Sunday, December 10, 2006

A MILONGUERA'S CHOW GUIDE: December 10, 2007
Restaurant: Pepito
Address: 383 Montevideo (off Corrientes)

As avid readers, we decided to dedicate part of our Friday checking out the used bookstores that dot Corrientes. Wanting a break from our usual restaurants, we stopped at Pepito, located near Paseo La Plaza with its little shops, eateries, and theaters.

This cafeteria-style restaurant is well-known and, as I have been told, very portenan. The restaurant remained practically empty, except for the two of us and a family of tourists, until about 9 p.m. when the locals started pouring in. By the time we left, the place was bustling.

I was feeling guilty from the previous night's carbo-load at Marcelo, so I dined lightly on a basic chicken noodle soup (sans chicken) and canned sardines with tomato and onions. I felt virtuous, but was unimpressed by my dinner. My boyfriend, on the other hand, feeling the warm fuzzies of being in a typical portenan restaurant, ordered the classic "puchero de gallina".

The puchero, or pucherito, if you want to be more "carinoso", is a vat of boiled veggies and several different pieces of meat. The water in which these ingredients are boiled go into whatever soup the cook decides to make. In our particular pucherito, we found a 1/2 piece of sausage, a chicken thigh and boob, and a slab of fatty pork, along with carrot medallions, chopped chard, a whole peeled potato, cabbage, and garbanzo beans.

I am sure this concoction warms the cockles of many portenans, though I am hard-pressed to understand the reason why from my taste of this particular pucherito. My very first pucherito tasting sometime last year left me unsatisfied, too. First of all, the sausage was radioactive-red from all the preservatives, but it was probably the only item that was close to having any kind of flavor. Everything else tasted flat and boring. With a little salt, the pucherito became a flat and boring culinary experience with salt.

The place has some positive aspects, however. Tourists wanting a taste of Argentine cuisine that doesn't include a side of cow can have their fill of "minutas" (the Argentine version of fast food that includes mystery meat breaded and deep fried), pastas. If you need to have beef, you can, of course, get your fix here. In addition, it is in the heart of downtown BsAs, and is close to the theaters.

Think first before coming here. While our dining experience was not horrible, I would encourage you to save yourself for other restaurants featured in the Chow Guide.

Atmosphere: Very large, non-descript, cafeteria-style restaurant.

Service: Friendly and efficient

Bathroom: Clean

Total damage: 58 pesos

Overall: Clean, efficient, and thoroughly unremarkable. Come here if you need to feed, but not for pleasure.
THE VIRTUES OF A CLEAN BATHROOM: A Special Report for A Milonguera's Chow Guide

You've probably been wondering what my deal is with the bathroom report in my Chow Guide. I wouldn't call myself a neat freak or a germophobe. If you had seen my car and one of my old apartments, you would know that nothing could be further from the truth. Matted dog hair, sticky cup holders, unidentifiable and dehydrated vegetables in the back of my fridge. It was pretty gross, I have to admit.

However, while the rest of my world could have been growing fur or serving as lab experiments, my bathroom was always clean. How did such a slob become such a proponent for a clean water closet? As many psychotherapists like to think, it all goes back to one's family of origin.

My mom worked for hospitals and the American Red Cross. We'd take our shoes off at the door and wash our hands as soon as we arrived to prevent bringing any germs from the world outside into our house. When I was little she instructed me to stand on or hover over the toilet, or to line the seat with an inch's worth of toilet paper to prevent any contact with other people's germs. She disinfected the kitchen and bathroom with such environment blasters as Comet or Ajax. God love her.

These childhood experiences have been burned forever in my memory, so that I cannot review a restaurant without also checking out the bathroom. Of course, I could probably do a kitchen tour, but, as my boyfriend says, I should just stay away from the kitchen. Besides, the bathroom tells me plenty. It reflects, in part, how the kitchen personnel will care for the food I will put in my body. If the bathroom is downright nasty, or if the soap dispenser is empty or the toilet paper is missing from the stalls, how much attention are they going to give me and my chow?

