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Tegui | Buenos Aires | Dec ’13 | “over-reaching”

25 Dec

Address: Costa Rica 5852, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Phone: +54 11 5291-3333

Verdict: Save your money, and go to a parrilla.

Rating: 5/20



My dinner at Tegui was a very disappointing experience. Tegui was lauded to high-heaven in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurant List, ranking top in Argentina and #9 in Latin America overall. I was intrigued to take the measure of Argentine cooking. Here was the teaser text:

The playing with perceptions continues once again at the table, however, with Martitegui continually changing his style of cooking in order to create an air of mystery about his establishment. One week his menu could resemble that of a European restaurant, the next it could take on a more diner-like feel, depending on which ingredients the chef has been seduced by. It’s an approach that not only keeps the kitchen – and indeed the diner – on its toes but ensures the cooking is as fresh and inventive as the day the restaurant opened its doors.

Presuming you catch Martitegui in one of his more European frames of mind, diners can expect carefully created dishes that are just as concerned with texture and aroma as taste, such as burrata with strawberries, basil, balsamic vinegar and pistachios; king crab in coconut cream and mango and low-temperature cooked osso bucco and caramelized apples. Wine is an important part of the offer and each dish comes with a by-the-glass suggestion. – Hype Box

As mentioned in my post on La Cabrera, I wasn’t sure if Buenos Aires was a city geared more to high-end fine dining, or food with a more common touch. I tried Tegui on my first night in the city, but I had two major complaints with Tegui:

  1. Basic cooking mistakes. A roasted quail was overcooked to the point of greyness, with bland skin, A rabbit terrine was too dry and coarse.
  2. Truly bizarre combinations: cold sorbets juxtaposed with hot meats. A dessert course kills the appetite kindly by cloying you with sweetness and coldness at the end. The effect of having multiple hot courses with cold sorbets was that my appetite was killed many times over. This was weirdness for the sake of weirdness, a disease well-christened “twerking” by Ulterior Epicure Bonjwing Lee.

All throughout the meal, I thought of the words a friend who works at Momofuku Ko said to me the previous week while munching jalapeno-fried-chicken: “At Momofuku, we just do things the right way”. Those words echoed with me all throughout the meal. Here was avant-garde-ism for the sake for avant-garde-ism, reaching for sophisticated effects while neglecting simple things like making sure the quail is actually cooked properly.

Perhaps the kitchen was having a bad day, but towards the end of the meal, I wasn’t looking for revelation or inspiration any more, I was just praying that the kitchen would just give me something decent. Luckily, since dessert is hard to screw up, I got a couple of decent desserts, but those were unspectacular too. 


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The evening street of Palermo Hollywood

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Speakeasy-esque entrance

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The restaurant, cooking area is right at the back

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Wine-collection, at the entrance

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First snack: Cornet. Brie cheese and Tomato. (3.25/5)

A derivation of the famous per se/French Laundry cornets, right down to color key – but the differences was that the cone was not a crispy tuile, but had the texture of a digestive biscuit.

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Bread service

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Snack: Hot blinis with eggplant caviar and sour cream (3.5/5)

Eggplant caviar spicy.

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Snack: Goat Cheese, Tomato, Strawberry Granita (4/5)


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Main #1: Goat Cheese, Beet, Strawberries, Basil (3/5)

The goat’s cheese was shaved using a Microplane, a technique popularised by Momofuku Ko with their shaved foie gras, but ended up clumping together due to low temperature. The four ingredients had almost no synergy together, especially since the goat cheese was bland and unassertive. It did not help that I had a far superior version of a shaved cheese dish at ma peche (report to come) a few days before.

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Main #2: Almond soup, toasted serrano ham chips, fresh figs. (3.5/5)

Another discordant dish. The almond soup was cold and cheesy, which did not go well with the ham and figs. The ham and figs made a good combination, but was overpowered by the almond soup. This reminded me of a similarly overpowering combination of salmon with pistachio emulsion I had two years ago at Le Bernardin in New York. The almond soup was pointless.

