Walking along the street of this porteño neighbourhood, the architecture is stunning, but the façades have seen better days. I am not in the restaurant reviewer’s regular part of town.
Aramburu defies every syllable of the ‘location, location, location’ concept. Whilst Guía Oleo places the restaurant in much more marketable San Telmo, the Guía-T accurately places it in the much less appealing Constitución. And it does seem like an extraordinary choice for such an up-market and well-received restaurant, but it is a choice chef Gonzalo Aramburu defends. He is from the area and lives just a few blocks away. And besides, the election doesn’t seem to have done them badly – the restaurant has been open for over five years, and they are expanding to open a bistro half a block away before the year ends. And on the Wednesday we go, all 20 seats are full.
Upon entering, you are suddenly whisked out of the south of the city and into somewhere much more cosmopolitan. The bare-brick walls open out to the modern, stainless steel kitchen, which is entirely on view from behind an enormous pane of glass – a good choice, given the size of the dining area and the noise levels that would likely come from the kitchen were it actually open.
The decor is simple, yet sleek. The tables have a very considered lighting effect, with spotlights illuminating the centre, but keeping diners mostly in the dark – a flattering combination. And after all, it is the food that is protagonist at Aramburu.
There is no menu: Aramburu offers a ten-course dining experience, which is entirely a surprise. Diners are asked by the bilingual staff if they have any particular dietary requirements or preferences, and the rest is left in the hands of Aramburu himself.
The menu is designed in four stages – entrees, followed by seafood, then meat mains, and finally desserts; and within each stage are two or three dishes. The variety in the steps is overwhelming with hints of the chef’s time spent working in Europe and the United States. Each and every plate is a carefully considered creation, mixing flavours and tones as diverse as the cauliflower and truffle soup, a version of a tamale topped with a corn foam, or a green salad on an avocado base with cucumber and apple dressing.
There is definitely something of a crescendo in the courses, and the two meat dishes were indeed the highlight. Suckling pig, after eight hours of cooking, simply melted in the mouth, and came accompanied with almonds and butternut squash. Next up was filet mignon served with four textures of potatoes, each one served differently, in praise of the Andean staple.
And between the mains and the desserts, we were in for a surprise. A stone pot filled with moss sprinkled in apple oil was left on the table, and moments later a waitress appeared with a steaming jug of dry ice and proceeded to pour it over the pot. Visually, the effect was stunning, and the fumes we inhaled proceeded to cleanse our palate, readying us for the final stage of the dinner: dessert.
Whilst there is little freedom of choice on the menu itself, the wine is the complete opposite. The selection is extensive, with wines from the heights of Salta to the reaches of Patagonia, and includes organic and biodynamic wines, as well as less common varietals such as Riesling. Sommelier Agustina de Alba, who put the menu together, confirms our surprise at an Argentine Riesling, explaining only 83 hectares of the grape are planted in the entire country.
The international selection is equally broad and goes beyond the predictable European and new world labels, with even Hungarian wine featuring.
And the option of a five-glass wine flight allows diners to enjoy wines that they might not otherwise venture to choose. Like the food menu, the wines are also a surprise.
We were served five glasses of extraordinary wine, with neither Malbec nor Torrontes featuring, to my delight. A Riesling from Humberto Canale, Patagonia’s oldest vineyard, and an excellent 2010 Colomé Bonarda really stood out. The servings were generous, and I would recommend the tasting menu – it really is worth every centavo of its $220 price tag.
It would seem that there is nothing predictable about Aramburu, which seems destined to keep surprising and defying the odds of its somewhat strange location.