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Dinner’s at Midnight in Buenos Aires

By Caroline Shin

A city girl at heart, Caroline Shin left New York City, the glam apple of her eye, for Buenos Aires, the party haunt of South America. Eight months later, she's still indulging in the porteño night life that ignores the onset of daylight, and a cuisine that is known for the prime succulence of its beef. Her quest for gustatory variety and spice has also led her to the best of Poland's borscht, Peru's chupe de camarones and Korea's gamja chigae there. She contentedly shares her culinary notes at Argentina's Travel Guide—Editors

In a city where night life starts around 2 A.M. and extends past dawn, far outrunning the party schedules of New York, London and Paris, dinnertime is also pushed back to midnight here in Buenos Aires. Most travelers need to temper their appetites and their sleep patterns though I flowed in quite naturally with my nocturnal tendencies. Here, in the city of denizens who really never sleep (many squeeze in dinner, drinks, clubbing and a nap, time permitting, before the work bell tolls at 9 A.M.), the restaurants are empty between 9 and 10 P.M. The many empanada houses and cafes, however, are open for early evening snacking to hold you over until your dinner date. And besides, it's not so much fun to dine alone.

At around 11 P.M., the restaurant scenes of Palermo, Puerto Madero and Costanera begin to stir. The main gastronomic poles for the well-heeled, these areas offer the chicest in interior design, culinary innovation and eye candy. Palermo, the number one playground for tourists and porteños alike, includes subdivisions such as Palermo Soho aptly named after Soho in New York City, and Palermo Hollywood, so named for all the TV, radio and film companies that took up residence there. In Buenos Aires, the cobble-stoned Palermo neighborhood offers the most cosmopolitan menus (and stylized spaces) with influences from France, the Middle East, Japan, and of course, Argentina.

One of my favorite spots, the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant, Osaka, produces dishes that could compete in flavor and presentation even in Manhattan; decadent treats include salmon ceviche in a passion fruit and lemon dressing with watercress and phyllo strips, or octopus in a sauce of ají panca, a Peruvian chili, and miso. Especially in a beef-centric culture, it's nice to find some seafood, albeit a limited selection. Sitting in the sleek lounges inside or the cushioned benches upstairs, I can slowly chew my entradas and tapas at 1 A.M. on a Tuesday as I eavesdrop on Argentines' conversations of going to the ícountryë (country-house) this weekend. Most waiters respect the long window for consumption and conversation, rarely rushing you while providing the very lax service that's customary here.

On another night of good eatin', my friends invite me to their customary asado (barbecue) in a mansion in San Isidro that overlooks the Río de la Plata. Around 10 P.M., they light the charcoal and wood in the parrilla (grill), and about an hour later, place slabs of lomo de bife (tenderloin steak), hunks of chorizo and morcilla or blood sausage on it. After a couple of hours of munching on Doritos and sipping on freshly-made caipirinhas, I want to eat. They finally serve all the perfectly smoked meats on a wooden platter at the center of the dining table and I reach for a couple of hot pieces. Oh, the juices that burst out, and the succulence I savored! The beef is indeed heavenly here.

Usually, after dining in ease and tranquility, with careful chewing and warm conversation, I'll leave a still-packed restaurant around 1 A.M. and head to the corner bar Único to reverse the food coma that always settles in. An hour later, I'll hop into a cab with an energetic group of friends, to hear some house music at Roxy or Pacha until 6 A.M. By the time I finally climb into bed, the birds have finished chirping, and the bats have stopped flying. And I know it was yet another good night in Buenos Aires.

Published Jun 5, 2008   Copyright 2008 Caroline Shin

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