This is the fifth post in the Hello Argentina Series detailing my week-long trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Other posts include Hello Argentina, La Cabrera, La Rambla, Empanadas, Tamales, and Beer, Oh My!, and Buenos Aires - Three Most Famous Ice Cream Shops.
My goal in picking restaurants in Argentina was simple: explore and experience all different facets of the local cuisine at its best.
This takes a lot of research and patience. After all, with trips typically being quite short, you don't have that many meals to spare. It would be a waste to even have one bad meal when you only have a limited amount of time, money, and stomach space.
In Argentina, I knew steak was a highlight, so I made a point of dining at the most famous steak house in Buenos Aires, plus another very popular one for good measure. Ice cream is another local favorite. I purposely visited three of the most famous ice cream shops in Buenos Aires.
I checked out several popular local lunch spots, sampling the best tenderloin sandwich in the city (yes, beef again) as well as excellent empanadas.
Finally, I also wanted to explore the up and coming "nouvelle Argentinian cuisine", where local chefs - many of them European-trained - offered creative, seasonal cuisine focusing on local, Argentinian ingredients.
After consulting several sources, including the S. Pellegrino's Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America, Chowhound, and other travel sites, I decided to book Chila in Puerto Madero, which also (conveniently) happened to be within walking distance from our hotel.
Chila opened in 2006 in Puerto Madero, a beautiful, newer riverside neighborhood on the modern side of Buenos Aires. It has gorgeous views of the Rio de la Plata and serves new Argentinian cuisine.
The chef, Soledad Nardelli, has trained in both Paris and Barcelona. Her philosophy for Chila is to apply haute cuisine techniques to Argentina's rich supply of quality products, "always respecting their essence and seasonality."
The restaurant is highly acclaimed, boasting the 28th spot on the S. Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants in Latin America (No. 3 in Buenos Aires after La Cabrera and Tegui).
The menu has a three course menu (450 pesos / $56 USD*) and a seven course menu (650 pesos / $81 USD*). Of course we went for the seven course.
We started with an amuse of zucchini, eggplant, red pepper, and goat cheese. Since I'm not the biggest fan of stronger goat cheeses (and this one was quite strong!) I didn't love this starter. Bryan, who loves stinky cheeses, really enjoyed this small bite.
On the side we had several breads from which to choose: bacon bread, blue cheese and nut bread, cereal bread, and red wine & brown sugar bread.
Wine prices in Buenos Aires are not bad at all, and will definitely seem cheaper than in the US. Perhaps they don't have all these expensive liquor licenses they have to get, and therefore the up charge is never nearly as crazy as it is in the U.S. Bryan decided to splurge and we got a lovely bottle of 2010 Cobos malbec, which cost us about $160 USD (similar if not lower than retail prices in the US).
Our first course consisted of raw, sashimi-like slices of Silverside (a mild white fish) served with capers from Cordoba (a city in Argentina) in a clean, cucumber turnip sauce. The capers added just the right amount of salty zing, contributing pizzazz to the otherwise clean, subtle, and light dish.
The second course, called Chubut, was quite involved. The server brought over several pieces of glassware that totally reminded me of my days in the chemistry lab.
Is that really a round bottom flask? And a glass Buchner funnel?
First, the server poured some sort of broth into the round bottom flask.
Then he added a vial of dried seaweed liinto the funnel. He turned on the flame.
The liquid began bubbling and soon started boiling. As the liquid boiled, it traveled up into the funnel. Once the flame was gone, gravity caused the liquid to travel back down the filter. Now it was a much darker, amber color.
The server poured this beautiful flavorful liquid into our plates.
Aside from the liquid, our plates contained two small pieces of albacore tuna served with seaweed, celery, and salicornia (wild sea beans). The flavorful, clear consomme was an algae-based broth infused with seaweed in the round bottom flask. It was extremely aromatic, clean, yet full of umami from the seaweed. Overall it was a very balanced dish with beautifully refined flavors.
This next course features a very local fish, the Boga, which is a freshwater fish from the Parana River. It came served with a nutty pecan sauce and topped with eucalytus. The fish reminded me of mackerel because it was rich and fatty, though there was not a hint of that fishiness that you sometimes taste in mackeral. The skin was crispy and nicely salted. Overall, the dish was great.
Keeping with the very local, Argentinian theme, the next course was Cow Sweetbreads and Corn. The server explained to us that the sweetbreads are first boiled in water and then grilled. This was served with popcorn, egg yolk sauce, sweetbread jus, and a potato chip.
The sweetbreads were solid: meaty like I expected, though not juicy, fatty, and tender like the ones at Cabanas la Lilas. The sweetbread jus was pretty good - deep, raisiny, with a strong red wine beefy essence.
On the the other side of the plate was a duo of mashed cornmeal and mashed potato. I loved the flavorful, maizy, earthy, and creamy flavors. The tiny grilled baby corn was a nice little added touch that also happened to be delicious.
"I think the last time I had baby corn was high school" quipped Bryan.
I was surprised because I see it in my salad bar at work all the time. Let me tell you, fresh baby corn is a world of a difference from the canned variety you get in your local salad bar.
The next dish was Bryan's favorite dish of the entire tasting menu, and I also agree it was excellent. Like a risotto of sorts, this was Quail over rice from Entre Rios (central province of Argentina), served with peas and shaved dried quail egg.
You can see the dried quail egg in the photo above. The egg yolk haD been salted and cured for 28 days. It added a lovely salty depth of flavor to the entire dish.
For the finale, we got to try some more of Buenos Aires's famous beef. Here, it was a dry aged tenderloin served with a wheat grass foam and Lincoln cheese.
On the side they also gave us a little cup of wheatgrass juice to go along with the steak.
The steak was very good. It was beefy, meaty, and very tender. Bryan missed the smokiness that he remembered from our grilled steaks at Cabanas Las Lilas (probably Bryan's favorite steak in Argentina). I'm guessing these were pan seared (or maybe ous vide?), and thus didn't have that chargilled smoky flavor.
In general, Argentinian beef has less fat and therefore it's never quite as melt-in-your-mouth soft as American corn-fed beef. It definitely has a stronger, "meatier" flavor and has a slightly tougher texture.
For our palate cleanser before dessert, we had a simple cherry granita.
Our final course was a fun play on the traditional flavor combination of cheese and jam. The "dessert" was called Cheese and Sweet Potatoes Jam, and came with pate fruits from various parts of the north (confiture), and a lovely dollop of sweet potato ice cream over shredded white savory cheese.
Though it sounds a bit strange, I was floored by how delicious this combination was. I loved the sweet and savory combo of the potato ice cream and the salty cheese. In general, cheese goes very well with jam, so it's not a surprise that the little pate fruit blocks paired so exceptionally well with the cheese and potato ice cream.
All in all we had a lovely meal at Chila. We really enjoyed the beautiful views of Puerto Madero right outside our window. The service was excellent, and most of the workers spoke English really well. Out of all the restaurants we ate at while in Buenos Aires, this one had the most sophisticated dishes and highest level of food execution. We were genuinely impressed and pleased with the meal. Furthermore, the 7-course tasting menu was an excellent value, both at the official rate ($81) and especially at the US cash rate ($55-$65 USD).
I would highly recommend coming here. It's the perfect blend of everything I was looking for: excellent sophisticated food; a focus on local Argentinian ingredients; a great (convenient) location with gorgeous views; and a great value.
*this is the official exchange rate (8 pesos / $1 USD) and what you would get if you used a credit card. Many restaurants are willing to accept US cash and will give you a much better rate.
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