Saturday, April 16, 2011

Buenos Aires Day 2: Dinner at Fabrica del Taco

I've been bitching that I haven't had Mexican food much here, so I must report on this experience.

Thanks to Gringo in Buenos Aires' post concerning Mexican food in BA, I was able to find Fabrica Del Taco, a Mexican food joint in Palermo SoHo within walking distance from where I was staying.

I was starving and in major need of something resembling beans, possibly rice, and things that come on a tortilla. Upon arriving at Fabrica Del Taco, it was clear that I was about to be in heaven.

The décor is cheesy fantastic Mexican luchadores masks throughout, and the staff was really nice. I was flying solo and the place was busy, but they invited me to sit at the bar counter. I opted to sit against the outer bar wall with a ledge/countertop all to myself.  I got the menu and my eyes nearly jumped out of my head when I saw they had micheladas on the menu.

I was SO pleased. The michelada was really good, and made with Corona. So, 1 point for YOU, my dear new friends. Then, the waiter asked if I liked spicy things, to which I replied that yes, I live in Texas, and he brought me some serious hot sauce and chopped onions with cilantro to go with my food. 2 points.

I opted for 2 tacos: one was carne asado on a fried corn tortilla (note: They aren't quite sure what to call things correctly here - we'd just call it a tostada) with guacamole.  The guac was more saucy than dippy, but it wasn't bad. The problem I had was the consistency of the meat. It wasn't ground beef, and wasn't quite what you'd picture carne asado to be, either. It was kind of in between, and a bit tough. However, it was good enough for me to eat all of it, being deprived of my neighbor of the South's specialties for so long.

The second taco was much better, which featured pork and beef. I forget what it was called, but it was good (better than just the beef). I ordered a side of refried beans (everything is pretty much a la carte, as far as I could tell) and they brought a basket of tortilla chips. The chips were pretty good, or at least the best I've had in Argentina.

All in all, it wasn't mind-blowing but considering where it is and what the alternatives are, it definitely hit the spot. Bravo, Fabrica del Taco. Bravo.

Buenos Aires Day 2: Recoleta & San Telmo

So late nights in Argentina usually mean late mornings. It took us a while to get ourselves up and out of the apartment, and into a cab on the way to Recoleta. Our first order of the day was to head to the cemetery and find Evita's grave. Except before this, we needed coffee.

We got some coffees (cafe cortados, to be exact) to go from Havanna, (yes that's 2 n's ) which does coffees to go, in the strip of cafes and shops across from the cemetary. There's also a random pair of red phonebooths from England.

The cemetery at Recoleta is seriously one of the most interesting places I've been. It really is a small city of mausoleums that seems to go on forever. The mausoleums range from beautiful to ordinary, to downright disturbing. Evita's grave is somewhat austere compared to the others, specifically that of newspaper baron Paz.

Hi, I'm Mr. Paz and I have more money than God.
Evita's family's mausoleum. Bo-ring. Sorry.
After Recoleta, we headed to San Telmo to do some shopping and get lunch at 3pm at Café San Juan. I'd been told by many people how great it was, so I made sure to make a reservation earlier that morning for our late lunch. Thank goodness we did, because there were people waiting for an open table who didn't have reservations, and even we had to wait 15 minutes for our table, although we had reserved.

It was 100% worth it. An amazing lunch awaited us: chorizo in red wine and 2 types of crostini/bruschetta for appetizers...

then three entrees between 4 of us: octopus, ribeye, and linguine. They were fantastic. We had no room for dessert, unfortunately, and even had to take a bunch of food home, even though we had 3 entrees between the 4 of us.

After lunch, we shopped the antique markets and street vendors in San Telmo, bustling with activity and full of great deals for haggling enthusiasts. It was a Saturday, and so the big market was the next day, but it was still worth a visit no matter what.

Buenos Aires Day 1: Passport bidness & Palermo SoHo

Driving through the city from Retiro to Palermo, we passed a bunch of embassies and beautiful outdoor green areas.  I was staying in Palermo near the US Embassy, close to the Avenida de Libertadores and the zoo.

