Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stuff, Weird Ones

My folks are here, though I think there must have been one madcap message mix-up. Somewhere in Argentina someone's parents got the invite to come and chill-lax, while mine came with 4 luggage full of...strange ingredients for cooking up batches of Oriental dishes (at least they spared me the tiny sugar crabs this time). See exhibit...

1: Vacuum-packed crunchy egg noodles, for some kind of bird's nest concoction. Also, cases of rice paper wraps.

2: Um. Pack after pack of cooked salted duck eggs WITH GOLD YOLK (the label screams).

3. Nothing strange about this one, though I did recently notice it in Barrio Chino, costing a bazillion pesos apiece. Damn if it ain't worth the import jackup.

4. My sister Sarah sent this mug and it fucking rocks my world. Lee's Sandwiches, if you aren't lucky enough to know, is only the coolest bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich) franchise ever! Sipping their cafe su da is like injecting condense-milky espresso straight into your veins.

5. I can't believe the nerve of my parents--thinking a gourmand like myself would suck face with such sugar drivel, such Britney-worthy comestibles, such...oh who am I kidding? I begged for these. I heart les trashique faux cupcakes, I do, I do.

My Folks Are Here!

me and pops today on the tren de la costa.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Casa Felix

It was my fourth time at Casa Felix, the hidden puerta cerrada restaurant that's part of a dining trend that's smokin' up the Buenos Aires night scene (there’s a New York Times piece on it, look it up). Casa Felix is helmed by chef Diego Felix, who although Argentine picked up his gastronomic training in the states and all over South America, chiefly in Paraguay. His strikingly beautiful girlfriend, Sanra, an American, works the pastry/dessert component. For 65 pesos/person (it used to be 70), you get this fantastically multi-layered, multi-course meal that's either vegetarian or pescatarian or vegan (your choice) involving fresh, seasonal, and sometimes organic players. Fourth time's the charm--as were the first, second, and third. Truth be told, I've never had an experience there that wasn't outstanding in some way.

Casa Felix used to be in an eclectic, funky space in Palermo Hollywood, complete with an open-air courtyard (it often reminded me of something you'd see in that hipster part of LA known as Silverlake). Now it's in Chacarita, a family nabe I never read about, in an even bigger, funkier space--also with an open-air courtyard. I was pleased to see that the ambiance hadn't been altered with the move, since I so loved the tree murals and the under-the-stars seating (weather permitting) of the old place, also because part of dining in someone else's house requires a leap of aesthetic faith of sort--i.e., that they won't have, as my brother Bo so charmingly put it, shitty taste in decor. (The concept of a closed-door restaurant eluded him, and he kept picturing us barging into someone's Roseanne-like living room decked with thrift-store art and a blaring TV used as a soundtrack.) Rest assured, Bo was comforted by what he saw.

In a crunchy little nutshell, we had an amazing meal. Each course kept topping the previous in complexity and taste. I think Diego's specialty lies in how he twines the salty, sweet, and sour in a compelling way--often mixing veggies and fruit so you get your vities and minerals all out of the way--the end product being some kind of taste bombshell. It was like having a wholesome frat (oxymoron much?) party inside your mouth--and with raw zucchini of all things! (Even my awesome mom can't get me to eat that.)

So here was last night's lineup:

(1) Tropical white wine sangria (with floating bits of pineapple and mango)

(2) Spicy black bean dip served with homemade bread, not pictured because I ate it all. [The bread was so pillowy soft, I wanted to doze on it.]

(3) Organic zucchini rolls stuffed with steamed beets, goat cheese, and pine mushroom with an apricot and saffron dressing. [This was to die for. Even the carrot slaw was crunchy sweet. Seriously, I think I heard Nannette moaning from the sheer deliciousness of it all.]

(4) Mbeyú with chunky tomato and pineapple salsa, scattered with Colombian or Bolivan peanuts. [The grilled mbeyú was addicting. I kept swiping off of other people's plate. Mbeyú is a Paraguayan carb made with yucca and taro, although to my rather uninformed palate, it tasted an awful lot like Japanese mochi, pounded rice. Actually, my thirteen-year-old budding foodie pointed that out.]

(5) Melon granita, to cleanse the palate and prep you for the main course, which was...

(6) Grilled grouper fish with sautéed seasonal veggies, lime-flavored mashed potatoes with yellow chilies, served with a side of black-olive tapenade. [Outstanding kaleidoscope of flavors: salty fish, mouth-puckeringly sour puréed papas--though I didn't detect any chilies--and sweet smashed olives. Each bite had something interesting. Swoon.]

(7) Carob and peanut butter cake with orange mousse. [This was good though to be honest, we were so stuffed at that point I’m not sure we did it justice. The orange topping was less mousse and more icy sorbet-like. I liked this, but I will forever plead my loyalty to their staggeringly good tres leches cake, first served back in February.]

