Up the main drag, away from the whale expedition and diving offices in Puerto Pirámides, you’ll find Guanaco. Not the elegant mammal that leaps it way across Chubut’s stony desert, but a small brewery and restaurant that’s making waves on Península Valdés.
In a land where cow is king — and even when visitors are physically on surf turf, heartbreakingly they still select beef or chicken for a main course — it’s near impossible to change a steak-oriented mindset. But if there was one dish that could change that attitude — if I was allowed to force-feed it — it would be Guanaco’s scallops.
Peninsula Valdés is surrounded by two gulfs: the Nuevo which becomes the southern right whales’ playground from June to December, and the San José Gulf, where artisanal fishermen collect scallops among other water-dwelling wares.
Given that these bivalves don’t come from the Nuevo Gulf where Puerto Pirámides is located, Guanaco’s owner and brewer Germán Spitz drives over to the other side of the peninsula to the artisan fishermen’s village, Playa Larralde. One house with mod cons — that would be modest conveniences — and a series of mobile homes provide the backdrop to the bay, living quarters for fishermen such as Ariel who’s lived at this beach for the past 13 years with his family in the only bricks-and-mortar property, diving from the start of autumn until November, when weather conditions allow, for the best scallops.
These pretty little shells reside on the sea bed, moving as they open and close like a classic cartoon clam, and are collected by hand by these divers who might gather several kilos in one diving session.
Then, restaurateurs like Germán drop by and snap up a load from Ariel. Placed into chef Alejandro Manzolillo’s hands, vieyras gratinadas (130 pesos) are the end result on Guanaco’s table.
Intimate and rustic
Guanaco is an intimate and rustic affair; a mish-mash of artefacts from colanders to wooden tennis rackets and jars lining the wooden walls, while a series of sepia photos offer a step back in time to a more nascent Puerto Pirámides.
It’s like a cosy living room on board someone’s boat.
Four stools alongside the counter make up the pub element and while they sell handcraft beers from Puerto Madryn or El Bolsón, Germán has yet to start brewing this year’s batch of the eponymous Guanaco, produced, he says proudly, with the same water used by the southern right whales, purified of course. A local product if ever there was one.
Bright and breezy, mismatched but highly inviting, with 1950s tunes to reggae on the jukebox, Guanaco’s menu varies in length depending on the catch of the day — from squid rings to grilled octopus, Provence-style mussels on the seafood front and grouper, perch and sea bass forming part of the fish cast.
Back to the scallops. As a starter, it’s big enough to share, with around 18 vieyras stuck to their shells. Instead of being loaded down with Parmesan cheese, which often masks their delicate flavour, the Guanaco version uses a béchamel sauce with a white wine base to lighten up matters, then topped with Sardo and Reggianito cheeses. The result is a full-flavoured dish where the scallop takes centre stage but is covered with that tempting white sauce and delicious crunchy cheese.
I almost went over to the next table where the parents were eating chicken and their son steak to offer them one of these beauties. Then I thought, nah, fuck it, why waste it on them? They’ll probably pull out a heap of excuses about how they don’t like them. All the more for me!
I also sampled some honey and mustard glazed prawns, which were original and delicious but totally overshadowed by the scallops.
The main affair was an epic bowl of homemade spaghetti (54 pesos) overflowing with a seafood sauce (56 pesos). An overload of chunky mussels, prawns, squid and even the reappearance of some scallops formed this hearty dish and the pasta was clearly made in house as it had that slightly wavy appearance that commercial spaghetti doesn’t. Smaller appetites should share this, larger ones will take it on the chin; regardless, I was defeated.
Germán is a friendly character who moved to Pirámides from Buenos Aires when he finished high school with the intention of working with the whales, somehow. Nine years on, after working at the Centro de Interpretación Istmo Ameghino museum, training with the navy and qualifying as a whale spotter, he runs his restaurant and hostel from the same premises, while making his Guanaco beer on the top floor.
Just this past week he realized that grilled lamb doesn’t exist on any local menu so he set about constructing a mobile cross grill in order to change that. Hopefully he’s sourced a lamb provider by now.
Guanaco Cervecería Artesenal
Avenida de las Ballenas s/n
Puerto Pirámides, Chubut
Buenos Aires Herald, October 26, 2014
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