Hola, que tal? I recently got back from 11 days in Argentina, split between bustling Buenos Aires and the serenity of Mendoza’s high-elevation vineyards, which in mid-March were heavy with healthy grapes ready for harvest. (Spoiler alert: Barring anything radical like a late frost or biblical hail storms, 2018 could be the best vintage in Argentina since 2002.)
Buenos Aires had always felt like a city on edge to me. I’d been to BA a handful of times from 2004 to 2013, always encountering some craziness, like lunatic cabbies buzzing me in a pedestrian intersection and a general sense of grittiness in the streets. Not so anymore; Buenos Aires has changed…for the better. The tension that defined the city a decade ago has largely dissipated; there’s a more stable federal government now under President Mauricio Macri, and while inflation continues to plague Argentina, BA seems happier and far less ominous.
To experience the best of Buenos Aires, stay at Algodon Mansion, a European-style boutique hotel situated on a tree-lined street in the heart of tony Recoleta. Thoroughfares like this, with architecturally impressive buildings adorned with wrought-iron gates and balconies, are what helped earn Buenos Aires its mid-century nickname, the “Paris of South America.”
Just a few blocks away are the city’s premier luxury hotels—the Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt, the Alvear Palace and the Four Seasons. I am partial to the Palacio Duhau for its belle-époque design and elaborate interior gardens. For trendier boutique hotels in the Palermo neighborhood, Buenos Aires’ magnet for culture, shopping, food and drinks, Home Hotel and Fierro Hotel rank as cool places to bunk down.
Where to Eat
Most porteños (residents of BA) anoint Don Julio in Palermo and La Brigada in San Telmo as the two best steakhouses in town. Lunch at Don Julio with Andrés Blanchard, an owner of Bodega Cuarto Dominio, and our wives featured a lively Saturday afternoon vibe and a memorable bife de chorizo (NY Strip). My other favorite BA restaurants were:
Mishiguene: Chef Tomás Kalika interprets “immigrant” food at this popular Palermo spot, but mostly the menu steers in the direction of Old World Jewish favorites like stuffed onion, cured white fish with tabbouleh, and the pièce de résistance, pastrami served in a cast-iron loaf pan atop a thick potato pancake, topped with a fried egg and pickled red cabbage. The wine list here is very good and varied; we drank the Bonarda from Cara Sur, a pet project of winemaker Sebastián Zuccardi.
Casa Cavia: In an elegant townhouse overlooking Plaza Alemania, this restaurant features creative plates popular with ladies who lunch. The tree-and-vine-filled courtyard was particularly appealing on a sunny late-summer afternoon. Here we drank Colomé Torrontés, a floral white wine from Salta in the north of Argentina.
Café San Juan La Cantina: If it’s Sunday afternoon, stroll the sprawling street market in San Telmo, then peel off for lunch at this funky restaurant owned by celebrity chef Leandro “Lelé” Cristóbal. Here, accompanied by local wine journalist Alex Iglesias and his wife, Carina, we fell for Durigutti Winemakers new Proyecto Cordisco, a light-bodied red wine made from the same grape used in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in Italy.
Los Inmortales: In Recoleta, this is the definition of a local place. My wife and I were the only non-porteños in the house. The pizzas are good and the wine list offered up Bodega Norton’s D.O.C. Malbec, which was fresh and tasty.
Los Galgos: This café on a busy corner near downtown is the newest hot spot from bar maven and restaurateur Julián Díaz. Looking much like it did in its glory days 70 years ago, Los Galgos has a clever wine list and serves modern takes on classic Argentinean foods: think milanesas (Argentina’s answer to schnitzel), empanadas and more. Here we sipped on Díaz’s new vermouth called La Fuerza.
Where to Drink
Florería Atlántico is everyone’s favorite cocktail lounge. Located on a quiet street in Recoleta, the bar is hidden beneath a flower shop-cum-enoteca. Take the unmarked door downstairs to the basement and indulge in hand-crafted boozy concoctions, many based on a house gin called Príncipe de los Apóstoles, which includes yerba mate, Argentina’s popular tea-like leaf.
Boticario in Palermo looks like an old apothecary, and drinks lean towards the botanical and medicinal. I had a pre-mixed Negroni served in a stoppered bottle, and it was a fine digestif. Excellent tunes and much to look at on the walls and shelves make Boticario a must-visit spot.
Pain et Vin in Palermo is a wine shop, wine bar and bread baker. Here we had a mature rosé from respected winemaker Walter Bressia matched with several Argentinean cheeses. And it turns out that I had previously met our young server, 20-year-old Gaspar Mausbach, whose father, Jeff, is an owner of TintoNegro and several other Mendoza and Salta wine labels.
Pibä in Palermo is one of a growing number of quality oriented beer bars in the city. No longer content to drink only Quilmes (Argentina’s Budweiser equivalent), porteños have in recent years taken to microbrews. Here, refreshment came in the form of a kölsch-style beer from Antares brewery, based in Mar Del Plata.
So that’s a quick look at what’s happening in Buenos Aires. Next up in part two: a report on the new hotels and greatly improved winery restaurants in Mendoza’s Valle de Uco, where more than just the Andes are looking up.