For travellers to Latin America, it can be a tricky to spot the tourist traps from the local haunts that deliver. An endless buffet awaits of fusions, flavours, and fare in a metropolis like Buenos Aires. With the wealth of options and lure of tourist traps, how can you get a memorable meal?
Well, there’s a list for that. Ranked by an Academy (yes, like the Oscars) of gastronomical experts, the top 50 restaurants in Latin America are unveiled every year. This list does two important things: the world gets a glimpse into the ever-evolving trends in the food scene, and helps travellers to narrow their “must eat here” list.
List aside, what’s it like to spend an evening at one of these fine establishments? And most importantly: is it worth the hype? Chef and owner, Gonzalo Aramburu, of Aramburu Restaurante in Buenos Aires — aka #14 on the 2014 list –challenged us to find out.
For a top 50 restaurant, Aramburu may seem wrongly situated at first. Arriving by taxi, the block is inhabited by some industrial shops – many vacant – and a side street near the middle of town. But Chef Aramburu consciously chose this neighbourhood for his restaurant eight years earlier, partly because he grew up here and also because competition is pretty much nil.
Stepping inside though, it’s a humble but elegant gem of a restaurant. Ask for the Chef’s table and watch the entire 12-course tasting menu prepared right before your eyes. Aramburu’s sommelier, Agustina de Alba, has created an extensive wine list with helpful hints so guests can get the full breadth of Argentine wine (yes, there is life beyond Malbec!). de Alba is really knows her stuff too – she’s held the title of top sommelier twice in the last four years.
The Food Experience
There isn’t an actual menu here, but don’t panic. Rather than stare at a printed page, the host will discuss the restaurant’s concept with you. Basically, it’s a guided 12 (or more) course tasting tour. Preferences? Food aversions? Your food adventure will be tailored, and why not include the perfectly matched wines?
The food journey kicked off with an amuse-bouche including a parmesan crisp, a mushroom truffle with a carob crust and a potato canoli with house-made aioli, all demonstrating expert technique and precision. This type of high-end, technical cooking is becoming less of a rarity in Buenos Aires — but Aramburu, now eight years in, was the pioneer.
The next few courses were made up of other lighter fare, including a squid ink croquette; a pastry concoction served over a hot stone with corn soup poured table side; and a salad of fresh peas, green apple, shaved radish, olive oil, house-made buratta cheese and coconut milk. The salad is fresh and lush, like springtime blooming on the tongue.
Meat courses included a fresh white salmon (right), along with quail and lamb prepared sous vide — a technique that cooks food at controlled temperatures while sealed in air tight plastic to enhance flavours.
But the most memorable moment of the meal? Biting into the cold smoked filet steak from the province of Pampa. There were other things on the plate (actually, beautiful small sweet potatoes from the North of Argentina, prepared in three ways), but it didn’t matter. I vaguely remember pushing them out of the way with my fork. This first bite of beef had such incredible flavours, making me ponder urban legends about cows raised on a strict diet of walnuts and artisan beer. It’s Chef Aramburu’s favourite dish as well.
There were several equally impressive desert courses, the last of which was a trio of small bites: a sugar-coated marshmallow, a white chocolate truffle and an olive oil jelly perched on a sweet bite of edible wood. Yes, edible wood. Very surprising, but excellent with the olive oil jelly and really, really tasty.
For Once, Let Them Take You to A Second Location
Can dining at one of Latin America’s best restaurants really get any better? Well, yes. That is, when the chef opens a sister restaurant on the same block.
Less than one year ago, the chef opened Aramburu Biz –a relaxed open kitchen, bistro-style eatery with the same attention to detail as the original. Aramburu is a place to go for a special occasion, whereas Aramburu Biz is ideal for a Tuesday night (or any night). Aramburu is fancy and sleek, while Aramburu Biz has mismatched tables and windows stocked with products and ingredients for the chefs. While the original thrills you with a multi-multi-course taste adventure, your options at Biz are more laid back: a six-course tasting menu or anything a-la-carte.
Just like Aramburu, the Biz menu changes seasonally, and the Fall menu includes delights like a veal tartar served with a quail egg yolk and grainy mustard ice cream, and a potato pasta (believe it) with bacon, olives, red peppers and truffle oil, topped with a perfectly prepared 62 degree poached egg. The food is technical, and scrumptious, but also really accessible. This isn’t an easy balance to achieve, and Chef Aramburu nails it.
It’s worth trying a top 50 restaurant in Latin America. If you’re in Buenos Aires to celebrate, make a reservation at Aramburu. If you don’t have a special occasion, make a reservation anyway and just celebrate the food. And then two days later when you’re still thinking about how amazing the meal was, try Aramburu Biz.
The food scene in Latin America is changing. There are incredible food traditions and products here, and combining these with modern Michelin-star techniques and the best food artisans around is something not to be missed. To view the 2014 edition of Latin America’s best restaurants, click here.
Salta 1050 :: C1074AAV
Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
T. +5411 4305 0439
The writer was a guest of Aramburu Restaurant. The restaurant did not review or approve this article.