Buenos Aires Outlet Thursday, Apr 9 2009 

About 5 blocks north of the trendy Palermo Soho area lies a stretch of several blocks’ worth of retail outlets on Ave Cordoba, between Scalabrini Ortiz and Gurruchaga. There is no map of the outlets, so just be prepared to walk around scouting for your favorite outlets. The outlets are stocked with last season’s items and can be quite affordable. For instance, I bought my husband a shirt at the Airborne in Palermo soho for $229 pesos in October 2008. By our visit in February this same shirt was available at the Airborne Outlet on Cordoba for about $89 pesos.  Plan to go early, most outlets close by 8pm. To avoid the crowds, don’t go on the weekend.

I didn’t find out about these until my 4th visit to Buenos Aires, so now when I go, I try to suppress the urge to splurge at the trendy shopping areas, opting to visit the outlets first to get the best deals.  Enjoy!

Outlets definitely worth a visit:

Prune Outlet – Gurruchaga 867

Portsaid – Córdoba 4453

Ayres – Córdoba 4301

Airborne – Córdoba 4671

La Martina – Aguirre 957

Lacoste, Paula Cahen D’anvers – Aguirre 875

Puma – gurruchaga 806


Voice Restaurant, Hotel Icon, Houston, TX Sunday, May 18 2008 

Voice Restaurant and Lounge. Hotel Icon. 220 Main. Houston, TX, 77002.  713.224.4266

Voice is not the typical restaurant you will go to, but it should certainly rank as one of Houston’s finest.   Located in the Icon Hotel at the corner of Congress and Main, the restaurant isn’t exactly in the middle of what’s happening , but it’s well worth the venture.  You valet your car, enter through the hotel lobby, pass the reception desk to arrive at the hostess station.  And this is where the experience begins.  The space is stunning. Souring high ceilings are supported by just as grandiose marble columns.  Beautiful  golden chandeliers are juxtaposed next to impossibly long velvet brocade drapes, evoking old-world glam and new world luxe.  I know I’m raving about the décor, but the highlight is the food.  

 The menu descriptions whet my palate and I want to sample just about every starter:  mushroom soup cappucino, a patchwork of baby beets, grilled baby octopus, gulf blue crab cakes, Costa Rican hearts of palm salad…I defer to my waiter, Nicolas’, recommendations of crab cake for the appetizer while my husband orders the hearts of palm salad. The entrées sound just as appetizing – Alaskan halibut with fennel, baby carrots and truffle emulsion; gulf yellowtail snapper with English peas, hearts of palm, sorrel butter;  black grouper with melted leeks, sunburst squash, herb broth; honey-laquered duck breast, parsnip puree, fava beans, black pepper gastrique;  coffee rubbed filet of beef, fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, garlic cream;  I could go on… but I choose the duck and my husband the coffee rubbed filet.  The wine list is extensive  and we ordered a great zin – Dynamite – to complement our meal.

The only thing I didn’t really like was the bread. Dry, pasty, tasteless, textureless. There were 4 varieties but they all tasted like paper.  The accompaniments, a trio of olive tapenade, creamed butter, and my favorite – roasted garlic butter  – were a big hit if only the bread were better.  But no matter. 

My crab cake was artfully presented on a rectangular plate atop a green and orange puree.  Shaped like large tater-tots, I was a bit apprehensive until I took my first bite.  Lightly crisped, with just the right amount of seasoning and garnish, my crab cake was perfectly executed.   My husband’s hearts of palm salad was a beautiful thing of simplicity, with the perfect mélange of flavors and textures.  Arugula mixed with thinly shaved hearts of palm, diced cucumbers and toasted almonds were lightly tossed with a citrus-y vinaigrette.   At many restaurants, the compliments stop after the starters are finished.  Not so at Voice. 