(8) Cocido negro, a Latin American hot beverage involving burning the yerba maté with sugar to get that dark color. [Musky and sweet and oh-so comforting nearly 3 hours later...]

Good food + good company = one of life's greatest pleasures. And in this intimate, hidden diner, you get to revel in both. So...what are you waiting for--they only seat 12 a night! Make that reservation stat. www.diegofelix.com

Mood Swings

This four-day weekend has thrown me for a loop. So dazed/confused am I without my 40-hour workweek anchor that I'm invoking Yahoo! Calendar for regular mood guidance (not to mention, the mood ring I sent away for has yet to arrive). Why does it matter what day it is? Well in my too-limited mind, I equate each day of the week with an emotional stasis (perhaps all modern humans are hard-wired to do this). For example, Sunday is mood-ring black (think tense, nervous, anxious), the proverbial dread-in-the-pit-of-the-belly "shit, I forgot to lesson plan again" day; whereas Saturday, in true mood-ring blue form (think calm, relaxed, lovable), is the universal "you can't make me effin care about anything" day.

Anyway, being that (1) this is Saturday, (2) I'm still in my PJs and bunny-slippered, (3) I'm feeling lovable, I've chosen to whittle away copious hours on YouTube in search of a soundtrack to this "worker's playtime" (tm Billy Bragg). And this awesomely poppy tune from '06 is my current earworm:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mind Melt

Last night I went down to Niceto Club to see Battles, the most rockin quartet of guys since Il Divo. (Just kidding--about Il Divo being rockin that is.) Battles from NYC is what's known as a math rock band, which is something like experimental post-rock done by aliens,* which is way cooler than it sounds when you're sober. They brought the place down, and by the time they did their single, Atlas, I made a passionate commitment to self to Google-stalk the beautiful Ian Williams for the rest of his life. (According to Nannette, Ian was dancing all by his lonesome self to Interpol right behind us post-show but alas, I was unaware of this serendipitous groupie moment.) I'll upload my camera video later. Until then, here's their official version.

* I wish I didn't lack the vernacular to talk music but lamely, I do.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Java Junket: 20

Enfundá la Mandolina. Café con leche y crema. 3.5 pesos! 11/21/07

Enfunda la Mandolina

With an insider rec from my dear friend Macarena (whose exact words were, "We eat more than just asados, you know"), we managed to trek down to Enfunda la Mandolina in Palermo (self-billed as una cocina atípicamente porteňa) last night for a sampling of Argentine fare that's absent grilled meat. The setting was lushly gorgeous and playfully littered with retro toys and non-thematic knick-knacks. The food was comforty, lickety good, with most platos principales being 12-15 pesos (entradas being 5-7)! Despite the reverse sticker shock, no details were skimmed on, least of all the presentation--many of the dishes were served in adorable candy jars that were tipped over in a lake of coulis. We ooh-aahed our way into a delicious carb coma all night long. Notably, it was the most attentive service I've had in town (you hear that--Cafe Tortoni and Mark's Deli?!). I will definitely head back, if only for the tiramisu, which despite its massive popularity among the XX-chromo crowd had always left me rather unconvinced as a fan--until now. Nice work, Enfunda, nice work...

Pictured: pastel de papas, front entrance, fried faina, abondigas, and rabas


You know you've been waiting for this list so here it is: What I'm thankful for on Thanksgiving 2007.

- less than a year until we elect a new president in the US--w00t!
- my son's relatively good adjustment to living in a new country, year 2
- my beautiful, healthy extended family, visiting and non
- that I can still fit a size L in the Forever 21 clothing line
- health and optimism
- my gorgeous home and the nearby cafe
- my students, who remind me minutely how much pleasure there is in learning and growing
- my friends, who persist despite me being me
- the upcoming cruise to Cabo San Lucas
- Nannette's
Feast (coming soon to a theatre near you...)
- Argentina, for reaffirming that no matter where you are, people just want the same things in life

Now I might as well have another slice of sweet potato pie and OD on the touchy feely. And for Sarah, my fave Cambodian Martha Stewart, I post our dinner pictures thusly.

Pictured: ginger batata with burnt marshmallow topping, backyard dining, temperature pin that came with the bird (pops up when the turkey's cooked), roasted turkey (basted in white chablis and though originally frozen was the moistest evah) pictured with egg noodles, mashed papas with oodles of manteca, scratch stuffing with Argentine chorizo and fresh provencal herbs, sweet potato pie

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mmm...Smells Like Bacon

I haven't found bacon here that tastes like home, though I did find this awesome bacon flow chart.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

These lusciously black dolls from San Telmo invoke some sorta irrevocable fetish in me. I swear it's not lewd or inappropriate--I just would love to line them up on my fireplace mantle, taking each one down every so often to whisper sweet nothings in her ear. When I was an immigrant kid in the US, my biggest dream outside of raising a colony of sea monkeys was to own a Shirley Temple doll, having just discovered the jaunty, curly-headed moppet on Saturday retro matinees. In bumper-sticker terms, I guess you could say I brake for dolls, the more cherubic, the heavier my lead foot.

