On the outer edge of the trendy Palermo Hollywood neighbourhood, you’ll find Astor Bistro – a humble restaurant tucked into a side street of Buenos Aires, Argentina. But don’t judge the restaurant by its small size: this one’s a keeper.
Astor’s Chef/Owner, Antonio Soriano, has spent years training and working in high end locales around the world (think Cordon Bleu, and multiple Michelin stars). He’s a heavy weight in the food world of Buenos Aires, and Astor is his debut solo endeavour. His vision for this restaurant is “chefs playing and not caring about what anybody thinks.” Astor is also clearly a labour of love in the neighbourhood where Chef Soriano lives with his family. And it turns out his hard work has paid off: Astor turns one in August.
Astor’s menu is structured, but offers room to make important life decisions — like how much you want to eat. The plates are the perfect size to be able to sample as many as you can (and you’re going to want to try them all). There are always eight dishes on the menu (3 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts). You can choose three, five or eight courses.
The menu changes weekly, but dishes also vary nightly because Chef Soriano is focused on cooking with seasonal ingredients at their absolute peak. As the seasons are reversed in the Southern hemisphere, Astor is currently showcasing Fall flavours. Produce arrives as late as 6:00 pm when the restaurant opens at 8:00 – - with the chefs sometimes putting the finishing touches on the menu as guests are arriving for the evening.
A superbly dressed sommelier can provide you with wine pairings that might include some of Argentina’s finest Malbecs. A welcome cocktail served in a classic Argentinian mate gourd awakened my taste buds: lemon, lime, apple, herbs, white wine and italian bitters, a nice twist.
The first of three appetizer courses was a salad of thinly shaved beef tongue with beets, chestnuts and mushrooms. While this isn’t a cut of beef that all North Americans are used to, the Argentinians really know their meat. Trust them: some chefs would stake their reputations on the tongue being the best cut of the cow.
Corn soup was then assembled table side for us. Popped corn, fresh paprika and fresh herbs in the bowl, and corn soup poured over all of this. The popped corn softens very quickly in the soup, and every bite had a perfect balance of sweet corn, salty popped corn, smoky and hot paprika and fresh herbs. The essence of Fall comfort food, but fancy fall comfort food!
The last appetizer dish was a tempura of “morcilla” (above). Argentina is famous for both the spicy chorizo sausage and also the morcilla, a darker and softer blood sausage. It’s usually not my favourite; however, thin slices of morcilla with a tempura batter, plated with an apple compote, tangy lemon oil and a creole sauce won me over. This dish may be the perfect balance of Argentinian roots and contemporary fusion cuisine.
The main courses stared with a plate of slowly cooked wild boar that was served with a shot glass of the stewing jus. Chef Soriano advised that the jus could be drunk on it’s own, ‘like a tea’. It tasted like love, like somebody’s grandmother had prepared it using a recipe passed down for generations, the kind of food that nourishes your soul.
The second main dish was by far my favourite of the evening: seared lamb rib with a silky root vegetable puree. The lamb tasted like green pastures. It had a perfect crispy sear, with a salty gamy finish. You might want to lick your plate after this one.
There were two desserts. A stewed apple, caramel cream and hand made ice cream, and a chocolate in three ways with mandarin parfait, fresh berries and golden kiwis. Both beautifully presented, both showing the fall fruit that Argentina has to offer. Perfect sweet endings.
In a city with endless food options, Astor offers superb cuisine that represents a combination of the best flavours of Argentina and high end international culinary techniques. All of this at incredibly reasonable prices and in a warm easy atmosphere. At the time of this article, the full eight course tasting menu with wine pairings cost about $45 US dollars.
When visiting Buenos Aires, there are a thousand amazing steak houses. Definitely give them a try. Then when you’re ready to see what the future of food looks like in Argentina, come to see Chef Soriano, try everything on the menu, and ask him to tell you his story.
CIUDAD DE LA PAZ 353 | BUENOS AIRES
T: +54 11 4554 0802 | EMAIL: INFO@ASTORBISTRO.COM
The writer was a guest of Astor. The restaurant did not review or approve this article.