My duck, which I ordered medium, came to me the perfectly perfect shade of pink, not too rare, not too overdone. The first bite melted in my mouth, so tender was the duck breast, so flavorful the marinade and garnish.   I cleaned plate, as did my husband, who is not at all a beef connoisseur, but whose meal was so deftly prepared that he did not leave a single morsel.  “One of the best steaks in Houston, and it’s not even a steakhouse,” he proclaimed.  Not surprisingly, we ordered and ate the entire dessert, a yummy concoction of smooth and creamy peanut butter custard topped with fresh bananas and crunchy crème-brulee style caramelized sugar.  

As far as fancy meals go, this was one of my favorites – EVER – in Houston.  This restaurant is not headed for the A-list, it’s already made it to the A-list. 

 last visit:  thursday, may 15, 2008

Street Food and the Vietnamese Delegates Saturday, Oct 6 2007 

It’s Wednesday morning and even though it’s still a bit wet, I decide to walk to the 12 or so blocks to the convention.  I finally got a sim card for my cell phone, so now I can receive calls. For about 20 pesos ($6+USD), I get 25 minutes of local airtime, less if someone is calling in from the states. 

It’s still pretty early in the morning, so for a quick bite to eat, I stop at the local panaderia for my favorite sandwich de miga.  I know I can’t stop talking about it, so here’s what it looks like.  Very plain and simple, 3 super thin pieces of white bread with ham, cheese, and some other stuffing (shown here with palmitos, or hearts of palm). I usually get the palmitos, huevos (egg), or the ananas (pineapple), but there are many other varieties from which to choose. To get rid of the crust, the bakeries make the sandwiches, stack them up into a stack of about 30-50 sandwiches, then use a large machine to chop off all the crusts.  Ringing up at about 2 pesons each, this traditional Argentinian comfort food is steal that will in your mouth!

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After the morning session, I notice that the rain has let up, so I decide to make the most of a clear afternoon and find patio dining.  As I’m leaving the convention center, I hear a couple of Vietnamese voices and introduce myself. Turns out they are two of five delegates from Vietnam, the Director and Vice Director of the Hanoi Institute of Dermatology and professors at Hanoi Medical School.  They are really excited to meet me!! They said that they’d seen me earlier on in the meeting but assumed I was Chinese. I invited them to join me for lunch at La Biela, the biggest and nicest patio next to the Recoleta cemetery. The day is still overcast, so the picture came out kind of dark.

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Both doctors are exceedingly sweet, and very worldly.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Dr. Hien, the Director, (shown below left) is really not your typical Vietnamese academic. Turns out he studied in Angola, Africa, 15 years ago and learned how to speak Portugese fluently. He is also fluent in French. His daughter is also a doctor, received an all-expense paid fellowship to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, then went on to Bangkok to complete her Dermatology residency. Not what you would expect from someone who stayed in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and throughout the Ho Chi Minh communist rule… 

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After lunch, I hop across the street to get my favorite ice cream from Freddo. Here is a picture of all their delivery motos.  Ice cream in Argentina is arguably some of the best ice cream i’ve ever tasted, and trust me, I’ve had a lot of ice cream in my life time.  The ice cream is a bit like gelato, but less heavy, a bit like haagen daaz, but less creamy, and it has a bit of a chewiness to it that gives it an extra textural dimension that basic grocery store ice creams lack. In BA, Freddo is a very popular chain, and Volta is supposed to be the best in town. I tried Volta, which is good, but I still prefer Freddo.

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I return to the convention to attend a couple of laser sessions and the two professors join me for both – they didn’t want to let me out of their sight and were insistent that I join their group for dinner.

Here we are again, waiting at the Pierre Fabre stand.

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They introduce me to the other Vietnamese delegates, two from Saigon, and one other from their office in Hanoi.  After we took this shot, others flocked to take the same picture. Great minds think alike!

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For dinner, at the suggestion of two Vietnamese living locally in Buenos Aires, we go to a buffet parilla called Grants. This large, two story restaurant is unbelievably cheap. All-you-can-eat steak right off the grill, salad, dessert, etc, for about $20 pesos.  I know I’m not going to be able to eat a lot, so on my way home I pick up a choripan, or chorizo on bread, Argentina’s version of the American hot dog.