This was fortunate because my first order of business was to get more pages put into my passport at the American embassy. Apparently, there is a law in every country that says a customs/ border agent can deny you entry into a country if you have less than a certain number of pages in your passport blank for stamps. WTF, right? Read an example here:

So, being an American can sometimes have its perks. Like strolling up to the embassy and realizing that the line down the street is for people who are NOT citizens, and the window for citizens has nobody waiting for it. So you bypass the line and go right on in. Score.

After paying my US $82 to get pieces of paper sewn into my passport that I had to pick up a few hours later, my #1 errand in BA was accomplished.

My new friends from Mendoza were arriving around 10pm that night and I knew the next day that we'd be going sight-seeing, so I didn't do much. There was a great little café down the street where I got a quiche lorraine, salad and some mineral water called Voulez-Vous Café.  It's on a corner with great outdoor dining. I sat against the wall on a pillow-covered banquette between two patrons working on their laptops. In fact, many people in the café had their laptops. This was strange to me, because I heard how dangerous BA can be at times and that you should be careful where you take your computer. But I guess since it's a nice neighborhood and the clientele are fairly upper middle-class, porteños are comfortable here letting their guard down and Macbooks out.

After my friends arrived, we set out to the trendy neighborhood of Palermo SoHo in search of food. While we didn't end up finding the restaurant we were trying to go to (damn you, Google maps and your wrong information!) we ended up eating at Romario's for pizza. A chain, it had a brick oven and the pizza was surprisingly good.

When we finished our pizza and beer we headed farther into the neighborhood of Palermo Viejo to Congo at Honduras 5329, an African-themed bar that was seriously cool. The back garden seems to go on forever, and the drinks were tasty.  For my first full day in Buenos Aires, it was a great end to a great day.

Taking the bus to Buenos Aires

Well, this post is only a few days late.  I am pretty sure this is something a lot of people who don't live in Argentina don't know about Argentina - you can take overnight buses that have accommodations extremely similar to a first-class section of an airplane.  There are several tour companies that provide this class of service, but I took AndesMar from Mendoza to Buenos Aires and it was fantastic.

I booked my ticket earlier last week for leaving on Friday night and returning on Tuesday morning to Mendoza for $780 pesos. That's roughly US $160, roundtrip.  The cheapest airfare I could find was US $360 roundtrip. My friends/coworkers convinced me to go a day earlier and helped me change my ticket. My friend called the bus company and asked if I could change my ticket, and he said yes but was all iffy about it, so we went immediately to the Terminal in Mendoza and went to the ticket office. The first chick we talked to said I had to change it online and couldn't do it.

But my friend doesn't take no for an answer, and I'm really glad she doesn't. We went to another AndesMar office (yes there are several in the station) and she got the manager to change my ticket, no questions asked. I then had about 2 hours to pack for a weekend in BA (it was 430pm) and get back to the bus station with my stuff to leave at 7pm.

The bus ride to BA takes about 12-13 hours. You can choose to do this in a regular seat, or you can pay extra and spring for an Executive Suite. On some buses, the entire bus consists of Executive Suites (first class), and are double-decker buses. This was my bus. They have bathrooms and bars on board, with a bus attendant, televisions, radios, curtains and fully-reclining flat beds with pillows and blankets for your comfort. Sure, it may be way slower than flying, but if you're not in a rush, why not be comfortable and even save a night or two in a hotel?
Comfy flat beds, plush leather and blankets? What's not to love?!

You only need to arrive 10-15 mins before departure and give the guy standing next to the bus your bag to store underneath. He gives me a claim ticket and I get on the bus, finding my reserved seat. There's a bag for your shoes that bungees to your armrest. Then we leave the station.

The bus attendant introduces themselves and we watch a safety video.

Then he hands out motherf*cking BINGO cards and I get to play Bingo! The prize being a bottle of wine.

The first movie starts. It's in English (subtitled in Spanish) and it's Grown Ups.

