It was not the best meal of my life.
There was a lot to like: The food was good. The service was friendly and gracious. The room was sleek and clean. The wines — five of them — were delicious and well paired. I roped Robert into going and we had a great time.
But the place really screwed with my head. I still don't know exactly what to make of it.
We paid just under US$60 each for the meal (including the wine and the tip) and my fear was that I would leave feeling I had overpaid. But no; that's not it. And I didn't leave disappointed either.
I just left a little confused.
Robert (whom I thank for most of the photos in this post) was definitely onto something when he said the dishes were a little muted — no flavors really popped.
It's sort of the Argentine interpretation of the foams-and-small-plates school of cooking, complete with bife de chorizo and papas — though, of course, the potatoes were partly a foam.
I wouldn't not recommend this restaurant, I just don't know who I would recommend it to.
If you're coming from outside Argentina, then, sure, US$60 probably sounds like a great deal and I think you'll probably enjoy your meal, though I don't know if you'll be blown away.
I wouldn't recommend it to my Argentine friends because, frankly, I'd be embarrassed to tell them I spent US$60 on one meal. If they could get past that, I think they'd actually be more likely than people from abroad to enjoy it, but that just brings me to another point:
None of the diners in the restaurant was a native speaker of Spanish. Like so many other aspects of the meal, I don't know quite what to make of that either.
This is not a complete rendering of our meal, nor am I going to be able to accurately describe all the plates. We practically begged our waiter for a written list of what we were eating. He said he'd write it out if we'd like, but in the end he didn't.
Working left-to-right, top-to-bottom, among the dishes were seaweed and fish-skin candy (resting in a bowl of salt); remarkably crispy deep-fried dill and basil; a beautifully buttery potato foam with a potato, egg and truffle square resting in a pool of butter; trilla (fish) sitting atop a grilled plum; duck confit cannoli with a peapod; bife de chorizo with roasted tomatoes and chimichurri sauce; a tea jelly coated with citric acid, and a dessert plate that included a pistachio ice cream, a square of warm chocolate cake, a chocolate cream and two other things that I'm quite sure I was able to identify at the time.
There were other elements, too — a shooter of ceviche; a pork cheek swimming in a deep, smoky broth; a meaty piece of pollack served alongside puffed rice in a paella reduction; a two-temperature pea soup; candied almonds; bonbons, and a lollipop that tasted like toothpaste.
No pictures of the wine, but we enjoyed two glasses of a Malbec rosé, a Viognier, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend, a Tannat and a glass of Malbec port to wrap it all up.
I'm looking over this list and wondering (a) why is it we didn't need a crane to get us out of the restaurant? and (b) why in the world am I so conflicted after all this great food and wine?
We got to the restaurant at 9pm. It was 1am when we walked out. We covered a lot of ground — foodwise, obviously, but also conversationwise. Mostly it was me expounding on my philosophy of blogging . . . until Robert threatened to get up and leave, at which point I started talking about fruit.
We also found time to talk about the best meal of our lives and what kind of things play into that.
For both of us, the best meals of our lives had been while we were traveling. It's easy to see why this might be.
When I see tourists here, I sometimes flash to how exotic and mesmerizing Buenos Aires must seem. Seeing what I see every day and knowing what I know, it can be hard to put myself in that perfect place, but I do at least remember how exotic and mesmerizing it seemed to me — enough so that I quit my job and moved here.
Wednesday night's meal wasn't the best of my life, but I did like it. I also liked walking around for half an hour afterward and talking about the city, both as it once was and as it is now.
It's not hard for me to see how you could have the best meal of your life in Buenos Aires. And why not have at La Vineria?
La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar is at Bolivar 865 in San Telmo.