latin america

Fall Trip, Booked: Chile

I’m so happy. I just purchased a flight to Santiago—I’ll be going to Chile for nine days in October!

This trip was a bit of a whim. The last few months have been a bit crazy, with so much going on. And I’ve just noticed that the year is half over—so I’m overdue to plan a big trip to look forward to.

I’ve wanted to go to Chile since I flew through Santiago on my way to Buenos Aires.В I remember looking out the airport windows, seeing the mountains, and thinking that the landscape looked pretty awesome. Plus, it’s a fascinating country—long and skinny, with so much between its northern and southern points. Accordingly, it has a lengthy coastline. And you know how much I love the beach.

Right now, I’ve yet to plan my itinerary. But I’m considering a few days in Santiago, and then the rest of the time hopping around various coastal towns.

If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

…and in the meantime, it’s time to start brushing up on my espaГ±ol.

(Photo of ValparaisoВ via Pinterest)

Palermo SoHo

As pretty as Recoleta was, it wasn’t exactly a shopping mecca. Sure, there was a pretty boutique here or a nice chocolate place there, but I didn’t stumble upon an area where there was row after row of cool, local shops.

At the puerta cerradas, I started asking people where to go shopping—and everyone suggested Palermo Soho, especially around Gurruchaga and Armenia.

So on one of my last days in BA, I took the subway to the Plaza Italia stop and started walking down Gurruchaga. Within a few minutes, I was loving the neighborhood. The streets were pretty, tree-lined and quiet, and I started seeing sidewalk cafes and cute shops.

Lots of cute shops. Enough to keep me browsing for hours.

I wandered into a number of cool places, including:

Bonito Portezuelo, on Gurruchaga, which sells handmade pillows, woven toys, chairs made from cacti, and other items crafted in the northern part of the country.

bonito portezuelo 1

bonito portezuelo 2

bonito portezuelo 3

…I couldn’t quite figure out what you were supposed to do with those pom-poms on strings. If you know, please tell me!

Also on Gurruchaga was Elementos Argentinos, which sold beautiful, handmade rugs, blankets, shawls and other textiles, also from northern Argentina.

elementos argentinos 2

You could even commission them to create a rug in the style and colors of your choice.

elementos argentinos 1

I was tempted to buy a few pillows, but didn’t want to deal with the hassle of bringing them home. I came close to picking up one of the gorgeous llama throws, as well.

elementos argentinos 3

Reina Batata Bazar Boutique, a showroom of stylish home goods, was a few doors down: Think Anthropologie-esque plates, flatware, serving bowls and the like, all crammed into one bright, airy shop. I don’t know what they were spraying in there, but the air smelled like amazingly sweet baked goods. (They, unfortunately, wouldn’t let me take pics, though you can see their wares on their website and Facebook page.)

I’m a sucker for locally made soaps, so I was drawn into Sabater Hnos. They had soaps in what appeared to be every scent, size and color. I picked up a lavender bar for myself. (After using it, I wish I had gotten more! The fragrance is fresh and light, and the lather luxurious.)

sabater hnos

On Gorriti, I stumbled down a sunny alleyway brimming with plants.

galeria paul

I followed the path and ended up at two awesome stores.В TealosophyВ had some of the best-smelling teas I’ve come across. After sniffing spoonfuls from half the store, I purchased a bag of Monsoon Wedding, a lemongrass/mint chamomile tea.

Paul French GalleryВ was a few feet away. Its space was filled with stylish, minimalist home goods—lots of clean lines, stark white and neutrals. The kind of stuff I’d buy for my apartment, if I were in the market for such items.В (Neither place allowed me to take photos.)

Later in the day, I found Seco Rainwear. I was immediately smitten with their whimsical patterns…

seco 3

…and cute shoes.

seco 2

But I was most excited when I saw an array of bikinis in what appeared to be my size. Within minutes, I was trying on and buying one—the perfect souvenir for a beach bum like myself!

seco 1

By the end of the afternoon, I’d walked up and down nearly every street in the neighborhood. Though I stopped into dozens of stores and was thrilled with my purchases, I didn’t do nearly as well in the food department. I was starving by the time I got to Palermo, so I ate at the first outdoor place I saw—Bartola Corner. The food was underwhelming and the servers surly. And it’s unfortunate because I was too stuffed after that to sample the sweets or eats at any other nearby places that looked way more appetizing!

Maybe next trip…

plamero street 2

(P.S. — If you’re visiting Palermo any time soon, check out mapasbsas.com for more info on where to shop and eat.)

