Sure enough! Although the bagel craze is a North American phenomenon, there are still a few places to get a half-decent bagel in Buenos Aires, as I learned firsthand when I joined some visiting college friends on a bagel hunt through middle class, Jewish Villa Crespo last week. (I also learned that the only way to get a bagel in this city is to ask for it with lox and cream cheese–not a disaster given my willingness to eat fish here and the general deliciousness of the combination, but still a little bit limiting, don’t you think?)
We went first to Café Crespin, which had been recommended to my friend Greg by a local contact who was clearly not a bagel devotee. Although the service at Café Crespin was friendly, the sides of potatoes exceptionally flavorful, and the vegetable sandwich we ordered surprisingly well done for a meatless main, the place looked way too trendy to have a great bagel–and sure enough, the roll itself was tiny and tough and overly dense. Everything else was solid enough, though, that I’d be happy to return one Sunday for the brunch that the cafe hypes as its main event.
Café Crespin can’t hold a candle to our second stop, La Crespo, a newly opened bakery/restaurant six blocks to the west. All of the pastries I had at this tiny place–the potato knish, the bourekas stuffed with eggplant and greens, the tartin–were flaky, buttery and indulgent. My friends had hot pastrami; it went over very well. Stuffed, we made enough room to share a last bagel, and we’re all glad we did–it was light and crunchy and perfectly toasted, without a doubt the best I’ve had yet in BA. And the elderly Jewish couple that runs the place is adorable, overflowing with pride in the food they serve. When I complimented the kindly male half on our meal, he responded, “Yes, we make very good bagels, and we make very good hot pastrami.” It would have been hard to disagree.
Sure, Anthony Bourdain’s kind of an ass, but his TV show, No Reservations, can be lots of fun to watch. I just found the episode in which he visits Argentina online (via Yanqui Mike’s blog) and figured I’d share it. It’s a bit overdone at times (“A drink awaits you… a last whiskey at the end of the world”), but Bourdain actually does a pretty good job with Buenos Aires, and his trip to Patagonia makes for some very nice images. Plus you can see all the meat I’m not eating! Give it a gander if you’re so inclined.
After leaving my Wednesday seminar this evening, I met my friend Germán in Almagro (probably my favorite Buenos Aires barrio) for dinner at El Molino Dorado. My meal at this family-run Russian restaurant was, unexpectedly, one of the best I’ve had in Buenos Aires. I ordered the salmon and ricotta blinis (there were no vegetarian mains on the menu; given the difficulty of rigid vegetarianism here, I’ve taken to eating fish on occasion). They were perfect, served with fresh herbs and so flavorful. And they came with a complimentary (and generous) serving of disarmingly delicious house-brewed vodka, infused with a special selection of herbs and spices. (Who knew you could find artisan vodka in BA?) Dessert–more blinis, but this time light, sweet, and drizzled with honey–was simple but oh-so-tasty, a refreshing change of pace in a city that loves to eat heavy. Dmitri, the exceedingly friendly Russian expat who co-owns the place and served us tonight, even threw in a pair of vodka shots as a digestif. Perhaps the greatest shock of the night–the check. Dinner for two, with a liter of beer, plenty of vodka, and dessert, was 98 pesos–about $12 per person. I’ll be coming back.
(A sad footnote–I’m writing the last four sentences of this otherwise exultant post on Augusto’s desktop computer, as my laptop has chosen this as its moment to fail. Another traveler accidentally pushed it off an airport screening table in Boston two months ago, and it’s been doing strange things ever since. Now it won’t boot up. Here’s hoping it can can fixed, and soon.)