One of my fondest memories from Cambodia was getting a sweet little French doll from my aunt Vanna who was living in Paris at the time (today she lives outside of Paris). It smelled stunningly like sugar with spindly limbs. The French intruder was adored so much that I had nannies lining up to create miniature Khmer outfits for it, resulting in a sewing-machine one-upmanship. I've a foto of me and the doll in matching batik tops and sarongs. If you're nice, I'll look for it.

My doll frenzy reached its altitudinous high when years later in the states, I stealthily snatched my younger sister's Baby Alive doll (remember those?) one afternoon and threw it kicking and screaming into the washing machine. I'm not sure what possessed me--lack of oxygen to the brain? But Baby Alive never looked quite alive again. To this day my sister has yet to forgive me for this crime of passion. (I am so misunderstood.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Soap Grope

Catchy name coined by spawn for these soap handle doodads. Though not as hygienic as a hand pump, they are more pleasing to the eye and makeshift-fun in their rotatable ability to activate a dizzy spell, or maybe I need to get out more.

That Warm Fuzzy Feeling

My super-cool brother and his gorgeous wife are here visiting, and I've been walking around grinning like a maniac. I know God invented family for those of us allergic to Prozac.

Ready-Made Excuse

I get accused of being a bitch with regularity. Praise the Lord, I now have an excuse, cuz nothing comes between me and my beeyotch jeans...

Mate Vending

I've a thing for drink vending machines, those Japanese ones with the warm coffee cans being my favorite. I spotted this the other day. Pretty awesome.

Java Junket: 19

Café Tortoni. Café con leche y crema. 6.5 pesos. 11/18/07. Hands down the most atrocious service I’ve encountered in BA (and I've seen plenty). We sat for a good 25 minutes before someone grudgingly shuffled over to hand us a menu--despite all the fanny-packed yokels who came in after us getting served. I so didn’t want to be that Ugly American and bitch ad nauseum about how.things.work back home, but Jesus on a stick, as someone who's had a good run as a waitress I couldn’t help but get my panties in a twist over the inane and lame service. Wild chocolate con churros can’t drag me back.

Java Junket: 18

El Aconcagua (San Telmo). Café con leche y crema. 6.5 pesos. 11/18/07. I love this divey homey diner, where heaping plates of comfort food are served 24 hours a day. It's the kinda stuff my mom would make, were she to be Argentine.

Java Junket: 17

The Coffee Store (across from La Quinta). Café con leche y crema. 7 pesos. 11/17/07

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pond Life

I believe this to be true, that I was a whiny kind of kid. I remember sitting in a drab train station when I was 4 or so, feeling as though I would suffocate from chest-heavy gloom, the weightiness of which I wasn’t able to communicate beyond soft syllables. I was cradling an oversized mug full of lumpy ricemeal next to my face, hoping the scent of milk sugar would take me elsewhere. Except there was no elsewhere. We were in a neglected train station on the outskirts of Siem Riep, having just got words that the Khmer Rouge were near. When my cereal ran low, I lifted my head and wailed for more. I’m sure I wanted to cower in a corner or shake my mother for answers, but it came out ungracious. I was a whiny kind of kid, completely lacking the poise to deal with catastrophic changes. I was an embarrassment to my mother.

We had just evacuated our home in Siem Riep, a coastal town most famously noted for Angkor Wat. My father wasn’t around, so my mother somehow hauled 4 kids, a nanny, and a servant to the nearest train station to wait for … what? The details are vague. I remember the muggy heat though. I had just spent an entire summer tearing up lily pads. When our house was built, my father had dug out a pond beyond our kitchen door and garnished it with plump lily pads and orange fish. He’d taken great pride in the house, having designed the master plan himself. There was that circular stairway leading up two floors, a tiled recreation room where he played exotic American music, and of course, mosquito net decorating every inch of the bedrooms. No doubt when the Khmer Rouge burst into the backyard, they spotted a pond littered with shreds of lily pad.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Tea Connection

It's a piece of the southland right in the heart of Recoleta. The Tea Connection, with its pretentious LA vibe, offers up precious pots of brewed tea leaves--green/red/black, herbal/not, fruity/straight, etc. etc., with killer baked goods. Also refreshing to see as many vegetarian sandwich options (on black-olives bread no less!) as meaty ones. Plus, tofu salad with ginger/green onion vinegrette! This home girl's going back soon, if only to test drive the whole grain apple pancakes. Crushed ice, turbinado sugar--mos def a love connection.

Frosty Fallic

It's evocative, alright (I practically blushed when it was handed to me). The Freddo cubanito is a must for any discerning ice cream lover. Hard waffle cone shell, chocolate-dunk at either end, and the richest, creamiest dulce de leche helado at its core! It's food porn the way God intended, and deliverable, as all good porn should be.

You have cubanito envy, doncha?