Details and impressions are important, as we all know from tango. A tweak to one's hip or a turn in one's head can make all the difference in the world. A careful consideration of one's partner in the dance many times reveals a careful consideration of others in general. Of course, I may be having an "off" day and could care less about my hip alignment, as these restauranteurs may be all about the kitchen and nothing else, but putting forth the effort to attend to such details marks the difference between a good experience and fantastic experience on or off the dance floor.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Restaurant: Marcelo Ristorante, Cocina Italiana
Address: Alicia M. de Justo 1140, Puerto Madero
Tel: 4342-8689/4342-8243

I believe in signs and symbols. I read my horoscope in the Sunday supplement and my fortune from Chinese fortune cookies. I try to decorate my home according to the tenets of feng shui, and will occasionally say a novena to the St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases, when I'm especially desperate. Given my touchy-feely-California grooviness, how could I consider the fact that one of my favorite restaurants in Buenos Aires and my boyfriend share the same name to be a mere coincidence? Impossible! It's a sign.

Oh, I could dedicate a whole blog to extol the virtues of Marcelo The Boyfriend, but then you'd have to throw up. Instead, I will sing the praises of Marcelo The Restaurant.

Marcelo Piegari, son of Daddy Piegari (who owns the famous "Piegari" restaurant) and long-lost younger and shorter cousin to Tom Selleck, has made his mark on the restaurant scene of BA. Having eaten at his father's more formal and more expensive restaurant located in the underpass near the Four Seasons downtown, which is also home to Mirasol and other such high-priced and high-brow restaurants, Piegari Junior blows his dad out of the water. True, Piegari Senior has established a fine Italian restaurant for those who like a little more intimacy with dark wood paneling and brass, but I believe Marcelo and his co-conspirator, Adolfo Astigarraga have founded a fine restaurant known for their excellent and abundant Italian cuisine and outstanding service at a price that's hard to beat. In fact, you'll find Marcelo taking care of his baby almost every night. On especially busy nights, you may even find him playing both maitre'd AND parking attendant.

Having burned what seemed to be a few hundred calories on the dance floor at El Beso on Thursday night, the Tango Goddess was sweaty and ready to eat. Our party of 3 shared the following: a salad with lettuce, tomato, and onion, melanzane parmigiana, pizza margherita, taglionlini bolognesa, and an amaretto ice cream for dessert. First, the appetizers. I wasn't really in the mood for a salad, but it looked so fresh that I had to give in. Who would of thought of asking for the salad ingredients to be cut julienne-style would make eating salad so much more fun and easier to eat? Thanks to our friend for the tip. The melanzane/eggplant parm rocked, even though I thought I was ordering our regular melanzane a la siciliana, which also rocks the house, by the way. The eggplant a la siciliana is chopped and marinated, and comes without the cheese. The pizza, your basic cheese pizza with the usual extra chopped garlic, was a revelation. I have to say now that I have found pizza paraiso. Dare I say it is better that Casa Mia's pie? YES! It had a thin crust, with just the right amount of cheese for it to be slightly goopy, but not messy. A plus for when you're dressed up.

The utter lightness of the pizza allowed me to indulge in my other Marcelo fave: pasta with meat sauce. Come on. It's pasta with meat sauce. How pedestrian! Seriously, folks, it's absolutely delicious. We always choose the thinnest possible pasta because, according to Marcelo The Boyfriend, it holds the sauce better. I happen to disagree. I mean, what about penne or any other pasta with a hole? But, hey, who is an Asian American to argue with an Italian? The pasta is never over-cooked here, thank goodness, or there would be hell to pay. The meat sauce is TO DIE. The difference, I think, is the fact that you can see the chunks of meat in the sauce and that it's a much more "suave" taste, not at all like the super-tomato-ey red bolognese sauce I'm used to. The order of pasta was enough for the three of us!

