Saturday, October 18, 2008

What I Learned About Dining in Buenos Aires

So you know I've been eating my way through my vacation, which sadly comes to an end tomorrow. :( I thought I'd share with you what I've learned about dining out in the city.

It's like wheat prices aren't affecting Argentina because every where you go you always get a full basket of bread. And I'm not talking about a simple bowl with a few pieces of bread, I'm talking a real basket with a full array of bread, from buns to baguette toasts to bread sticks. They even bring this whole basket to solo diners, which I kind of think is a lot for one person.

Another thing that often accompanies the bread basket is some kind of tapenade or spread. The flavor varies from restaurant to restaurant, but I had some really yummy spreads, from traditional olive-based spreads to creamy garlicky ones.

In a meat-eating country like Argentina, finding a good salad is a challenge. And the common dressing for salads always seem to be oil and vinegar. When you order a salad, the server will typically bring you a cruet of oil and vinegar or bottles containing these. Then you dress your own salad. While the oil and vinegar route is a clean and simple way to eat a salad, I did miss the variety of dressing we get back in the states.

Wine, of course, is a mainstay for dinner (and lunch and afternoon meals). In local, traditional restaurants, it's unheard of to order wine by the glass. In fact, they won't even offer wine by the glass. You have to order a bottle. Luckily, the restaurants will often offer half bottles, which is good for about two glasses of wine. (The more modern restaurants do offer wine by the glass now.)

The tax for everything you buy in Buenos Aires (including hotel rates) is 21 percent. Oftentimes for meals, this is already included in the price listed on the menu. But one thing that isn't always clear is what's known as "cubierto." Some restaurants will charge this on your bill and some will not. Cubierto loosely translates to "cover charge" or "table service." I've been to a couple of restaurants that charged me 6 pesos (about $2), and I'm not sure if it's because I was a solo diner taking up a table or if they charged everyone a cubierto. I know for sure there wasn't a show or musical act. Like I said, not everyone charges this. But if you see this on your bill, don't be surprised.


Anonymous said...

mmm those bread baskets look heavenly. The table settings look very civilized, and that half botle looks like it would fit in that huge balloon glass! cheers chef ben!

Anonymous said...

doh! that was me, how did I end up anonymous? Sorry...

Anonymous said...

The cover charge that they charge on the bill is for each person. When my husband and I were there we had double that as there were two of us dining. So it was nothing against you or solo diners.

wella said...

I understand 'cubierto' as silverware or cutlery. So I thought they were charging you for the use of the utensils, ha ha! Maybe they're passing on to the customer some of the expense for upkeep and replacement of the utensils.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, I knew you would like the bread basket!

Anonymous, I'm glad to hear it wasn't just me! :)

Wella, I guess I don't mind paying for them to wash the silverware because I do like clean silverware. But it's just weird that not everyone charges it. So wonder if the places that don't charge it are serving dirty silverware! Yikes! ;-)

Ayelen said...

Hi! I am from Argentina, so, as a tip ;)
"cubierto", even when it litterally means cutlery, is the way we call the table service. some restaurants charge it, some don't. and it gets charge by person.
the amount of bread is for, as an italian heritage, most of us really cannot eat without bread, some don't eat bread at all and some of us eats lots of bread :D
sometimes they bring it along with butter, wich is a very popular combination.
We do not offer lots of dressing on salads, that's right. We do not eat much salads at all. and when we do, we ussually don not like to pour more than vinegar and oil on them, for is to almost vanish the vegetables flavour. And, last but not least, most of all on the parrillas, when we drink vino, a bottle is the minimun amount of wine we need XD