Teatro Colon

One thing I really wanted to do in BA was see a ballet performance at Teatro Colon, the city’s famed, opulent theatre. Its ballet company has a great 2013 rep, including Don Quixote, Symphony in C, Swan Lake and Cinderella.

Unfortunately, my visit happened to fall between performances.

But I still wanted to check out the theatre, and was excited to learn that it offers guided tours (110 pesos for non-Argentines) every day of the week.

teatro colon ticket

The tour starts in the lobby, where you can see sketches and costumes from past operas.

costume sketches

costumes

Then it moves to the main staircase, where you see a ground-level view of the ornate other levels.

entry hall

entry hall, second level

Along the way, we got an overview of the theatre’s history.

entry steps

The original Teatro Colon was located on the block where the Banco Nacion now stands, from 1857 to 1888. В The construction of this second Teatro Colon started in 1890 and was completed in 1908. The first performance in the theatre was Verdi’s Aida—which is why there’s a bust of Verdi above one of the doors on the second floor.

second floor

The Golden Room, also on the second floor, is the grandest hall I’ve ever seen, with soaring ceilings, glistening chandeliers—and, of course, innumerable gold details.

golden room

The entire theatre recently underwent a major renovation, which was completed in 2010. A small square on the wall of the Golden Room and a bit of gold trim was left untouched to show what the entire theatre looked like beforehand. Pretty scary that all the gold was once that blackened!

untouched molding

Finally, we were led to the theatre entrance…

entering the theatre

…and shown inside.

teatro colon stage

I’ll admit, I nearly got a little teary when I stepped in. The theatre is that regal and magnificent. I could only imagine all the performances that took place on that stage. The acoustics are said to be amazing.

(Apologies for the terrible photos—I only had a point and shoot and no tripod, and couldn’t get a good shot in the darkened theatre.)

teatro colon balconies

And a very cool fact: There’s seating for musicians in the theatre’s dome. That way, they can play before the show starts and it sounds like the melodies are wafting down from the heavens.

fresco

The Argentine Experience

A few years ago, I was in Beijing for a travel story, and one highlight of that trip was going to Black Sesame Kitchen. At the cooking school/private dining space, I met chefs and then watched them make knife cut noodles, stuffed my own dumplings, and chatted with others in my group over good, paired wines. The meal was one of the best I’d ever eaten, and a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar in another country. And while researching stuff to do in Buenos Aires, I found what looked like an equivalent.

The Argentine Experience started out as a puerta cerrada, but has since moved into a large, new space in Palmero Hollywood. It emphasizes that it’s not a cooking class, but rather a dining experience where people participate in a few key steps.

So basically, they have chefs who do all the hard work (mixing, measuring, seasoning), and guests do one or two things at the end. (i.e. stuff that can’t mess up the meal.)

As a New Yorker who rarely cooks, that sounded fine to me!

I went to the Argentine Experience on my third night in BA. Upon entering the space, I was given a welcome cocktail that I quickly gulped down once I saw that we all had to don crazy-looking checkered aprons and chefs hats. (Luckily, glasses of Malbec followed!)

Once again, I was lucky to have a diverse group of dinner-mates. Besides me, there was a Brazilian couple who lived in Switzerland, two Australians, a travel agent who was from Peru but lived in BA, and an American who was interning in BA. Our hosts for the night were a Brit and an Argentinean.

They introduced the first task at hand: Making empanadas.

empanadas of argentina

We each received a round of dough…

empanada dough

…which we then stuffed with stewed beef, cheese, veggies and Malbec-reduced onions.

empanada fillings

Everything smelled so good that I overstuffed mine—I could barely pinch it closed. (You can see a little of the filling spilling out!)

uncooked empanada

Once we’d stuffed them, they were whisked away to an oven somewhere behind the scenes. We were then given another piece of dough—but this time, our empanadas had to be in the shape of something, and our hosts would select the best one as the winner.

…they assured us that they’d already seen X-rated empanadas formed to look like every possible body part.

Once we’d all finished our entries, they, too, were taken to the oven.

Then first empanadas we made reappeared. They were delicious.

cooked empanada

And soon, our funny-shaped empanadas returned, as well.

Because I have zero artistic talent and a one-track mind, I made a pointe shoe empanada. The winning entry was a crab.

My pointe shoe might not have been the most attractive, but it was certainly tasty!

pointe shoe empanada

The main course didn’t require any work, on our part. We just had to choose how rare we wanted our steak.

steak

After eating the steak (every bloody, juicy bit) with potatoes, carrots and more Malbec, I was ready to fall into a food coma. But there were two more components to go.

