my dinner the Arugula Salad with Roasted Pears (AR$29 or $10), which came at the same time as my ribeye. The salad was huge, with several large pieces of pears and a few strips of fresh prosciutto. It was a classic combination of arugula, pears, prosciutto and bits of goat cheese all balanced well and quite filling.

As the evening went on, I could see the DJ spinning records—oddly from one end of the bar instead of his own little station. A crowd started to form at the door as people waited for tables, and while the night was just starting for them, I was so full that I was ready for the quiet walk back to my hotel.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Fun Food and Vibe)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bueno … life in BA
There are several shopping malls in Buenos Aires, and the locals love to shop. One of the more popular malls was Alto Palermo, which was a 15-minute walk from the bed and breakfast I was staying in the Palermo neighborhood. The mall had a lot of European brands (and Starbucks, of course) and there are many, many perfume spritzers trying to sell colognes and perfumes. But I have to say, the malls didn’t seem to have a nice variety of shops, just mostly clothes. Nice place to kill some hours before dinner, though. :)


Anonymous said...

Hey Chef Ben, that restaurant looks like a nice spot to hang out for an evening! Interesting that your steak was $12 and the salad $10... So far, I liked your post about the empanada cooking class - that just looked like such fun and you and that dog were such pals...

Anonymous said...

Wow a rib-eye for $12.99? Le Sigh. And Argentinian Malbecs are my 2nd favorite wines. They are how I got started loving reds. I'm so jealous of you and your trip!

And, ahem, what's wrong with a mall that just sells clothes? Giggle.

Single Guy Ben said...

I know, the pricing in Buenos Aires really threw me off. Sometimes it seemed like simply prepared dishes like grilled meat were cheaper than risotto which I guess takes more time to prepare. Odd, but I wasn't complaining. ;-)