Saturday, 27 March 2010

La Cabrera del Norte, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires smells almost completely of grilled meat.  This is no exaggeration, the odour of grilled cow hits you almost as soon as you get off the motorway.  Steak is where it's at in BA and in most of Argentina in general.  Huge bits of meat are grilled over coal until they're blackened and crispy on the outside, the generous portion of fat they're generally cut with broken down and soft, but with the meat still rare or jugoso as the locals would say.  As you can imagine, there are a thousand different places to eat good steak in Buenos Aires, sadly I have been to nowhere near all, or half or one hundredth but I did go to a few.  So on that basis I'd like to share with you, which was my favourite and also the information that a steady diet of red meat two meals a day for two or three weeks will make you fat, sweaty and very tired.  Mmmm happy days!

I went to La Cabrera del Norte twice.  The first time I went on the recommendation of Lonely Planet, which was otherwise absolutely rubbish for South America.  I loved it.  The second time I went was because my dad had come to Argentina for a couple of weeks holiday and after a few days we had totally failed to find a good steak.  This was very disappointing especially as we had been to what was meant to be one of the city's best: La Brigada in San Telmo.  The meat was fine, but pretty bland and in Argentina that's unforgivable.  The size was also pretty paltry given the huge bricks of meat I had been given.  We were going to try and rectify this by going to Cabaña Las Lilas, but were worried about going to another tourist-filled venue trading on its reputation.  So I suggested La Cabrera, named after the street it sits on in the Palermo district.

When we got there we had to wait.  My dad doesn't like waits when he's hungry and neither do I, but I insisted that we persevere.  We got a table about a half hour later.  Further diplomacy was needed when I  insisted we share a steak instead of getting two.  This again led to some protest, which quickly ended when the thing was finally brought.  We opted for rib-eye steak, probably near a kilo of it.  This meat is a bit different from what you'd be used to in Britain and especially America.  Its normally 100% grass fed, no corn like  the North Americans use, and its not dry hung - giving it a more muscular, cleaner taste.  Its not better, or worse - but it is different.  Here its not only different, but absolutely amazing.  The outside is charred and delicious, with crispy caramalised fat, which gently melts when you cut it.  The taste of the parilla (or barbecue) is  all over it without leaving aggressive griddle lines that taste burnt.  And its huge.  And you get twenty different accompaniments with it.  Like I said: 'Happy days!'  The accompaniments ranged from apple sauce, to roast garlic in a sweet sauce, mashed butter beans, stewed pumpkins - the list goes on.  Some were better than others, but almost all were tasty and went well with the meat.  They also give a lot or variation, which is great when you are eating such a vast quantity of delicious, but simply cooked, meat.

If you are ever in Buenos Aires I can't recommend La Cabrera enough.  The atmosphere is buzzy, the service good, the cooking fantastic, the decor traditional and cosy, but still modern enough in a bare brick, big table kind of way to not be at all kitsch.  Though you get tourists in there that's not the crowd its catering for, with a mix of people from the neighbourhood and business people making up their main clientele.  It's one of the best places I've ever been to eat meat and for me, along with seeing Boca Juniors, its something not to be missed if you're ever in Buenos Aires.

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