There’s nothing quite like a workers’ co-operative coming together to fight adversity in the shape of unreasonable bosses and managing to keep their jobs and an enterprise going.
One of the more memorable success stories of the past decade is that of the Bauen Hotel located on Pueyrredón. Shut down by its owners in the middle of Argentina’s last financial crisis in 2002, the staff put their collective foot down, and then forward, to reopen the establishment and keep operations running. Which they still do to this day.
Of course, on the flip side of the coin, for every success story there is a failure, and just last year, Café Richmond’s employees went through a similar fiasco. The historic watering-hole’s big bosses decided to sell the building — a prime piece of Florida Street real estate — to developers keen to install yet another sports footwear store. Waiters, probably bedecked in waistcoats and bow-ties, took over the building, desperate to keep their jobs and retain a slice of literary history, given that the prolific writer Jorge Luis Borges used to sip a coffee there. However, their efforts proved fruitless.
Meanwhile, staff from Palermo bodegón Gardelito also had a brief dalliance when they set up a co-operative because the porteño restaurant’s future looked doomed after a 19-year career. They managed to keep things going at the popular joint, although not quite as tip-top as it used to be, according to new owner Rodrigo Torelli.
And a decent place for a casual lunch Gardelito certainly was, to tuck into some ribs and a cheap bottle of red. I last frequented it in July 2011 for Silver Pear’s leaving lunch — we were a mere three guests, with Martín and myself ensuring she had a suitable dousing of both beef and Malbec to keep her going until her next sojourn to BA. And that was it.
In fairness, I didn’t even know it had closed down, until I was busy stuffing a hand-cut steak empanada down my gannet that evening.
I thought I was at Puro Arrabal, which in fact I was, but until it was gently pointed out to me by Rodrigo, it was then that the penny dropped, and I realized Arrabal had taken up where Gardelito left off.
There are still plenty of nods in tribute to the former bodegón: white china penguin jugs into which wine is decanted, bandoneón instruments decorating the walls, and caricatures of el zorzál himself.
But from old Gardelito, Puro Arrabal has soared, phoenix-like, from the flames and taken matters a step further, to create the nuevo bodegón. The parrilla is still there, the minutas and milanesas are still favourites with regulars, but the new management has taken the menu up a notch to give it a modern twist to include Malbec-marinated rib-eye wrapped in bacon or braised lamb with a Merlot gravy among other dishes.
As soon as the sort of obvious had been pointed out, I realized immediately where I was, and felt foolish for not knowing Gardelito was no more, but also content to know a new place was keeping the spirit alive.
Puro Arrabal retains elements of the classic porteño menu and other Argentine classics which keeps the old regulars happy. A homely puchero and locro stews, milanesas, stuffed pastas, everything is made from scratch — and the emphasis is very much on home-cooked food: Rodrigo’s wife has revealed her own recipe for the apple crumble.
And for comforting food, what better way than a hand-cut steak empanada and a provoleta? The little meaty packet was oddly sweet, which made an interesting change (down to the red peppers), while the melted grilled cheese, dressed with sun-dried tomatoes and rocket leaves, was perfectly cooked with a few crunchy bits on the side. Heaven. Another time, I’d be tempted by sweetbreads dressed in scallions.
Mr Links was lured in lamby temptation with the raviolis, which tasted fabulous. However, one or two of the little packets was a bit thin on lamb stuffing. His Mediterranean sauce was declared most tasty, a mix of tomatoes, basil and mushrooms, although the latter came from a tin, which was a letdown.
Keen to take advantage of the grill, I opted for vacío, a cut I always enjoy at a parrilla gathering, which isn’t seen that often on menus. Accompanied by enough oven-cooked chips feed four, the steak was flavourful and large, which meant only a tiny space was left to let the lava flow from the scrumptious chocolate volcano (and I don’t even eat desserts).
Wining On verdict: Surprised to find that Gardelito was history, it was also pleasantly surprising to find Puro Arrabal is so keen to retain that spirit. Think of it like your favourite classic cocktail, but spritzed up with an extra secret something.
Thames 1914, Palermo Soho