It can’t be easy opening a fully fledged restaurant at the best of times, never mind in times of economic instability. And uncertainty can even affect the big boys — the Four Seasons’ renovation that included revamping its restaurant spaces and had a mighty large chequebook was still only able to import one item: its chicken rotisserie.
But the past fortnight has seen two new spaces open, despite the winter break and the economic uncertainty, and each with equally fascinating results. One, a bread specialist and wine store that is finally serving up some simple yet delicious sandwiches, combining Serrano-style ham with olive oil and basil — how I’ve yearned for such simplicity! — with quite a selection of local wine.
The other space I promised a few weeks ago (Gourmet Burgery, On Sunday, July 21), and true to word Antonio Soriano opened Astor exactly 10 days ago. And as mentioned then, his CV is any aspiring chef’s wet dream: training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before moving onto the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel George V Paris then the legendary Hôtel du Crillon, which is currently undergoing extensive refurbishment. Soriano also put together the menus and led the kitchen at Buenos Aires’ Algodón Mansion, a superb Franco-Argentine restaurant whose innovation has sadly gone downhill since he left that position.
Onto pastures new and last Thursday saw Soriano, an active member of the Lucullus Franco-gastro society as well as GAJO young Argentine chefs association, throw open the doors to Astor. Sometimes simplicity is the best policy, and that is what he’s aimed for and achieved — at his Colegiales bistro whose parenthesized manduque porteño means “BA grub.”
Pull up a wooden stool for visual access to all areas — with just the counter standing in your way — to the open kitchen. No crazy is ever going to leap over ‘cause the man’s got knives aplenty, and big ones at that. Removing the barrier of swinging doors means you can watch Soriano and team in action — and it’s fascinating and surprisingly calm, a live show. And don’t worry, it won’t take the magic out of how grand cuisine becomes grand.
Or you can grab a square wooden table, watching from afar as your very own Hunger Games reaches its conclusion. There’s no hiding behind moody lighting; dishes are bright and beautiful and Soriano wants you to see them.
Before casting an eye over the menu, a matter of huge importance. A litre bottle of purified water, the cutest paper bag stuffed with oven-fresh bread and coffee are included in the two-course, 67-peso lunch menu. No hidden extras. Three courses are an utter snip at 79 pesos. And whereas many high-end restaurants are charging 20-plus pesos for a soft drink, Soriano is keeping them at a minimal 11 pesos. He says: “Some of my colleagues thought I was mad to do that, but it’s how I prefer to do things.”
It’s also personal. Cook books line the shelves, including adventures at The Fat Duck and Francis Mallmann’s fiery grilling techniques. And service is friendly and courteous, without crossing the line into slack.
A note on the neighbourhood. Living with his family just a few blocks away in Colegiales means Soriano is on hand to cook and be completely hands on (in his black polo shirt, he stands out from his cooks), and depends on his own judgement to purchase produce. It’s just a few blocks over from Palermo Hollywood and once the media moguls and telly tarts work out Astor (yes, named after musician Piazzolla) exists, it’ll be hard to get a table. Trust me.
On to the menu, where simplicity is also king and market fresh. Soriano’s lunch and dinner menu changes up daily, guaranteeing his self-proclaimed grub is totally fresh. Of the three starters and three mains, he aims to include a meat, a fish and a veggie dish over each course. Using that day’s market produce means anything can end on your plate, and it’s refreshing, if a little strange given the oft-found monotony on menus, to chomp down a river fish cured in house or oven-roasted root vegetables such as turnip.
With Soriano, expect the unexpected: expect leaves glistening with that morning’s dew, fish to have a glint in their eye, and expect to leave with your wallet still intact.
Wining On verdict: I’ve lunched there twice in five days. And it only opened 10 days ago. And of those 10 days, I’ve spent three in Lima, Peru. Enough said.
Astor (manduque porteño)
Ciudad de La Paz 353, Colegiales
Next week: Pain & Vin
Buenos Aires Herald, August 11, 2013