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The choripan is dressed with some chimichurri sauce and has a bit of a kick to it.

mmm-mmm good!

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So ends another day.  The doctors have graciously invited me to visit them in Vietnam…maybe I’ll take them up on their offer. They tell me that Vietnam has changed considerably since it opened its doors to foreigners. 

A Thing of Beauty Friday, Oct 5 2007 

After going to sleep late and waking up early for the last 3 days, it makes sense that I would find myself overly fatigued. I missed my alarm this morning, and, as a result, missed all the relevant lectures at the dermatology meeting.  So, what’s a girl to do?

 

Go shopping!!

 

I finally left my apartment until around noon and decided to make the most of the clear weather, so I headed out to the trendy Palermo Soho area, just couple of blocks away from my apartment.  It is a Thursday afternoon, so the streets are eerily quiet, with just a smattering of pedestrians milling about.  First stop, Amor Latino, a small lingerie boutique.  Three Londoners were inside buying everything they set their eyes on.  And why not? The wispy creations rang in between $35 and $75, ($10-$25US), so affordable and so cute!

 

I meandered along El Salvador and Honduras for a while, then decided to find a good lunch spot.  My destination, Social Paraiso, a small restaurant billed by my Time Out guide as one of the pioneers in trendy gourmet.  Their lunch menu is a mere $20 pesos for starter and entrée.  I didn’t understand what my waiter was saying so I ordered the wrong starter – a cheese plate.  The patrons around me ordered a more appetizing looking bruschetta, but no matter.  There were other highlights to my meal.

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This deceptively simple looking sauce was a chilled, smooth-textured hummus-like preparation that went incredibly well with their very dense selection of breads.

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The entrée did not disappoint, a traditional beef dish with onions marinated in red wine sauce. Mom, you would have loved this!! The meat was tender and the flavors were right on. 

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But again, the highlight was the dessert, which had received a well-deserved mention the Time Out guide.  Caramelized Apple Thins with Passion Fruit Mousse and Sechuan Peppered Ice Cream.  For a mere $12 pesos ($4 USD), the waitstaff delivered this visually stunning work of edible art.  A Thing of Beauty that tasted just as good as it looked. 

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When I travel to big cities known for their fine dining, I like to visit acclaimed restaurants during lunchtime so bill isn’t too astronomical. It is my strategy for sampling good food while still being a bit budget conscious.  In New York, a typical lunch bill at nice restaurant will set you back a good $100+ per person.  Last month in Vancouver, we visited the #1 restaurant for lunch and I think we spent something like $80/ USD per person at lunch.

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In BA, you never have to worry about over-spending on your meals.  Lunch or dinner at a gourmet restaurant is amazingly affordable. The final total for my lunch at Social Paraiso including starter, entrée, coffee, bubbly water, and dessert, tax and tip was $47 pesos ($15 USD). 

Is it any wonder that I love this city?

  

Hay demasiado lluvia! (There is too much rain!) Friday, Oct 5 2007 

It’s Monday at 4am, and I am jolted awake by the sound of thunder which had set off a slew of car alarms on the street below.  What was happening? I thought that the forecast for the entire week was very nice, muy lindo as they say.  To my dismay,  a quick check on weather.com revealed a forecast of thunderstorms and rain for the rest of the week. This changes everything.

I wasn’t prepared for this; in fact, I didn’t have an umbrella. The lluvia,  or rain, continued for the rest of the day and did not let up.  It was wet, wet, wet. 