Their desserts are wonderful, too. The amaretto dessert topped with cream was sinful, but I have also had their chocolate volcano which is always a good choice, especially when you need a chocolate fix and/or are nearing that time of the month.

Atmosphere: This may not be a suitable place to take your sweetie on his or her first date with you, but it is in pretty Puerto Madero and located on the water. Unlike Piegari, this restaurant is more like a refined cafeteria with linens. This place packs 'em in during the weekends, and, therefore, gets pretty loud and crazy busy. You can even see the waiters tense up. However, everyone's usually very well-behaved-no foodfights to report-although there are the occasional rugrats who roam freely. There is a separate, closed-off space for smokers.

Service: These waiters work their butts off, and are always very polite and professional.

Bathroom: CLEAN and always stocked with soap and toilet paper!

Total damage: 3 people, including water, wine, and tea = 147 pesos. This, I believe, is a bargain, considering that the portions are big enough to share, at least between two people.

Overall: It's love, I tell you.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


December 2nd marked the 2-month anniversary of the BsAs government's non-smoking ban in public places smaller than 100 square meters. Those locales with more than 100 square meters are allowed to dedicate 30 percent of their space to smokers, provided that this dedicated space is enclosed and has its own ventilation system.

Now, when this new law was being debated, tango goddess thought, "There's no way in hell this law is going to be put into effect." She has witnessed people running red lights as police hang back and watch, dogs doing their business in the middle of the sidewalk without their owners' cleaning up, cartoneros digging through people's garbage for things to recycle (always very cool) and leaving garbage strewn all over the sidewalks and streets (so not very cool), kitchen personnel licking plates in the back after customers' have finished eating (eeewwww), and friends being taken on the more expensive scenic route to their destination by taxi drivers. Granted, I am certain that such things happen in the U.S., although I am sure I would be hard-pressed to find restaurant personnel licking customers' plates. However, it seems that people can get away with murder here, or, at least, it appears that there is, as one Argentine observed, no sense of civic duty.

The night before the start of the ban, I told my Argentine boyfriend that this law would be loosely applied, certainly in the milongas, given how many of the milongueros and milongueras smoke. I was prepared to continue carrying my asthma medication with me everywhere I went, and to continue stripping off smoke-perfumed clothing after every milonga. He swore up and down that non-smokers like him would rise up, take to the streets, and fight for their right to breathe! I wanted to believe him.

On October 2nd, I walked into my favorite neighborhood cafe to have my cafe con leche descafeinado, and, lo and behold, they had declared the place smoke-free. To my pleasant surprise, many cafes taped hand-written "libre de humo" signs on their doors and windows. Still, would hard-core milongueros and milongueras obey this law? I was certain they wouldn't. After all, the milonga is a business, and business means getting as many people packed into one's milonga, and many of these people are used to sitting their in their cloud of Marlboro humo.

As I walked into El Beso, I found, again, to my pleasant surprise, that it, too, had been declared a smoke-free environment. Not only that, they had a copy of the law posted at the entrance. My jaw dropped. "Yo te dije, y no me creiste," he said with a grin, but I know, somewhere in that pesto-marinated Italian heart of his, that he, too, doubted that the law would take effect as well as it did.

The smokers of the milonga scene, who come armed with mints for their oral fixation, and who must now step out of the milonga for their breath of fresh nicotine, declare this law to be "a verguenza". If I had any balls and confidence in my Spanish skills, I'd retort, "You know what the verguenza was? Having to sit next to smokers and giving up my right to breath." My boyfriend, who has balls and Spanish skills, tells them to look at this as an opportunity for them to stop smoking. Many people, according to recent statistics, have begun to shake the habit, and more power to them.

Thanks to the the BsAs government, the tango goddess now roams freely in the tango jungle, smelling sweetly once again.