Other Pages of Interest

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

El Salto de las Ranas

Buenos Aires has a great restaurant culture and there are a zillion great restaurants to try, but one of the constant complaints you hear (at least among the expats) is that there is a severe lack of Mexican cuisine.  It's true, we have only found a handful of Mexican restaurants and, of those, only a select few that we would return to.  We have eaten at El Salto de las Ranas (Rodriguez Peña 1169, Recoleta: 4811-2635) once, over a year ago and had a good meal, but Guia Oleo panned the place so we were hesitant to recommend it to others.  Not only that, during my pregnancy I was super-craving Mexican, so we walked to Las Ranas late on a Tuesday night, only to be told that they had no electricity.  It must have been during some sort of hormonal swing for me, because this information sent me to tears, and we haven't been back. 

We returned this past weekend and had a similarly good experience, I'm feeling confident enough to give it my recommendation.  Las Ranas is in a row of 3 restaurants on Rodriquez Peña, that if you didn't know better, you would think that they were all the same place.  The inside is mildly decorated with Mexican-themed items and the small tables are lined against the walls in a long, narrow, corridor.  We completely threw them for a loop by bringing our stroller, which barely fit down the aisle between the two rows of tables.  All in all, the ambiance is decent, excluding the music selection - which consisted of only Black Eyed Peas songs. 

Our service was friendly and prompt, it helped that Gretchen was flirting and giggling at our waiter the whole time, and only a complete Scrooge could resist her charms.  They started us off with a small basket of chips and a tiny dish of salsa, laughably small portions compared to American standards.  The salsa had spice, but it was the consistency of hot sauce, no chunks of any kind.  We ordered guacamole to start, they have two kinds to choose from, guacamole with shrimp or with chips.  I'm guessing that the shrimp are the dipping instruments in the latter option - but we stuck with what we know and ordered the chips variety. The guac was fine, more of an avocado puree, but the chips were good and salty and my standards for Mexican food are generally lower in Argentina. 

For dinner, I had the mixed fajitas (chicken and steak, there are several other options - shrimp, pork, vegetables and any combination of the options) and they were pretty darn good.  The meat was cooked well, of good quality and served with peppers and onions.  The condiments were pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, black beans, rice and tortillas - the highlight being the good tortillas.  This is an item that I can not find in stores here, the closest thing is a brand called Rapiditos, and they are a pretty poor substitute (and like 5 inches in diameter).  Jon had tacos, which were also quite good - to the point that by the time I remembered to take a picture, he was finishing the 3rd (and last) taco.  We were pleased. 

The other test of a good Mexican restaurant is the quality of their margaritas.  We did not give them a try this go-around, but the last time we ate there (granted, it was over a year ago), the margarita was so tart and strong it was almost undrinkable.  Almost.  I think this is due to a lack of margarita mix here (though it's easy enough to make that yourself) so the margaritas generally consist of tequila, triple sec, lime juice and ice.  Maybe that's good for the diehards, but I'm going to need some sugar in that baby to make it good.  Ironic, considering that you can't even buy infant rice cereal that doesn't contain sugar - Argentine's love sweets.

Regardless, Las Ranas is as decent Mexican food option in the city as we've seen.  They offer delivery, which may be the next step for us, our delivery options are getting sparse.  Considering that it is withing walking distance to our apartment, we'll add this one back to the list of casual dining options - and hope they keep the electricity flowing. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maraton Reebok 10K

Last Sunday marked quite a few firsts for me.  My first 10K, my first race in Buenos Aires, and my first competitive run since Gretchen was born.  Recently, I remarked to my friend Adena that I needed some inspiration to give me a workout goal, something like a local competitive race.  Low and behold, she emails me the following week and said that she had signed up for the Reerun 10K Reebok run in Palermo, and she hoped that I would join her.  I could back out like a chump, or join her and make good on my statement.  So, with 10 days until racetime, I signed up to join in a 10K. 

In all honesty, I have only participated in two races in my life, and it was the same race (the Philadelphia 10-mile run) two years in a row.  I have been running recently, so the thought of running continuously for 6.25 miles wasn't completely out of the question.  The more complicated part was figuring out what we needed to do to sign up and participate.  The coordination of this type of event is generally not the strong suit of the local culture - organization, availability of information and managing large groups of people have the potential to go very poorly.  I am happy to report that this event was managed quite well from start to finish, I was impressed. 