For those of you who don’t know, I’m here in BA for the 21st World Congress of Dermatology.  Can you imagine what it’s like for 10,000 wet dermatologists all cooped up in one convention center where samples are being handed out? Pure mayhem!  The floor was just packed with people. World Congress FloorCongress Floor

I attended a symposium or two, but it was cramped and uncomfortable. For the popular sessions, it was hard to find a chair and late entrants had to sit on the floor.  With a 2 hour break for lunch, I braved the rain and decided to leave the convention center for lunch in Palermo Hollywood, a 5 peso cab ride away. I chose a French restaurant, Christophe, with a 25 peso prefixe menu consisting of starter and entree.  Perhaps because of the dreary wetness outside, or maybe because the food is just sub-par, I was the only one in the restaurant for entired duration of my meal.  Here is a view from the window of the restaurant. Wet and rainy!

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I ordered from the daily menu, scribbled on a chalkboard.

The starter was a croquette. Not very French, this was just ok.

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The entree that came out was also just ok. The meat was somewhat overcooked. I have to say I was disappointed.  Still, the meal was incredibly affordable, ringing up at a total of about $12USD for the daily menu and a cup of cafe con leche. 

resizebeef-lunch.jpgBife with salad

The rest of day was uneventful and wet.  On the cab ride home, however, I noticed a trendy looking salon right on my block and since I couldn’t walk anywhere because of the rain, I decided to get a haircut. I am happy with my choice. Shampoo, deep conditioning treatment, very meticulous cut, blow dry and style came out to $84 pesos ($28 dollars). 

It’s about 8:30 when I’m finished at the salon, and I’m famished. I decided to try Guido’s Bar, which my concierge had recommended as an experience not to be missed. Guido’s is reminiscent of the tiny Italian restaurants you would find in Chicago or Boston.  Fluorescent light, wooden tables, and walls filled with pictures of Sophia Loren and the brat pack.   You do not have to wait for food here. The waiters and Guido himself move quickly, rushing back and forth to bring you food. They are extremely attentive and fast, but not very friendly, and you barely get a smile from the waiters. For about $50-$60pesos ($20USD), you will get appetizers, pasta, wine, and dessert until you’re full – you don’t order – they bring you whatever they are serving for that day.  As soon as I sat down, the waiter came with three plates of antipasto – marinated mushrooms, diced eggplant, and pate with bread.  The starters were excellent, and before I had finished he brought out a hot vegetable lasagna-type starter.  They have whole cart full of antipasto from which to choose and I think that you get more if you can eat more. I however, could not eat anymore.  By the time the vegetable lasagna came out, I was already starting to feel full. They took away the half-eaten lasagna and replaced it wth a piping hot dish of perfectly al dente penne, con tomato y crema.  This is followed by my choice of tiramisu or dulce de leche mousse. The total bill including wine comes out to $50pesos, or 27 USD.  Not a gourmet meal, but a fun experience. I am so full I walk about 15 or 20 blocks home. 

The next morning, I decided to walk to the convention center.  On the way, I pass by a panaderia and order my favorite sandwich de miga con palmitas (white bread sandwich without the crust, with hearts of palm).  The bread is not quite as good as the one in the Recoleta but no matter, it’s still pretty darn good.  I also choose one with ham and pineapple, also quite good. It’s about a 10 or 12 block trek to the convention center, which is located on Avenue Sarmiento, a wide avenue lined with trees and lights.  At each end of the avenue is a statue or monument, reminiscent of the Place de la Concorde in Paris.  I can’t get picture of the monuments because of the buses and taxis blocking the way, but it is quite beautiful.

resizeimg_0369.jpgAve Sarmiento

My main objective today is to attend the Lumenis demonstration of a new technology called Fractional CO2.  It’s a type of laser that shoots a beam of light that is segmented into tiny little pin-size 100 micron diameter spots.  The CO2 technology is a resurfacing technology that removes the outer layer of the skin, requiring 7-14 days serious downtime. With the fractional technology, you supposedly get results that are close to full resurfacing results without the down time.  Does it work?  Sounds promising, but the demo was a complete bust.

It was held at a local doctor’s facility, housed in beautiful building.