You get your meal served an hour later. But before the meal, you are offered wine and soda. Afterwards, you can have champagne, coffee or tea.  Anyone who knows me knows that I went for the wine and champagne. Non-alcoholic drinks are for plebes.

Another movie starts. This time in Spanish. I've lost interest, but amused that it features Kirk Cameron as the lead.

Bed goes back flat, curtains drawn. It's sleeping time, biatches.

Wake up to honking like someone is having a baby and we're in their way as they're trying to get to the hospital. Turns out it's just a traffic jam somewhere on the outskirts of BA. The sun is rising and we're on a highway, but there are tons of buildings everywhere. This city is enormous.

We pull into Retiro station and park. It was cold and drizzling, but it was still so exciting to be in Buenos Aires that I didn't care. I got my luggage (and the man really does check your claim ticket, which is a nice security measure) and wheeled it downstairs to the sign where it said to get a taxi. No line for a taxi. Yay!

Got in the cab, gave the driver the address and I was on my way to the apartment in Palermo. Cab driver was talking about Chuck Norris and the TV show Dallas, and I was just happy he understood my Spanish.

And so the Buenos Aires adventure began...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dieciseis & Pregnant

Brief commentary on the family life here as it appears to a foreigner.

It's interesting, because Mendocinos don't really move out of their parents' houses until they get married. This makes for PDA going on EVERYWHERE. This is mostly in the parks and plazas, but can happen in the street, on the sidewalk, etc.  I'm forced to watch people making out hardcore everywhere. Bah humbug.

Lots of these people are teenagers. I asked a friend of mine what the deal was with this, and she explained that since they all live with their parents, they pretty much just take the action outside. So that I get to watch them making out and feeling each other up while I am picking up contracts.

They also go to hourly-rate hotels called Telohs here (kind of like hotel backwards, see?), since they can't hang out at each other's houses if they are so inclined. While in the States, these are super seedy and gross with bad reputations, here it seems as though they're generally accepted and normal.

There are also a ton of teen pregnancies that I've seen, as well as super young couples with babies. They breed young here, and they all breed. I feel like there must be pressure if you're my age and unmarried as a girl here (or at least have been married at least once so far) because I'm pretty sure the Old Maid thing here is an actual threat.

The living at home thing also explains why Mendocinos go out late very often. I thought they were big partiers. It turns out, they will nurse a drink or two over the course of the entire night while smoking cigarettes at an outside cafe on Arístedes or similar, just to avoid going home until the wee hours of the morning when their parents are getting up and going to work.

Interesting effects from a seemingly conservative approach to family values.

Mendoza Bus Tour

My friends and I took a bus tour last Saturday from in front of the Park Hyatt hotel that, unfortunately, only went through the park up to the top of this overlook where the Gloria statue is and came back down to the city.

It was a really good tour, however. My only complaint is that it was all in Spanish with no English option. I'm kinda glad I waited to go on it until after I've been here a while so that I actually understood what they were saying.

We spiced things up by bringing Fernet & Coke, champagne and beer on board with us in thermoses and our bags. While this was very enjoyable to us, we definitely got some dirty looks from this chick sitting across from me whose daughter insisted on standing up in EVERY PICTURE I TRIED TO TAKE FROM HER SIDE OF THE BUS.

I'm not bitter. Just saying.

Some people need to lighten up. We're all in our 20's and 30's and were having a very contained, non-disruptive time. Sorry for partying.

What I miss from home: Part 1

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things I really miss from home. This is partially due to having to miss one of my best friends from law school's wedding last Saturday.  We'll call this post the "bitching and moaning that I'm not in the U.S." post. I do like it here, but everyone gets homesick, don't they?

Here's a list. While not exhaustive, it's a good start. I'm breaking it into categories because, well, food is important and is probably most of it. Deal with it.

