Italian passion

The piece of prime real estate located at San Martín 1153 — close to the legendary Kavanagh building and opposite the southern green hillock of Plaza San Martín — has had its fair share of culinary enterprises.

That prawn risotto
That prawn risotto

Starting out as a neighbourhood bar called Petit Plaza way back when we were all younger, thinner and had more hair, the space has most recently operated as Mad and Be, eateries that failed to survive the tough eating terroir known as Microcentro.

“But it’s my turn now,” says Mariano Akman, the latest restaurateur to take on the address.

The sommelier most recently led the charge at Belgrano’s Doppio Zero, which had a strong local following, but closed in September. And while the dynamic is admittedly different downtown, Mariano says, he is confident the Doppio way — to be known from now on as the Chiuso way — will win over a new crowd.

Ojo. The lunchtime crowd might need some mouth to mouth when they find out there isn’t a fixed-price menu. On the upside, however, the bridge separating porciones and raciones with respect to salads and antipasti, and full-size dishes in comparison with half measures, means there is plenty of price manoeuvrability.

A green leaves with balsamic vinegar-marinated parmesan salad is a snip at 48 pesos for a ración, for example. Thrown in a half-size mushroom risotto main at 70 pesos, and that will set you back around 120 pesos, drinks excluded. Not a bad price at all — and when you consider it’s been impossible to write a Change from 100 review since September 2012 (lunch or dinner for two with change from 100 pesos), this almost puts Chiuso in (the as-yet unpublished) Change from 200 series.

But in my sporadic search for veri Italian dishes in Buenos Aires, this could well be a spot hitter. Doppio Zero was always on my hit-list for its stable reputation but what with Belgrano being so, very, far, away, it was suddenly too late.

A healthy CV
While executive chef Andrés Bottini is a Bahía Blanca, rather than a Bologna, transplant, he has a healthy CV, working at Novecento on both Martínez and Punta del Este as well as at Doppio.

That means the professional relationship with Mariano, clearly a workaholic from the way he darts around the shop floor, is already in place and kitchen quirks have long been ironed out.

And Andrés and team are making everything, bar dried pasta, in house, from the bread to fresh pasta.

The space itself is a little barren, a few pieces of art hung, but the showpiece is the original marble-topped bar that takes up a good half of the floor.

With a slightly rocky start — 30 minutes to receive water isn’t best appreciated on a warm night, plus my copy of the menu looked like it had done a few rounds with Mike Tyson, which was off-putting — the place was packed, which suggested everyone else knew the score better than I did.

The wine list — using just one distributor, that supplies a great selection incidentally — was organized by price rather than grape, which seemed a little simplistic, almost last minute, given that it was created by a sommelier from an establishment that apparently cuts little to no corners in its food production.

Chiuso, which means closed in Italian, is now open.
Chiuso, which means closed in Italian, is now open.

Winning starters, main attractions
The dishes, however, made up for these glitches. While it is hard to sex up polenta at the best of times, Andrés had a fair shot at it with his grilled version backed up with taleggio cheese, fig and red wine salsa with a mushroom ragoût (92 pesos a portion).

Far more tantalizing were the rabbit-stuffed croquettes (98 pesos), which were bursting to the seams with flavour and supported by alioli, and the Fior di latte cheese and roasted black olives (95 pesos), great big olives that had the salty edge taken off them and were totally moreish. Winning starters.

The main attraction, however, was rice and it was pretty darn tasty. With four up for grabs, I snapped up the prawn risotto (78 pesos, half portion) which had simmered slowly (and painfully if you’re a prawn) in the jus created by these little pink guys’ heads, leaving a thick and delicious stock. The carnaroli was soft yet with a bite and the dish wasn’t lacking in peeled prawns, which were also tasty and cooked just right. The adornment — complete with head and tail — was strangely bland. Dismiss that, though, and the rest was top-notch.

Across the table, meanwhile, a hearty ossobuco (75 pesos, half portion) was going on, accompanied by a simple risotto in vegetable stock and saffron. Tangy from a tomato sauce, the braised shanks were tender but the rice could have had a few more saffy sprinkles to pep it up.

After seeing various pasta dishes shimmy past us to families, couple, friends and clandestine lovers, we also threw in some spinach, ricotta and parmesan ravioli (58 pesos, half portion), hand-made in house, with a fresh tomato sauce. A totally unnecessary addition as no one was hungry by this point, but it was simply to give the fresh stuff a whirl. It was worth the extra calories; temptations for another time include pappardelle with bacon, mushrooms and broccoli and panzotti stuffed with goat’s cheese and aubergine puré.

And along with practically everything else, the gelato is also made on site. The figs, hazelnuts and honey semifreddo (60 pesos full portion) was special, creamy and loaded with goodies, and given that the honey was laced throughout, it wasn’t overly sweet. Delicious, with love bursting through.

Chiuso isn’t quite hitting the same benchmark as my local go-to risotto spots Il Pecora Nera and La Locanda yet. But I want it to be.

Given that prices are extremely reasonable, creativity is behind each dish and there’s no lack of passion, I don’t doubt the hard-working team will soon be punching above its weight.

San Martín 1153, Retiro
Tel: 4311-7652

Buenos Aires Herald, December 14, 2014

Last week I gobbled down smoked beef at new Palermo steakery La Carnicería.

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