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But the demo was poorly organized, the lectures started 1.5 hours after our arrival, the laptops and projection technology were not really working, and during the live patient demo, the machine broke down for more than 20 minutes!! A complete bust.  I left that demo and went straight to another info session held by Candela, another laser company. In contast to the Lumenis event, the Candela event was pure first class. They held it at the best hotel in BA, the hotel Alvear, and they organized a professional Argentinian tango show, which was amazingly beautiful. My camera was out of memory so I couldn’t capture any of the dancing but let me assure you, it was amazing. The Candela event made up for the last 4 hours of completely wasted time spent at the Lumenis demo. Hopefully tomorrow would be a better day…

Viva Buenos Aires!! Monday, Oct 1 2007 

Ah, Buenos Aires. The Paris of South America.  A city after my own heart.

This city is so full of life and culture. Today is the first day of my second sojourn in Buenos Aires, and let me just say, it does not dissapoint.  To get a local’s perspective of the city, I am staying in a temporary apartment rental in Palermo Soho.  There are many apartment rental companies to choose from; after a lengthy search I ultimately decided to choose www.internationalnest.com for price, quality and service.  Check out this awesome apartment: www.internationalnest.com/details.php?id=31 for only $550 for my full 7 day stay, much much less than the cost of an above average hotel ($~$200USD+ per day). Unlike other apartment rental companies, they don’t require a cash deposit and they arent charging me for early arrival or late departure.  Overall, they’ve been extremely easy to deal with and very efficient. I was greeted at the apartment by my own personal concierge, Alfonso, who spent 30+ minutes with me showing me everything from the nearest grocery to his top 5 choices for memorable dining in BA.  Four of the places he mentioned are also listed as Top 10 in the Hedonist Guide to BA, so they must be good, right? 

 Top 5 must-try restaurants according to Alfonso, my concierge:

  1. 1.  Guido’s – Italian food in Palermo. Sit down and let the chef bring out whatever he wants until you are full. A gastronomic adventure.
  2. 2.  La Cabrera. My personal favorite parilla.  A must try.
  3. 3. Desde el Alma. 
  4. 4. Dominga.
  5. 5. Thymus.

All of these restaurants can easily be found at the www.guiaoleo.com, BA’s very own Zagat.  I will try most of them and report my experiences later.

Most flights to BA from the US are overnight flights. From Houston, there is a 10 hr direct flight that got me into BA at 10am.  Cab ride was uneventful.  I took Taxi Ezeiza from the airport for $70 pesos.  Anyways, by the time I got settled in, it was well past 1pm, and since it’s Sunday, I decided to head out for brunch and some shopping in San Telmo. 

For brunch, I took my husband’s advice and booked a table on the patio at the Park Hyatt hotel, a five star establishment, in the barrio Recoleta.  Now, let me just tell you that Sunday brunch at the Park Hyatt is a very hoity-toity affair. The brunch costs $170 pesos. You all you can drink quality white wine, red wine, sparkling wine, coffee, tea; all-you-can eat antipasto, fruits de mer (antipasto style); a choice of entree (meat, fish, pasta, or eggs); and all-you-can-eat dessert from the buffet bar.  Belt busting? You bet. Worth it?  For $56USD, definitely. A little over the top? Uh, understatement.

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This is not going to be a quick brunch, it is going to be a savor every morsel and moment affair.  So here I am, sitting by myself in this palacial square formerly owned by the Duhau family.  The weather is perfect, breezeless, 72 degrees, sunny, did I say perfect? 

