Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Travel Dish: Axel Kitchen (Buenos Aires)

This is part of a series of reports recapping my October trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Check back next week Monday and Tuesday for my final two posts on my food adventures in this South American metropolitan city.

A Quiet Evening Near Home Base
649 Venezuela (inside the Axel Hotel), Buenos Aires
San Telmo neighborhood
PH: 11/4136.9383
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Major credit cards accepted

One night I ventured out to try a hot new restaurant in the San Telmo district, and I was excited that it was just a few blocks from my hotel. But when I arrived, it was closed for a private event, and I was kicking myself for not carrying my list of restaurant options so I could hunt for an alternative.

It was also an unusually cold evening with blustery winds (another reason why I think it doesn’t make sense to be eating at midnight, but when in Rome …). What I’m getting at is by the time I got back to my hotel, the Axel in San Telmo, I didn’t want to head back into the late evening cold and instead decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, the Axel Kitchen.

Generally I avoid hotel restaurants when traveling, but I was pleasantly surprised at my night in.

The Axel, where I stayed during the last weekend of my vacation, is a relatively new boutique hotel that caters to the gay clientele. So that means all the hotel staff are young, hip-looking Argentine men dressed in black. It wasn’t that different at the restaurant.

A floor beneath the restaurant is the hotel bar, Sky Bar, which was hosting a DJ event that evening, so pulsating dance music rippled through the hotel and I could see a big screen with flashes of images near the pool. The restaurant, however, was the complete opposite in mood. In fact, there was no one there except me and another couple.

I sat down and ordered a dry martini (I feel like James Bond when traveling) when my waiter brought out the ubiquitous bread basket. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts about my Buenos Aires dining, restaurants always brought out a big basket of bread, which often contained rolls and breadsticks. But Axel’s presentation was more sophisticated, an indication of the level of dining ahead.

Along with the bread basket came a tray with a mousse in one dish (it tasted like salmon) and some extra virgin olive oil in the other. The extra virgin olive oil (from Mendoza, the country’s wine region) was refreshingly rich and flavorful, with the grassy undertones you find in quality oils.

The menu continued the sophisticated tone with a contemporary twist to Argentine cuisine. I started with the watercress salad with duck confit and creamy orange-citrus dressing (AR$20 or $6.90). The salad was huge (and people in Buenos Aires seem to like serving their salads in these clear cylindrical bowls) and there was a lot of duck meat. The duck was a bit on the bland side, but the overall salad was light and had clean flavors from the citrus dressing.

For my entrée, I ordered the Merluza Negra or Patagonian Toothfish (AR$66 or $22.80). This is actually a huge and toothy (kind of ugly looking) fish that is commonly known as Chilean sea bass back home in the States. Since I stopped eating Chilean sea bass because of sustainability issue, I gave myself an exception because I was eating it from the local source.

The fish, luckily, was just a filet and not the whole thing. It sat on a bed of wheat cereal with slices of chorizo. While the dish wasn’t very colorful (it was mostly brown), I enjoyed the light broth and the fish was cooked perfectly with some crispy skin still attached. I wasn’t a fan of the mote (a kind of wheat) although I did feel like I was eating very healthfully after days of grilled beef.

I finished the evening with the burnt caramel with passion fruit sorbet (AR$22 or $7.60). It was a very interesting presentation with the scoop of sorbet served in this tall stemware topped off with a lavender flower (my favorite). The burnt caramel was creamy and nice (although the flavor wasn’t necessarily extraordinary) and the sorbet was a refreshing complement (the plate was finished off with a drizzle of cilantro sauce).

The food at Axel Kitchen is subtle in taste, but exquisite in plating and sophistication. It seems that with so many eating options around town, many people probably bypass this hotel restaurant, which is a shame because it seems to be quite different than your typical hotel experience.

My hotel dinner was a pleasant and elegant detour from my original plans.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (sophisticated room service)

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 always find it fascinating when you travel and see all the different ways people serve their food. One interesting element of dining in Buenos Aires that I discovered is that in some restaurants when you order a carbonated drink, they serve you the drink with your own seltzer bottle like the one you see above. I ordered a lemonade at this Italian restaurant. (The food was awful but I ate here out of desperation after hours of walking the town.) It was fun adding my own bubbles to my drink, although you have to be careful not to squeeze it too hard the first time. Believe me, I learned the hard way.


Passionate Eater said...

I completely agree with you about experiencing other cultures and countries through traveling and food! It is such an enriching experience. Also, you said you feel like James Bond when traveling because of those martinis? Well, you look and act like James Bond even in San Francisco! Handsome and mysterious! (Even if you didn't order a martini when we last met.)

Single Guy Ben said...

[[blush]] :)

Anonymous said...

The photo of the menu on your blog is torturing me. I want to eat with that restaurant also!

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful restaurant, Buenos Aires looks like it has so many! I love that seltzer water contraption you mentioned at the end, what a great idea!

Ms.Balut said...

Okay now i'm hungry.
I love your blog. :)