Monday, November 10, 2008

Travel Dish: Cluny (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.

Relaxing With an Afternoon Meal
El Salvador 4618 (at Malabia), Buenos Aires
Palermo Soho neighborhood
PH: 11/4831.7176
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

The thing about eating dinner around 11 p.m. or midnight is that it’s a long time without food after lunch. So when I was on vacation here, I scouted out places where I could find a nice afternoon meal and not look like I was there for the early bird special.

Cluny is a perfect spot for that, and not just because it’s open specifically from 4 to 7:30 p.m. for what they call “afternoon tea.” It’s a refined setting right in the middle of the fancy shopping district known as Palermo Soho. Tired from shopping all afternoon? Well, just rest your feet in this contemporary Argentine restaurant.

Like most fancy restaurants in this city, Cluny has a real lounge feel in the front adjacent to the tiny bar. Then there’s a large courtyard with outdoor seating (empty when I was there because of a light rain) and a larger dining room area in the back that’s cozy yet stylish.

I looked over the menu for afternoon tea, and it was a mix of sandwiches, tarts and items from the patisserie. I decided to start with the baguette de lomo or sirloin steak sandwich (AR$27 or $9.25). It was a grilled baguette with thin slices of beef and bits of onions, lettuce, tomatoes with just a splash of vinaigrette.

Now, I’m a sucker for any crispy sandwich that’s warm and inviting, so I totally fell in love with Cluny’s baguette de lomo. The meat easily tore away with each bite, and the crunch of the grilled baguette contrasted with the light tartness of the vinaigrette. This sandwich was amazing, and I devoured it like I wasn’t going to be eating for another six hours (which was true, actually).

Since it was time for afternoon tea, I got a pot of the Royal Fruit blend (which I’ve seen only in Buenos Aires and is a black tea with tropical fruits like mango and hibiscus). After quizzing the waiter about the various translations in the patisserie section, I ended up with the cheese cake (AR$14 or $4.75).

The plate looked beautiful when it arrived, dressed with fresh seasonal fruits and sauce. But the cheesecake itself was disappointing, a bit spongy and lacking in any true flavor. It was such the opposite of the sandwich I just had.

The waiter was so sweet; he brought out a tiny complementary plate of coconut-flaked blondies and brownies because I couldn’t decide what to get earlier. I snacked on them as I slowly sipped my tea as I watched people come and go. While I was there, other shoppers came in mostly just to rest their feet and order fruit smoothies.

I took a peek at the dinner menu and that’s where Cluny’s chef is a bit more adventurous in his dishes, with entrees like grilled octopus, crispy sweetbreads, black risotto and lamb prepared two ways. But I also noticed that their dinner prices were much higher than most restaurants, putting it on the same level as what I pay in San Francisco.

If you’re willing to pay the price, then I’d recommend trying Cluny for dinner. It’s a casual and stylish spot for a special dinner. But at the very least, drop in for an afternoon snack. Skip the sweets and go directly for the replenishing baguette de lomo.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Stick with the Savory)

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

I usually travel to large cities in foreign countries because I know I can pretty much count on public transportation to sightsee. Whether it’s London’s Underground or Rome’s Metro, I always ride the city’s subway.

In Buenos Aires, the subway system is called the subte. And having traveled to many large cities, I have to say this subway system — the oldest in South America — is the worst. It’s crowded and has only about five lines, with four of them running pretty much parallel to each other. So oftentimes, you can’t get to your many destinations without hoofing it part of the way.

I stayed pretty close to the subte stations, but only caught it about 10 times. You buy a ticket that looks very similar to the MetroCard in New York, which you insert only when you enter. I’d recommend getting the 10-ride ticket, mostly for convenience so you can avoid the long lines at the ticket booth. The subte is definitely cheap, at only AR$0.70 a ride (that works out to be a quarter in the United States).

I was there in the spring, so it was bearable riding the subte. But in the summer, I can’t imagine the heat. The trains don’t turn on their air conditioning during the spring when I was there, so you ride trains with the windows open, blowing in all the soot from years of underground passage. The subte also has limited hours, closing at 10 p.m. on most nights and earlier on the weekends.

Most tourists end up catching taxis, while the locals pack themselves onto buses. As for me, I ended up just walking everywhere. At least I could count on my feet to be on time.


Anonymous said...

The baguette de lomo sounds delicious, even if I just had lunch! It looks like you got your fill of sweet treats too Chef Ben... cheesecake and brownies!

Becca said...

i lived in BA for a while (study abroad for 5 months), and i definitely agree that the subte is lackluster at best. but the colectivos (buses) are GREAT and go EVERYWHERE - almost always more convenient than the bus. the only downside is that there is always traffic...

Single Guy Ben said...

I met some tourists who swore by the bus too, but that was the next thing I thought: "how do they avoid the traffic?" The traffic is really bad, having been stuck in it once in a taxi. Like I said, that's why I rely on my feet! :)