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Main #3: Octopus, homemade salami, tapenade (dehydrated black olives), melon, avocado. (3.5/5)

Melon and octopus and salami were pleasant enough, but the avocado cream was a bit too much, if applied in the volumes suggested by the dab.

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Main #4: Rabbit Terrine, Corn Ice Cream, Apricot, Cucumber Yoghurt, Dabs of Hot Pepper (1/5)

Terrible, absolutely terrible. What was corn ice cream doing alongside a rabbit terrine? Not only was the dish bizarrely conceived, but the rabbit terrine was coarse, of uneven meat sizes, and some parts were dry. Was the terrine meant to be cold? Very well. But the terrine wasn’t cold, instead it was in the uncanny lukewarm zone, where it is just hot enough to suggest it should be a hot dish, and yet not hot enough, suggesting it was cooling after cooking. The lukewarm temperature was a turn-off.

Furthermore, the cold corn ice cream made for a very uncomfortable mouth-feel when eaten with the lukewarm, coarse, dry terrine. Really, really bad dish. I did like the corn ice cream on its own, so it salvages one point. The appearance of ice cream so early on, also may have played havoc with my appetite.

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Main #5: Ricotta Gnocchi, White Truffle Foam, Popcorn (3.5/5)

One of their specialties. Finally, a dish that was served on a plate that was actually hot. It was not bad, though not mind-blowing.

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Main #6: Quail, Malbec Reduction, Dried Fruit Sorbet. (0/5)

This time the plate was at room temperature again, due to accommodating a hot and a cold element. The quail was overcooked, to a ashen grey colour that was reminiscent of a very dead thing. The skin was bland, as if it had no seasoning. Terrible. Perhaps the ice creams were the kitchen’s way of apologising for inflicting such mal-conceived ideas upon paying diners.

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Main #7: 24 hour lamb, eggplant, thyme yoghurt, Mediterranean vegetables (2.5/5)

“herbs set on fire on top of lamb”

Again, plate and meat were lukewarm. The lamb was roasted in the oven slowly for 24 hours, and the meat picked to form a lukewarm and greasy terrine. The redeeming quality of this dish was the crust of lamb on top of the picked meats, which was crispy and quite okay.

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Melon, White Chocolate Granita, Licorice and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction (4.25/5)


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Strawberry sorbet, Blueberry Leather, Panna Cotta dabs (3.25/5)

Okay, if unexciting. Quality of fruits weren’t the absolute best I’ve had.

La Cabrera | Buenos Aires | Dec ’13 | “enough food to stuff a small elephant”

23 Dec
Address: José Antonio Cabrera 5099, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
Phone:+54 11 4831-7002


When I first visited Buenos Aires, I wasn’t sure if it was a city geared more to high-end fine dining, or food with a more common touch. After having been to a couple of the city’s best parrillas (Don Julio, and La Cabrera), snacking on empanadas, and having been to what was touted by Latin America’s Top 50 restaurants as the best restaurant in Argentina (Tegui), I came out satisfied out of my parrilla and empanada meals, and very disappointed with my meal in Tegui (report to come). I thus made a tentative conclusion in my second day in Buenos Aires that food with a common-touch would be my best shot at eating well in Buenos Aires, a conclusion that was strengthened with each passing great street food meal and parrilla meal.

My knowledge of Argentinian steak before this trip came from a book by Mark Schatzker I read last year, Steak, in which he describes the Argentine love affair with beef. In it, he makes the allegation that Argentinian steak has moved form deliciously grass-fed, to proudly corn-fed. I wasn’t expecting the most amazing porterhouse in the world, but rather the parrilla experience.

Before leaving for Argentina [the book was published in 2011], I had read a number of reports that contended that Argentina was abandoning its grazing beef industry for the American model: growing corn and erecting Texas-size feedlots. And this was all due to the fact that Argentines loved steak so much.

