You might be drawn subconsciously over the road – La Poesia seems much more appealing at first sight, the warm orange-tinted lights and laughter spilling out onto the pavement mean it picks up the majority of the foot traffic on the corner of Chile and Bolivar.
But I would encourage you to stray to the opposite corner. The partially frosted windows add to the intimacy once inside, but make it hard to work out what awaits from the street. But venture in to El Baqueano and there is a Pandora’s box of culinary treasures awaiting you.
Born out of the idea that there are many animals native to Argentina that the visitor never tries due to the inundation of parrillas, Fernando Rivarola, from the south of Buenos Aires Province, opened El Baqueano in 2008.
The name was an explicit choice – ‘Carnes Autóctonas’ (meaning native meats), is a purposeful aim to come back to national cuisines.
From yacaré (a local caiman), hare, wild boar, ñandú (a local ostrich) and a range of seafood in a variety of guises, unless you are going to visit the four-corners of the country you will have a hard job trying these delicacies elsewhere.
“Beef isn’t even native to Argentina,” Fernando is quick to point out, highlighting the Spanish conquistadores’ decision to introduce cows nearly 500 years ago. Beyond the country’s famous pampas, cows don’t roam very far, and there are many regions where beef is not the traditional meat at all. But Argentina’s massive centralisation comes into play, and the popularity of beef from the famous pampas, combined with the industrialisation of the food chain, means other meats barely get a look in.
El Baqueano’s response is a tasting menu of five or seven courses that changes on a monthly basis, with options ranging from llama carpaccio, yacaré brochettes, hare risotto, wild boar bruschetta, and seafood such as langostinos from Puerto Madryn.
When asked how they get such a range of animals to the capital, Fernando explains they have slowly built up a network of faithful suppliers and they tend to buy the animals whole and do all the preparation themselves, both ensuring the butchering is done correctly and the maximum usage of the animal.
The tasting menu is a conscious decision too – the restaurant used to offer regular starters, main courses and desserts as well as the tasting menu, but they realised most clients were reluctant to commit to an entire course of one strange animal or unknown flavour, and would be more conservative in their selection. As a result they moved away from the traditional menu to a full tasting menu recently, giving clients the option of trying a variety of different foods, all prepared in ways that maximise the culinary experience.
The staff are well-versed in the produce and happily explain the menu (or reassure their clientele where necessary) as if keen to convert as many people as possible.
Fernando’s partner, Gabriela, is training to be a sommelier, and is on hand to make suggestions about the extensive wine list, which includes organic and biodynamic wines from around Argentina. As with the food, the wine on offer includes many grapes not commonly associated with Argentina viticulture, where Malbec reigns high. We tried a refreshing Pinot Gris from the Lurton bodega and a rose by Villa de la Luna, as well as a couple of lesser-seen reds. If clients prefer to bring their own bottles, El Baqueano does offer a corkage service.
The two desserts on the seven-course menu include a savoury and a sweet option. The savoury is a tasting of five cheeses, including a fondue and something that could be described as a savoury alfajor, both of which were a delight to someone who is on a constant search for cheese with a kick. This also went on to break some prejudices, proving there is cheese with flavour beyond blue or goat’s cheese. That tasteless yellow rubber-cum-elastic combination, which is unfortunately often the standard fare, does not have to be the norm.
A trip to El Baqueano will have you wondering if perhaps more cows could be used to make such cheeses, and more menus would explore Argentina’s other native meat options. If you are bored of bife and up for experimenting, I recommend you try this place.