The race website was easy to navigate and clearly listed all information regarding the race.  I was able to pay the $120 peso entry fee online, with a credit card (abnormal for here) and was emailed a contract and a list of documents I would need to pick up my race kit.  The only item I was not accustomed to providing was a doctor's note stating that I was healthy enough to participate.  Though it was mildly annoying to get this note from a doctor, I can imagine that it is a good idea to require this sort of certification for a race of this size.

Mid-Race Photo-Op
Adena and I picked up our race packets, showed our doctors notes and photo IDs and we were ready to run.  As a side note, it seems as though all races are referred to as "maratons" here, which is an interesting phenomenon.  It send me into panic mode when I saw that I had entered the "Maraton Reebok", because there is a HUGE difference between running 10 kilometers and a ~42 kilometer marathon.  I have absolutely no interest in the latter.  Anyways, the day of the race, we took a taxi to the corner of Alem and Sarmiento streets and waited for 9:00am.  The organization had a coat check to keep our jackets and bags during the race and there were a ton of vendors selling water bottle belts, hats and all sorts of other racing paraphernalia. We made the mistake of arriving "on time" at 8:00am, which means we were some of the first people on scene, so we were asked to sign a number of petitions, were interviewed in some sort of pro-Buenos Aires video and had lots of time to stand around and people-watch. 

 The race was at it's capacity of 10,000 runners, which was quite a sight to see considering that all participants were required to wear the issued neon orange race shirt.  Daddy and Gretchen, and Adena's husband Paul and her son Trey  came out to cheer us on - it was great to see their smiling faces as we ran by.  This was especially important during this race for me, because although I know it was a 10K, I still am not completely accustomed to thinking in kilometers...it took me until "mile marker" 4 to realize that they were actually kilometer markers.  Considering that a kilometer is just a little over half of a mile, this was a decent blow to me ego. 

All things considered, I came in 4,079th place - better than I would have expected. It was lots of fun and a really great way to continue pushing my running goals.
It was a great time, and I really enjoyed the route which went around Palermo Lake and past the Hippodromo (the horse racetrack).  The weather cooperated nicely and it was a great way to feel like we were really getting out and enjoying the city.  I will definitely look to participate in other local races, a great calendar of events is located on the Club de Corredores website.  Thanks to Adena for the companionship and the motivation! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

iCentral Market

I have probably been to iCentral Market (Puerto Madero - esq. Pierina Dealessi y Macacha Güemes; 011 5775 0330) a dozen times, and for some reason I have not yet posted about it.  I love this place.  It's a great stopping point when we bring visitors to Puerto Madero to walk around, it is one of the few places I know will have a good salad, they have a great outdoor seating area and they are accommodating to groups, babies and English speakers.

There are two sister restaurants, iCentral and iFresh Market, both located in Puerto Madero one cross-bridge away from one another.  iCentral has a take-out counter for quick meals on the run, which is a rarity in the cafe culture of Buenos Aires, and if you proceed through their housewares and gift shop area you will walk right into the restaurant. 
Eating lunch with our friends visiting from the US at iCentral
The tables are nicely spaced out, so you don't feel like you are sitting on top of each other and the chairs are plush and comfortable.  The menu is ample, with a few items in each category; salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts.  As far as drinks are concerned, they offer the usual water and soda selection, but they also have lemonade and fresh squeezed juices that are excellent.  I usually get the mint and ginger lemonade, which is served half frozen and is great as a summertime beverage.  It is even better when enjoyed with my smiling husband, as pictured on the left. 

