It is something that foreigners always notice when arriving in Argentina, in fact, it is one of the most common questions I hear during our Buenos Aires wine tastings, the question of Argentinean heritage; ‘the people here are so blonde….and white!’. They always seem surprised that they have stumbled into Latin American country where people look and behave like Italians (think lots of hand-gestures and a disgraceful amount of snogging in the streets!) and Spaniards.
According to INDEC figures, roughly 90% of the total population of Argentina is self-identifited as ‘white’ with the highest concentration in regions such as Las Pampas (Central East), Patagonia (South) and Cuyo (wine country, out West). This is mainly due to the huge influx of European immigrants from Europe and the Middle East between the late 19th century and the early 20th century and a smaller proportion of Spaniards from the colonial period.
I myself am well aware of the reality of this as my family-in-law to-be have a Italian and German background, I have even heard my mother-in-law state, ‘well, we are European you know’. Ummmmm, actually no but that’s ok. The point is, when you have a mother-in-law from Italian decent you better believe that she will behave like a stereotypical Italian mother. Where Argentineans would say ‘carinosa’(caring/loving), I would say smothering. I love her, she is a wonderful, warm woman but my god, when it comes to her son, you better stand back and let her get on with it. So more often than not, when we get a dinner invite we go, which will be every week without fail. I guess I’m just not used to it, all this family time; we can be a bit cold us Brits don’t you know. J
Last week, she wanted to take us all out to a fancy restaurant so off we trot to Hipodromo de Palermo. But wait…isn’t that the vast horse racing course? Why yes it is, but what you probably don’t know (well, I certainly didn’t) is that, inside the breathtaking, Parisian style Hipodromo building there is a labyrinth of casino slots machines, restaurants, art exhibitions and Vegas style tango shows. It is unbelievable; the underbelly of Buenos Aires. Once weaving through the blinking ‘one-armed bandits’ we found our destination, Batacazo Bistro.
To be honest, I found the restaurant utterly bizarre but wonderful. With it’s classy wooden floorboards, crystal chandeliers, green and white tiled open kitchen, beautifully dressed tables and booths complete with a gorgeous concealed Argentinean wine cellar, all overlooking the gaudy flashing fruit machine lights…what a contrast! The ambiance itself was quite surprising too; Batacazo Bistro was completely packed out, reservations are certainly needed for the weekend slots! Fancy local Portenos were wining and dining, heartily contributing to the pleasant tranquil atmosphere as the neatly dressed waiting staff continuously busied themselves.
The menu is certainly different from your average Argentinean tucker; there were words that I recognised and others that were alien (note: they do not have English menus) but I guess you could classify the food as Argentinean-Mediterranean style. On my mother-in-law’s advice we shared the starters, which were ridiculously large! Senor Rico and I went for a mozzarella, tomato and molleja (sweetbreads) salad with a lemon dressing, and his parents for the fritatta de mar (fried calamari, salmon, prawns and squid). The salad was nice but nothing mind-blowing; the mixed green leafs were crunchy, the mozzarella was slightly chewy, the tomatoes were sweet and the mollejas were actually melt in your mouth delicious but few and far between. As a whole it lacked flavor, if it had a bit more dressing, it would have been spot on. The fritatta de mar was very tasty, but of course greasy enough to give you a heart attack on the spot.
For mains, I had read on Guia Oleo (Argentinean restaurant recommendation website) that the ‘involtini de ave con rucula, parmesano y ajies asado’ (stuffed chicken breast, with rocket, parmesan and roasted pepper) and the ‘salteado de lomo Dijon con huevo poche y papas rusticas’ (sauteed beef tenderloin with a dijon mustard sauce, poached egg and rustic potatoes) were worth a look at so we ordered one each. The beef dish was incredibly flavorsome but almost too rich with its thick creamy mustard sauce, the sticky texture of the runny egg, heavy tough chopped beef, onions and mushrooms. After two bites I felt full and in desperate need of a glass of water as it was heavily salted, just like the Argentineans like it, so of course Senor Rico thought it was heavenly. The chicken was lighter, just as full of texture and flavors as the beef but somehow seemed fresher with the peppery rocket and sprinkle of parmesan cheese and was therefore much more approachable. If I had one criticism it would be that the chicken was slightly overcooked but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Obviously there was wine to wash it all down. My father-in-law selected a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon by traditional Argentinean winery Neito Senetiner which is based in the Mendoza wine region. According to the bottle, the grapes had been grown on thirty year old vines in Lujan de Cuyo region and aged for 8 months in third use French oak barrels. The aroma was youthful, lively and full of dark fruit berries, cassis with a hint of pungent spices from the oak. The deep flavours imitated the nose nicely while the structured tannins emphasised the full, rather potent body. Great to stand up to that rich salteado de lomo!
All in all, it was pretty pricey but if you pay on AMEX you’ll get a discount…and the money you save, can be lost on the slot machines afterwards! Really, I adored the whole experience. Open from Sunday to Thursday 8pm until 1.30am and Friday, Saturdays and holidays from 8pm to 2.30am.
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