In 2001, the debt-laden Argentine economy crashed. When it began recovering, the price of beef started climbing. Farmers were making good money selling Argentine beef to Europe, Russia, and Israel, but Argentines were finding htier three-pound-per-week habit was getting hard on the wallet. The price of steak got so high that at one point Argentina’s president suggested that his people might consider eating less beef, which was the political equivalent of asking eagles to give up flight. Sensing the darkening national mood, he cut beef exports.

For a while, this flooded Argentinian butcher shops with cheap beef, the price of beef dropped by a third. But the flood of cheap beef was soon cut off by furious, not to mention poorer, ranchers and farmers, who were so angered that they banded together and blockaded roads so that food-laden trucks from the countryside couldn’t deliver to cities. The first thing to disappear from store shelves was steak, followed by pork, lamb, and chicken, and much later pasta. People leaned out of windows, hung off balconies and stood on street orners banging pos and pans together to voice their anger.

The ranchers backed down, butcher shops were filled again. Cheaper steak was grilled and eaten.

But the ranchers’ income was shrinking. Some decided to get out of the beef business altogehre. Farmers who held the best land in Arngetina, whose families had for centuries sneered at the very idea of crop farming, did what the law of supply and demand predicted: they cleared the cattle and planted crops. They laid down fertilizer by the ton and sowed corns and soybeans and wheat and anything else that was getting a good price on world markets.

The cattle went to marginal land, land that had never been considered up to the task of finishing cattle. To get them fat, Argentinees began herding them into pens and feeding them corn, which they now had in abundance. – Mark Schatzker, Steak, Argentina Chapter

Sidenote: By the way, speaking to locals, Argentina seems to be in another economic crisis, with 30% inflation. The USD officially trades for the Argentinian Peso (ARS) at 6.25, but the blue dollar rate (black-market rate) is about 9.0-9.4 currently. Tourists to Argentina can get a very favorable rate if they exchange currency in the cities themselves. I didn’t do this, and was kicking myself.

Steak. A steak in America, would be a lazy choice for me, one that I almost never make. Great steak, if one has the equipment, seems possible to consistently replicate at home with a sous-vide machine, a blowtorch, and maybe liquid smoke. But the parrilla promised an authentically Argentine experience, and the wood-burning asado tradition adds a touch of unpredictability to how the beef turns out. And if beef consumption is such a cornerstone of Argentine life, then in Buenos Aires do as the porteños do.

La Cabrera is probably the most famous parrilla in Buenos Aires. All the tourists know it, all the expats know it, all the locals know it. Located near the heart of hip Palermo Soho, it is located on its namesake street. It is so popular that it opened a overspill second restaurant, 50m away from the main one, called La Cabrera Norte. It’s exactly the same restaurant.

Rating: 15/20


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Morcilla Criolla (3.75/5)

“Creole blood sausage” – savory. This differs from Basque Blood sausage (Morcilla Vasca), which is sweet.

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Kobe Beef Wagyu Cuadril 500gms, Rump Steak (4/5)

This dish was a bit dubious in name – I remembered very well last year’s viral column by Larry Olmsted in Forbes claiming that there isn’t real Kobe beef. Still, I was expecting something like Snake River Farms beef, where the beef have Kobe heritage. After all, the marbling is what counts. Of course, all was forgotten as we order the rump steak, a very non-fatty cut. A bit of a mind-fart.

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Churrasquito con Panceta (4.25/5)

“good portions of roasted fat”

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Bife de Chorizo (Sirloin Steak) (4.5/5)

Bife de Chorizo is the cut that Argentinian guidebooks said to get. Here, the steak was smothered in a garlicky sauce. I personally prefer a naked steak, but this floated by boat very well*

*we packed the steak, and ate it for dinner too.

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What is special about the thing is that La Cabrera just stuffs you with all kinds of side dishes, that leave you staggering for the exit door.

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The Lollipop Tree.

A final send-off.