Amphitrite just dropped her calling card on Buenos Aires.
The biggest launch of 2015 just hit the city, and matters are set to get fishier and, gulp, spicier.
The location: Palermo Hollywood.
The executive chef: Peru’s Gastón Acurio.
The chef: Anthony Vasquez.
The restaurant: La Mar Cebichería, the Lima legend that adds BA to its Miami, Sao Paulo, Bogotá and San Francisco portfolio.
Add up these elements and I’m confident we have a hit on our hands.
Given the combination of fish, spice, Peru, Gastón and an award-winning cook all under the same roof in Palermo is almost too much to handle, but grab an oxygen mask and keep breathing, because it isn’t, quite, yet, open.
Last weekend’s preview saw 100 of Gastón’s closest Argentine friends – cooks, critics, journalists, bloggers and celebrities – gathered for a breathtaking five-hour lunch extravaganza, and no stone was left unturned when it came to taste-tasting fish of the day, ceviche, jalea (lightly battered fish), anticuchos, tiradito and rice dishes. We tried it ALL.
Expectations are high. Acurio’s most recent local offering, Astrid & Gastón in Botánico, closed down around a year ago and in the hands of Vssquez, La Mar – which ranks 15th in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list – is the new hope that will re-cement the Peruvian gastronomical legend’s reputation locally. Gastónomy, as I like to call it.
While the Argentine palate is more used to dabbling in Peruvian fare than it was several years ago when A&G opened here, the main challenge will likely be sourcing seafood that the Peruvians consider to be high enough quality. From octopus to prawns, scallops, fish and beyond, it’s got to be top notch and fresh enough for Team La Mar. Remember that legit ceviche eateries in Peru only open for lunch because they consider seafood past its best later on in the day.
Another question to throw out there is: does Buenos Aires need another upscale Peruvian restaurant? There’s already two Osakas, Mullu, Olaya, two Sipans, Paru, Francesco, La Rosa Naútica, M, never mind the dozens of mid-range eateries around Almagro and Congreso.
Although I haven’t seen a priced-up menu as yet, it seems the idea is to keep figures down, a smart move that will boost La Mar to the top of the hot tables list from the offset and help stand out from Nikkei and Peruvian offerings.
And while most dishes were beautifully presented, there’s certainly none of the elaborate plating extravagance seen at Lima’s Astrid & Gastón, where each dish comes with its own story: this is a very different beast indeed, a more informal one, giving the team another reason to keep prices down.
So far, so good. Fish, spice, Gastón, respectable prices.
After several years under wraps, La Mar’s prime Hollywood location has finally been unveiled, literally, because the suffocating scaffolding has come down to reveal a stylish corner; once the next-door hotel completes, guests will have the absolute advantage of swooping in for a quick bite, the jammy bastards.
A vast and welcoming patio awaits, whose centrepiece bar is where chilcanos and piscos are lovingly created. Cerise, lime-green and sky-blue form the tableware colour palette, bright hues to match a bright cuisine. This summery look will need to up the heating ante come winter but with several more weeks of warmth likely, outdoor dining within a protected area is going to become a hop-spot whatever the weather. (And they’d better put some burly badass security on the door to avert the stampede for ceviche.)
Inside, a lengthy food-prepping bar houses an array of seafood on ice, soon to be fish on your dish, which commands almost as much attention as the black-and-white striped floor. Grab a seat at the prepping bar, one of the more private booths or a banquette. With its lofty ceiling and lengthy windows, sufficient illumination will keep foodie snappers happy.
The food. Every ceviche sampled – from squid to sole and octopus – was de-bite-ful. Clean and simple flavours are at La Mar’s heart, and the squid in particular was succulent yet with bite, quite unlike any other squid I’ve eaten in Buenos Aires.
Got to love a juxtaposition. Leche de tigre, that creamy ceviche juice floating with fish remnants, was fresh yet hot. With ají amarillo and rocoto aplenty ramping up dishes, the good news is there isn’t much dumbing down on the spice front. Just what those with a penchant for sweat-breaking chilies want to hear. And I’m sure chef Vásquez will be keen to ramp up it up for the hardcore.
And although presentation isn’t as elaborate as Astrid & Gastón, it’s certainly thoughtful and carefully planned. Beautiful ceramic dishes designed by Jorge Nabel and Leila Arde form the mainstay, while wooden fishing-boats sailed out (okay, carried out) loaded down with oysters from Chubut and a selection of bold causas.
At one point, whole grouper – baring his teeth, very angry he looked too – appeared, bathed in a sweet chili and spring onion sauce.
The salmon tiradito was also a hit, dressed in a tari yellow ají sauce, both tasty and fiery.
I’m not usually big on postre, but La Mar has made full use of its Peruvian cocoa resources. The choco mousse in a flower pot is stuffed with top-quality chocolate chunks and the source of many an orgasm face. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.
La Mar is set to open next weekend (March 14) but keep eyes peeled on social networks for up-to-date launch info. The ship has sailed, and will reach port at any minute.
La Mar Cebichería
Tel: 011 4776-5543
Tues-Sat, lunch, dinner
Sundays extended lunch
Buenos Aires Herald, March 8, 2015
All ph: SMW apart from Gastón Acurio and Anthony Vázquez courtesy of La Mar Cebichería.
Check out last week’s Wining On, about Cafayate’s solidarity harvest