They start you off with a nice selection of bread, served with herbed butter pats covered in sea salt.  Being a salt lover, I enjoy this touch.  Additionally, the waiter brings an amuse bouche to the table as they come to take your beverage order.  These have ranged from pate to a cream cheese based bite.  One of the more recent additions to the service is a bowl of hot water and towels that is brought to the table for you to wash your hands.  The towels look a lot like dinner mints, so don't be fooled, but when you submerge them in water they grow - similar to the pills-that-become-dinosaur-sponges that were so popular in the 80s.  I have never ordered anything that I didn't like, but recently, I've stuck to ordering either a salad or a sandwich.  They have interesting salad combinations, unusual for Buenos Aires, such as a pear and Gorgonzola with Dijon dressing (pictured below) or smoked salmon with poached egg and capers.  They also have a daily soup, the most recent time we were there it was squash and carrot and it was outstanding.

iCentral's summer menu has a delicious grilled chicken sandwich that I usually gravitate to, but since they have switched over to the winter menu, I have had to deviate from my norm.  The vegetarian sandwich is good with eggplant, squash and zucchini, but the real treat when you order a sandwich is the little bowl of fried potatoes that come with it.  This is their take on french fries, little crudely cut potatoes that are served the same as french fries.  One of our friends ordered the pastrami sandwich with arugula and his only complaint was that it came with too much brie cheese. 

If you have room for coffee or dessert there are several options.  They have just recently started serving ice cream, and although it is not quite as good as Arkakao, it is respectable.  I prefer their coffee drinks, which are as pretty as they are good, for example, here is my cappuccino:

With any sort of coffee order, they serve these meringue dulce de leche filled cookies.  I'm not big on the meringue part, but the dulce de leche is delish.  

So here is the downside of iCentral, it is pricey.  Not Cabana Las Lilas expensive, but over the last month or so they have raised their prices by 20 - 30 pesos per entree.  I expect these sort of prices in Puerto Madero, it's one of the more expensive areas of town, but it is frustrating to have the same meal that two weeks ago was US$8 cheaper. 

I still enjoy iCentral, and as long as they don't continue to raise their prices at this ridiculous rate, I will continue to meet friends here for lunch and bring our people from out of town to enjoy their hand towels and meringue cookies. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tanto Tiempo

The most common question that I am asked is how my life is different living in Argentina.  The answer is difficult to put into words because, in many ways, living in any big city would be similar to living in Buenos Aires.  The traffic is crazy, you need defensively cross the street, stores are smaller and people seem to be everywhere.  Aside from the language, I have to say that the biggest difference in my everyday life is the unpredictability of everything.  Daily tasks seem to inexplicably take longer.  For the longest time, I had a hard time thinking of specific examples of this...but the opportunity has once again presented itself, and I had my camera phone ready to document the experience.

Mission:  Purchase a food processor.  

We had a great food processor that was a wedding present, but unfortunately, the 220v power supply fried the motor.  Since Gretchen will soon be diving into the world of solid food, I was hoping to replace this appliance with something purchased locally to avoid the power supply issue in the future.  So I packed up the baby, and we walked to Carrefour, a local grocery store that has an appliance section.  Here is what we found:
Yep, good old Carrefour (on Vicente Lopez y Rodriguez Peña, for those in the area) is closed for the month of August.  No sign, no warning, just boarded up. 

No worries, we'll just stop by a couple of dress shops that we passed on the walk here, I am looking for a dress for a friend's wedding at the end of the month, so that will at least make the trip worth while.  

First dress shop:

Second dress shop:
Never mind that it was 2:45pm so at least one of the shops should have been open - but the greater point being, really?!  You're just closed in the middle of the day?  These little lamented signs that you stick up with tape when you decide to leave are for real?  You may even notice in the window of shop 2 that the hours are printed on the glass.  They read:  Mon - Fri 10am - 8pm, Sat, Sun & holidays 10am - 7pm.  I guess the closed for and hour in the middle of the day part was too much to include. 

So we went home, changed the most impressive blow out diaper I have ever seen, gave Gretchen a bath and then headed out to another Carrefour location that has an even larger electronics section.

The second Carrefour had approximately 15 different models of juicers, but only 1 food processor, the box of which had so much dust on it I would guess it had been there for no less than 2 years.  And it was bigger than our microwave.  And it was US$200.  I walked upstairs to the electronics store located above the Carrefour only to find that they also carried this same model of food processor, more or less in the same condition, but this time it was US$250. 

Since we were already bundled up (remember it's still winter down here), we headed over to Starbucks, where I knew exactly what I was getting into.  On our way home I stopped and picked up some cough drops for my and Jon's multi-week long colds. 

Gretchen and I had been home for 10 minutes or so when Daddy got home from work. 

"So, what did you do today?" he asks. 

"I got a coffee and some Halls."

Mission:  FAILED