Fair fare?

'The Wine Guru' by Michel Rolland
‘The Wine Guru’ by Michel Rolland
In case you hadn’t realised, last Wednesday was the third annual Malbec World Day – not that I need one calendar date a year in which to indulge in a spot of Argentina’s favourite grape.

If it completely bypassed you, well, you can always pop down to your local wine store as plenty have been offering decent discounts on the varietal in a generous nod to commemorate the occasion.

Me, I took advantage of Buenos Aires Food Week, which ends today and headed directly to Astrid & Gastón, the award-winning and high-scale Peruvian in Palermo. Quite an array of participating restaurants have designed special lunch and dinner menus at 99 pesos and 169 pesos respectively over the course of the week, and mainly those from the higher end of the specturm. That comes as a welcome relief, given the cost of a mineral water often tips 20 pesos these days, meaning a group of four pays close to 100 pesos to merely pull up a seat and have some refreshment.

Table service is another story. Although a law was passed by the Buenos Aires City government last November to ensure that restaurants charging for table service (cubiertos) provide 250cc of water and a gluten-free bread basket, I’ve yet to receive my fair share of liquid refreshment and no waiter has even mentioned that the rolls are celiac-friendly – and I dine out frequently. So when that cost is added into the equation, four people are paying 160 pesos without digesting anything more than yeast and flour.

Drinks and cubiertos were not included in the Food Week menu, which on the face of it seems reasonable enough. These establishments have created special menus at a much reduced price, after all. So when the bill came for my party of four – that included 2012 Kaiken Malbec Rosé and a 2011 DiamAndes Malbec so that we too could toast the grape’s World Day – it worked out at 300 pesos a head, almost double the original proposal, which still seemed fair for the fare.

I’m certain that had I dined at A&G on A.N Other day, I would have forked out way more than 300 pesos, so thanks to Food Week I am grateful for cost-saving mercies.

But serving us water we hadn’t asked for seemed like a cheap way to make up the cash.

We queried the bill, and it was reduced accordingly. In addition, the set menu took an extraordinarily long time – close to an hour – to reach the table. The bread basket we were paying for simply wasn’t sufficient, not at 24 pesos a person.

This was day three of Food Week, so I feel the kitchen should have ironed out any problems it might have had with regard to deal with more seats on bums than usual. They were serving up a tasting menu that included three or four items for the starter and main, granted, but the regular items weren’t on offer, so the kitchen didn’t even need to think about dealing with it.

All that said, the ceviche sampling (whose chili slice came with a heat warning but nothing to worry about there, ye with a foreign palette) was as refreshing as a dip in the ocean, the chicken causa was hearty, the quinoa-coated prawn was succulent and the shot of chupe fish soup was exquisite – all mini, all really tasty and representative of the A&G menu.

The main course was rather more stodgy. Again, tasting samples, there were two rice dishes: the duck with coriander and yellow pepper was too small a piece to savour properly, although the Chalaco sole was delectable. The coriander and pepper crusted salmon was original and flavoursome – I wanted more of that.

Overall, the Food Week price was welcome in comparison with prices listed the remaining 51 weeks of the year. It was just unfortunate that the slow service, hindered by a crawling kitchen unused to so many covers, didn’t match up to my previous experiences there. Better to pay full price for a fuller experience here, me thinks.

Also immaculately timed for Malbec World Day, French wine consultant Michel Rolland was in Buenos Aires to launch the Spanish edition of his book Le gourou du vin (The Wine Guru).

Rolland has a long history with Argentina – he currently is a co-owner in Mendoza’s Clos de los Siete along with other French winemakers and also retains a shared partnership in two wineries with the Etchart family in Salta – that started some 25 years ago.

“When I started to be a wine assessor, wine assessors didn’t exist,” he said last Wednesday. “I fell in love with Argentina 25 years ago, starting with Cafayate in Salta – and I’m still in love with it. I adore working with Malbec, which has become a very important symbol for Argentina in a very short period of time. It’s a love story between the soil, the mountain range and Malbec.”

One guest at the book launch was actress and showgirl and Florencia de la V, Argentina’s most famous transexual.

What exactly was she doing there? It appears M. Rolland is making wine for her, naturellement

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on April 21, 2013

Photo courtesy of Mass Media

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