Monday, November 17, 2008

Travel Dish: Meridiano 58º (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.
An Enriching Meal in a Zen-like Atmosphere
J.L. Borges 1689 (at El Salvador), Buenos Aires
Palermo Soho neighborhood
PH: 11/4833.3443
Open daily noon to 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. (later on weekends)
Amex and Visa accepted, reservations OK
Cubierto or table service charge added

If you ever need a reminder that you’re half-way around the world, then make your way to Meridiano 58º, which gets its name from the geographical location of Buenos Aires in the world map.

The restaurant, itself, is at the northern end of the trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood, where people shop at designer boutiques and brand-name franchises (there’s a Nike and Diesel store nearby). It has a huge façade, probably because it has three levels of dining.

When I arrived for dinner, I sat in the first level, which has the feel of a bar lounge. The second level is where most of the diners sat. Meridiano 58º has this Asian sensibility to it, which is a bit confusing since the food is strictly Argentine. (It’s sometimes classified as modern Argentine or global Argentine cuisine.)

The furnishings are like black lacquer and the accessories have accents of bamboo. Even the servers are dressed in loose-fitting white gauze outfits that look like something from Shanghai.

My waiter brought me the ubiquitous bread basket. I got a bread basket every where I went on this trip, and by this point of my vacation I felt guilty at seeing this large basket placed at my table. But then I decided to try a roll and it was the best I had anywhere in the entire city! I would go back just for this bread basket because it was so fresh and warm. The roll I tried was soft and pillowy, and embarked such a comforting fragrance that I was entranced all evening. The accompanying tapenade was also yummy, and another unique flavor that I hadn’t experienced in any bread basket given to me at other restaurants.

But enough about the bread. For my actually meal, I decided to start with empanadas, another traditional Argentine dish. I had taken a class on how to make empanadas, which are like turnovers often filled with meat, and fell in love with them. But I was wary of eating them at restaurants because I’d heard they were mostly deep fried.

When my waiter told me that their version was baked, I ordered one beef and one chicken empanadas for AR$4 (or $1.40) each. They looked really cute when they arrived. While they were tasty, the skin was thicker than the ones I made in class (and I decided the homemade ones were better than these).

For my entrée, I ordered the Lamb with Quinoa risotto (AR$42 or $14.50). I’d never heard of risotto made with quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa), which is used a lot in South American cuisine and considered very healthy. People confuse it for a grain, but it’s really not.

The quinoa risotto had a gummy texture and was very salty, so I really couldn’t finish it. It was mixed with bacon bits and roasted cherry tomatoes. The lamb was tender but a bit on the done side. (That’s when I realized my waiter never asked me how I wanted my lamb done.) The lamb had a thick glaze on it that was similar to a balsamic reduction. Overall, the dish was OK if the risotto wasn’t so salty.

I had read a lot about Meridiano 58º’s desserts, so I made sure I saved room for it. And having discovered maracuya (or passion fruit), I knew I needed to order the Mousse de Maracuya (AR$19 or $6.50).

The plate looked beautiful when it arrived, and there was a nice tart passion fruit flavor to the mousse. Unfortunately, the block of mousse had a slightly frozen texture, like it was brought out from the freezer to defrost but didn’t defrost all the way by the time it got to my table. This made me wonder: Do they make their desserts ahead of time and freeze them? Or do they buy their desserts from someone else and ship them over? I guess I’ll never know, but it was definitely a shame.

It’s funny because while I was having this dinner, I remember feeling really good about it (probably because of that dream-like bread I ate to start) and that I enjoyed the ambiance and the friendly but non-intrusive service. But now that I look at my notes and look back, it really sounds like my meal wasn’t that great. Maybe it was an off night, because on paper everything sounded good and the restaurant is a handsome and plush environment. Maybe the kitchen was off by a latitude or two.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (Hit and Miss)

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

Most tourists I ran into told me they got around the city by taxis. And locals have told me that the fleet of taxis has increased dramatically in the last few years as tourism boomed. Here’s how they work:

1) Always catch what’s called a Radio Taxi. They’re supposed to be the “official” taxis with meters. They’re often painted black and gold.

2) A taxi is available when a red sign (it says “libre”) at the top of the passenger side of the front windshield is turned on.

3) The taxi driver always starts the meter at AR$3 (or about $1).

4) Many taxi drivers hardly speak English. So my tip is to always write down the address of where you want to go on a piece of paper to hand to the driver. If it’s a known destination like the Malbec museum, they’ll probably know. But if it’s a restaurant, specific addresses with cross streets will be helpful.

The downside with taxis (and the reason why I hardly took them unless I was super tired) is that traffic in Buenos Aires is crazy. So depending on the time of day, you could be stuck in traffic spending a lot on the fare. And while the fare could average about (U.S.) $4-$6 per trip, which doesn’t seem like a lot, they can add up if you’re there like me for 10 days going back and forth from location to location.


SaltShaker said...

The "always catch a radio taxi" isn't exactly correct. If you really want to be "safe", not that it's really an issue anymore - this being leftover advice from a decade or more ago, you have to call for a radio taxi. Virtually all taxis these days are radio taxi, the point about calling is that someone has noted down your name, where and what time you were picked up, and where you were going to, along with who the driver dispatched was - that way if you have any problems or complaints, there's a paper trail. Just hailing a cab, radio or otherwise, makes the radio irrelevant.

Kimberly said...

I ate in Meridiano 58 when I was in Argentina! They have the best food and the service is real nice, all the tables are beautifully set and the waiters are polite as well as considerate. When I travelled there, one of those Buenos Aires apartments was located in Palermos so all the restaurants like this one were there.