  • Mexican food - last time I had it in Mendoza, I got food poisoning.
  • Queso (you know, Velveeta + Rotel), although we did have it once already here. It's still rare.
  • VARIETY (i.e. anything other than steak, pizza, salad, and tartas). 
  • Indian food
  • Seedless grapes
  • Spicy things
  • American-style bacon
  • Thai food (although I haven't tried Wasana yet)

  • Being able to order food for delivery without having a panic attack and psyching myself out of it
  • Not waiting in line for over 30 minutes at the supermarket 10-items-or-less lane
  • Actually using the little conveyor belt at the checkout, rather than moving it all manually and having the cashier give you a dirty look
  • Not having to walk everywhere or take a cab
  • Eating before 10pm and being considered normal
  • SPEAKING ENGLISH - I'm making a serious effort to speak only Spanish all the time with strangers, and it is seriously tiring. It is really helping my Spanish, though!
  • Men with good haircuts
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Laws that say you need to pick up after your dog
  • Giving someone a $20 bill and not being constantly asked if I have any smaller bills.
  • My friends and family from home
  • My boyfriend (sorry babe - you're just as important as friends and family but I wanted to give you a shout-out!)
  • My car
  • Turning on the hot water and having it be hot right away, rather than 5 minutes later
  • Not being bitten by mosquitoes nearly daily
  • Not almost slipping on the sidewalk because it's made of tile and not concrete or brick/stone
I know I'll think of more later. But before that, I should probably post about what I love about Argentina, no?

Asado with special guests.

So it's been a while since my last update.

I went to a family Sunday asado a few weekends ago (April 3 to be exact) near Rivadavia I think it was. Anyway, it was south somewhere, past Lujan on the way to Tunuyán. This random guy just opens his little farm to anyone who wants to barbecue there for the weekend and take their ATVs out for a spin on these crazy dirt hills next door (assuming it's on his property too).

We show up to the asado and my friend's dog is barking and going nuts. I think it's because of the other dogs around. Then... she goes "oh yeah he's going nuts because of the llama."

Excuse me?

That's right. The llama. There were 2 of them  - a white one and a black one. Just hanging out, roaming around the property. Hanging out in the lemon grove. Being llamas.

Also guests of our little asado were horses, roosters, hens, geese, ducks, pigs, cows (yeah I felt bad about that one), donkeys, mules, and goats... just hanging out, roaming around, crapping everywhere. Making me feel bad for eating their tasty friends.

It was a really fun day - didn't get to ride the ATVs although I was offered - it looked a little too hardcore for me. But the asado was great and I got to meet my friends' family, which is always a cool experience.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bodegas Twitter Event

A week ago today (Saturday March 26), I was lucky enough to have a ticket to attend a huge winetasting event here in Mendoza called Bodegas Twitter.  The event was a fundraiser for Fundación CONIN, which is a charity that works with underprivileged children.

So why was it called Bodegas Twitter? The entire event was supposedly organized using solely Twitter.  And, if you tweeted from the event using the hashtag #bodegastw , your tweet would be broadcast to the entire party via a giant screen behind the stage.

Held at the Auditorio Angel Bustelo in downtown Mendoza, the event brought together bodegas all around the Mendoza region (and Patagonia), including some local restaurants. Attendees got little coupons for specific types of wine and food to exchange at the tasting booths.

Some of the highlights of the night were a performance by local flamenco musicians Simpecao and (apparently) an Argentine-American superstar named Kevin Johansen. He was really good, but I just wasn't able to appreciate it nearly as much as my girlfriends who were there.

Now, the wine was much appreciated. While the lines were long for wine, and the food kept running out (a slight snag in the otherwise great night - I only got to try the empanadas and heavenly tiramisu, but there was salmon from a big restaurant here, and a trout dish from Siete Cocinas, as well as some food I missed from O'Fournier), I still got to taste 5 or so wines before I decided I didn't want any more. I know, I know, it's very odd for me.

A nice surprise was the Saurus Pinot Noir from Patagonia.  I also enjoyed the sparkling wine offerings ("Espumante" as they're called here) from Trivento. I can't remember the names of the other wines I had, but I know I had a Norton reserva that was excellent.

Photos will be up later!