I make my way to the buffet bar, where every dish is introduced to me in spanish-accented English by a white-clad sous-chef.  I focused on the fruits de mer – fresh oysters on the halfshell, pesto stuffed calamari, octopus and chickpeas, half-cooked fish with wine marinated raisins, scallops on the half shell… I try a bit of everything, and my favorite is the half-cooked fish concoction, a bit sweet and unexpected. Another highlight is the red wine and honey marinated/roasted red onions.  Delectable. But wait, there is the cheese bar and the antipasto bar!!  I don’t totally make my way through everything. By the time I am finished with the cold dishes, I’m not sure if I can eat my entree, seared tenderloin with truffle marinated polenta and red wine reduction sauce.  I somehow manage to eat half of this incredibly wonderful (but simple looking) dish, tenderloin slightly crisped on the outside…so good.  I’m in heaven.  I lean back in my comfy leather couch, and up at the trees, trying to let my stomach catch up with the pace of my food extravaganza.  BTW, forgot to mention that the antipasto was paired with a white Chardonnay from Terrazas de los andes, very nice, very refreshing. The red wine, likewise complemented the meal and went down smoothly.  I was so busy enjoying everything I didn’t notice that they never even brought me a glass of water! 

Then came the best part (for me, at least), postres, or desserts. I started with the flan caramel and the isla flotante, my favorite. I tried several other desserts including the cheesecake, the chocolate mousee, and the panna cotta, but the isla flotante stole the show. A fluffy light meringue floating in the most perfectly created vanilla sauce accented with sugar icicles.  It melts in your mouth.  Mmm-mmm….

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Lunch started at 2:30 and ended sometime after 4:30. I have less than 1 hour in San Telmo, which is a good 15 minutes away from the Recoleta by cab.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m travelling alone, or because I’m trying valiantly to learn Spanish, but the cabbies have been really sweet and chatty and have helped me with my Catalan.  Courtesy of the airport cabbie, I can count 10, 20, up to 100, and I know how to say my address perfeclty: “mille-ocho-ciento-trentay-dos” (1832).  He also taught me that 1 block is 100 meters “una quadra es cien mietres.”  Calle is pronounced “cahjshay”, and on Sunday everything is closed – “Domingo, todo es serrado” – except for San Telmo and Calle Florida.  The cabbie to San Telmo reminded me that “muy lindo” means very nice and “muy rico” means that food tastes good. And the funniest thing is, 3 out of 5 cabbies have complimented me on my Spanish even though I can barely say anything!! 

 San Telmo is just as I remembered. Cobblestone roads, people crowding the streets. Street performers everywhere.  It’s a bit like Paris’ famous Montmartre area. Crowded with tourists.  Sunday is the famous antique market, and everything is here – arts, crafts, antique stores, performers, people…i love the tango vibe that this barrio exudes.  The first set of street performers were using the traditional accordion-like instruments, called bandoneons in a lively crowd-pleasing, hand-clapping rhythm…

I slowly make my way down the crowded streets, enjoying the late afternoon. The main part of the San Telmo fair is at the Plaza D’Orrego. 

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But if you continue along the cobblestoned path and follow the crowd, you will find that the streets are lined with vendors selling all kinds of leather goods and crafts, jewelry, some just junk but some worth noting.  I found cute earrings for as little as $5 pesos (less than $2) but buyer beware, my first set of earrings was quoted at around $20 pesos in the heart of Plaza Dorrego, and I found the prices slowly declining as I continued farther from the fair center.  Notice the streets get less crowded as you pass from one block to the next.l

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It’s almost 7:00 by the time I am finished so I hop in a cab to take me back to Palermo Soho.  On the way, I see the Paseo Alcorta and ask the cabbie to stop. Paseo Alcorta is an indoor mall that houses the largest Carrefour (French-based supermercado) in the city.  I pick up some Salamandra dulce de leche, made less than a month ago, and my favorite yogurt bibida, or drink, called “Yog’s, yogur bebible” to stock up the fridge.  I head home and take a nice hot bath and cannot drag myself out the apartment for my dinner reservation at La Cabrera. It doesn’t really matter if I skip dinner, I am still full from lunch!!

Ah well, La Cabrera will have to wait until later in the week.  I still need to find my favorite sandwich de miga  and try the best empanadas in the city at La Cupertina, an 8 block walk from my apartment.

Tune in for more food and travel tidbits from Buenos Aires, Argentina. There will definitely be more to tell!!