I thought my Spanish was pretty good after three years here, but looking at the menu I feel I could be reading Russian for the amount I understand. But then, whose animal vocab does stretch to jabali (wild boar), ñandu (ostrich), liebre (hare) and yacaré (alligator)?
And once you get your head around the words, how the meat is reaching you may still be puzzling. There are alligator brochettes, lamb meatballs, a hare risotto, a llama carpaccio… it’s enough to confuse even the most culinary confident foreigner.
But that’s all part of the fun really.
Recently-opened El Baqueano in San Telmo offers ‘carnes autóctonas de pelo, pluma, río y mar’ (traditional meats of skin, feather, river and sea) from around Argentina. Lamenting how the popularity of beef has left other dishes out in the cold, the owners are keen to help a variety of regional plates make a come back – or start – in the capital.
Citing the slow food movement as part of his inspiration, chef Fernando Rivarola explains how seven years working in Spain impressed on him how the local produce and traditional cuisine was more valid. Upon his return to Argentina he realised that beyond meat and pasta, there were very few traditional products that are popular nationally, although the country is full of culinary promise.
Joining up with high school friend Jorge, the pair headed to the capital from their native Mar del Plata, and El Baqueano is the result of their efforts.
Many of the dishes on the menu are inspired by foods that have been popular for centuries in their own region amongst the native populations, but for some reason have barely made it to the capital or into the regular diet of most Argentines. Possibly because who would know what to do with ostrich or alligator? Well, such meats can be used in pretty much the same way as anything else – we try the alligator brochettes, which in all honesty could be chicken, and the llama carpaccio, which is delicious.
The dishes are beautifully presented and the menu has clearly been considered over a long time – the llama carpaccio comes with just the right amount of dressing the compliment the parmesan shavings and mixed leaves on the side, and the lamb meatballs are well balanced with the puree on offer.
And as most people will be foreign to the dishes on offer, El Baqueano has an innovative way of presenting them: plates are brought out separately and each person is given just a small side plate to eat off, so each dish can be shared, giving diners the chance to try more things, and ensuring food jealousy doesn’t occur.
Textures and tastes are emphasised, and this is shown in the complimentary taster given to each diner at the start of their meal. We try ‘textures of pumpkin’ – a hot, warm and cold taster, with the squash produced in three different ways, as if to show how many options are available for those with a bit of imagination.
A seven-course tasting menu is also offered for those who are really feeling brave, which is served with a wine flight for a little over 100 pesos.
And the prices are reasonable – main courses vary from $25 to $60, with most being in the $30-40 bracket, which is more than reasonable for the dining experience you will have. And, for fellow cubierto-haters, El Baqueano does not charge one.
My favourite dish: Carpaccio de llama
Some people will love: the range of weird and wonderful dishes on offer
Likely to be sitting next to: an excited foreigner
Likely to spend: $70