Monday, December 08, 2008

Travel Dish: 647 Dinner Club (Buenos Aires)

I’m wrapping up my series of food reports from Buenos Aires. Today and tomorrow will be my final posts about my eating experience in this South American city while vacationing in October. And I’ve definitely saved the best for last.

Dine Like a VIP in This Luxurious Spot
Tacuarí 647, Buenos Aires
San Telmo neighborhood
PH: 11/4331.3026
Dinner starting at 5:30 p.m.
Major credit cards, reservations accepted

One of the places getting the most buzz here as a dining destination is the 647 Dinner Club, opened initially in 2006 as a private club by English director Terry Walshe but now open to anyone who wants to walk through the velvet ropes.

647 was named one of the hot tables in 2008 by Condé Nast Traveler. And it has all the ingredients of an exclusive club: sketchy neighborhood (check), indiscreet entrance with no name in the front (check), velvet ropes (check), chandeliers (check) and high prices (double check).

The restaurant is in the Bohemian neighborhood of San Telmo, but more on the edge away from the clusters of restaurants and shops. (Most of the dinner club’s neighbors on the street are closed when you walk by.) Its name comes from its street address, and that’s all you see when you arrive at the black-painted doors that look like the back of a loading dock. But you can tell it’s not just a warehouse because of the velvet ropes and the security guard in front.

The first night I tried to get into the dinner club I was told there was a private event, so I experienced what it’s like to be rebuffed behind the velvet ropes. But I returned a couple of nights later on a Saturday evening, and was led passed the ropes and down the long corridor toward the dining room.

Despite all the reports of “reservations recommended,” I got the sense that’s all hype because it wasn’t that crowded for a Saturday night. I asked my waitress if it was a slow evening, and she said this was the typical crowd for the weekend. My guess is that mostly tourists or businessmen come here since the prices are higher than most places in town (similar to what I pay dining out in San Francisco). And while the menu is promoted as “haute cuisine,” it seems like the attention focuses more on the two large bars and the specialty drinks offered at 647. It seemed more like a place for some pretty drinks and appetizers before heading out to your real dinner.

But I was here for dinner, so I sat myself near one of the colorful glowing lights and perused the menu. I started with one of its specialty drinks called the Herr Hesse, a vodka martini made with grapefruit juice and Choya perfume. The bartender actually comes to your table to pour the drink in front of you. While the Herr Hesse was very pretty, it seemed lacking in punch. Eventually I asked my waitress to order me another drink, which was actually better and stronger but I didn’t get the name (it had Cassis and some herbs in it).

The menu by Executive Chef Guillermo Testón changes with the season, but you can always count on starting with his wonderful tart tartin (AR$36 or $12.45). I had read about his tart with goat cheese and red grapes, but on the night I went it was made with goat cheese and pears served with a small arugula and endive salad.

When it arrived, it didn’t look like any tart I’d seen before because the crust was primarily on the bottom and there were no borders. Still, it had all the crumbly features of a tart, with the goat cheese whipped so perfectly that it felt light and heavenly and topped with subtly flavored and tender pears. It was my favorite part of the dinner even though I felt I was near the end eating dessert.

The entrée selection had a lot of things to tempt me, from the corn risotto to squid and saffron fettuccine to duck prepared three ways. But I was still gorging on Argentine meat so I ordered the ojo de bife or rib eye served with a chorizo and cheese kebab (AR$62 or $21.50).

Despite asking for medium, the rib eye seemed more well. It was still tender, though, and had a nice crusty exterior from the grilling. There’s no doubt that Argentines know how to use fire. The meat was served over potatoes and portabella mushrooms with a “criolla” sauce that seemed to be a salsa made of tomatillos and garlic.

The meat did have a slight greasy layer on top that I didn’t enjoy, and the cheese square and chorizo on the skewer were both a bit overdone, so they were dry.

For dessert, the menu by pastry chef Magdalena Martinez offered up a lot of creative items but I decided to try the white chocolate mousse with coffee croutons, balsamic marinated raspberries, and spiced strawberry ice cream (AR$27 or $9), primarily because it was kind of warm in the restaurant and I wanted some ice cream.

The mousse was creamy and tasty, but what I really loved were the tiny coffee-flavored croutons that added a real different level of tasting for this dessert, which came out plated beautifully.

The service, as you can imagine, was formal and helpful with my servers having no problem with English. Like I said, it was a quiet evening with only the flashes from the cameras of diners taking photos of themselves eating in this glamorous spot. (It wasn’t the paparazzi taking pictures of a local celebrity.)

647 Dinner Club is definitely a luxurious dining experience with some creative touches like the tart tartin. I’d recommend another entrée, though, to really experience the chef’s creativity beyond the standard Argentine beef.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Expense it if you can)

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

Buenos Aires is the birthplace of the tango, and in recent years the tango (once seen as the dance of the lower class) has experienced a resurgence. So when in town, you have to visit a tango class or watch a tango show.

However, like Las Vegas, the tango shows here can be very commercial and pricey, with tickets costing as much as $60 American dollars or more. I went to a smaller venue that was still touristy but affordable. It was the Café Tortoni, which also happens to be the oldest café in the city.

Café Tortoni’s tango show takes place in the basement under the café, and you’re squeezed in tightly around small cabaret tables. And while at times cheesy (there’s a skit retelling the history of tango), there are moments when focused purely on the dancing it can be very beautiful.

Café Tortoni, Avenida de Mayo 825, Buenos Aires.


Anonymous said...

that tarte tatin sounded so interesting, too bad about your ribeye - it looked like quite a piece of meat!

Hans P. Lüters said...

If you want your steak "medium", I recommend to order it "al punto", because even if it arrives a bit too raw for your taste, you can always send it back for some more cooking.