First, we learned how to prepare and drink mate, the traditional Argentinean tea-like beverage. We filled our mate cups with leaves, shook them a few times to get the dust out, put the straw in, and poured in water. (I only had a few sips because it’s very caffeinated, and enjoyed its bitter taste! Normally, mate is a social drink, where everyone sips from the same straw, but due to the nature of the dinner, we all had our own.)

mate

For the grand finale, we made our own alfajores: cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched between. And rolled in shaved coconut and dipped in chocolate.

…can someone please open an alfajores shop in NYC? We have specialty food places for practically everything else!

alfajor

Before saying goodbye, we posed for silly group pictures. Here, we’re saying, “Que te pasa?”—or, “What’s wrong with you?”—with feeling!

que te pasa

(I actually ended up having dinner with the Brazilian couple the next night! I needed a break from all the meat I’d been eating, so I went to Osaka, a Japanese place across the street from the Argentine Experience. As I was sitting at the bar deciding what to have for dinner, the couple was seated right next to me. We ended up having the bartender select an array of dishes to share, and chatted as we each sampled all of them. It was one of those serendipitous moments that tend to happen when you’re traveling, but rarely at home!)

(Group photo via the Argentine Experience)

NOLA Buenos Aires

The second puerta cerrada I visited was NOLA Buenos Aires—and I was glad I did! It ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

NOLA’s chef, Liza Puglia, grew up in the Big Easy. She lived in NYC for a few years, attending the French Culinary Institute and working as a line cook at Hecho en Dumbo. While backpacking in El Salvador, she met her boyfriend, Francisco, a BA native. Three years ago, she moved to BA, and for the past year and a half, they’ve been running NOLA out of their gorgeous Palmero Viejo home.

I had apartment envy from the minute I walked in. The space has a high ceiling with exposed brick and beams, and a gorgeous open kitchen.

nola ba

Liza and Francisco were lovely, and the perfect hosts—so warm and welcoming that I felt like I was visiting old friends. I was first to arrive, and I chatted with them over a glass of champagne, as we waited for the other guests.

Soon, an Aussie solo female traveler, a few years older than me, arrived, as did the British couple I’d met at Casa SaltShaker the night before. (Like me, they were making the rounds of BA puerta cerradas!) Five American women on a girlfriend getaway rounded out our group. (The Americans, I might add, were almost an hour late. Note to anyone planning to visit a puerta cerrada—please come on time! Otherwise everyone ends up waiting or starting without you!)

True to NOLA Buenos Aires’ name, the flavors are inspired by Liza’s hometown, along with her affinity for Mexican cuisine.

Everything was fantastic.

soup, tartare, pork shoulder

The first course wasВ gumbo with homemade bread. As a nod to the local cuisine, the gumbo hadВ chorizo instead of andouille. Next cameВ salmon tartare with avocado and roasted corn on a sope—it was a perfect, refreshing palate cleanser. The main course was slow cooked pork shoulder over grits.

Dessert was one of the best I’ve ever had: bananas foster bread pudding.

banana foster bread pudding

As each course was served, Francisco introduced the paired wine. Each one was local, mostly from Mendoza, and all were fantastic.

rose

NOLA also hosts a weekly beer night on Thursdays, featuring Francisco’s home-brewed beers and Liza’s southern recipes.

I was bummed I wouldn’t be able to make one of those events—but it’s on my list of stuff to do the next time I’m in BA!

nola

(Liza also has an awesome blog—check it out here.)

Casa SaltShaker

When I was researching what to do in Buenos Aires, puerta cerradas kept coming up. These “closed door” restaurants are basically supper clubs where a local cooks and serves a multi-course meal in his home to a small group of guests.

I loved this idea. I’m not a tour person and I’m not good at befriending strangers while traveling. But this sounded like the perfect way to meet people. Plus, I’d be able to get locals’ recommendations about what to do—and eat a ton of delicious food.

Once I started researching, I found so many puerta cerradasВ I wanted to try, that I booked one for almost every night I was in BA. I only opted for ones that had a communal table, though.

The first one I visited: Casa SaltShaker, just a few hours after my arrival in the city.

Casa SaltShaker is one of the older puertas cerradas in BA. For nearly nine years, Dan Pearlman, an American ex-pat and chef, and his partner, Henry, have been serving dinners out of their Recoleta home. (That’s actually the reason I selected it for my first night—it was in walking distance from my apartment.)

The evening felt very much like a dinner party. After Dan and Henry welcomed us into their home, we guests had cocktails on their outdoor patio. My dinner companions were an eclectic bunch: a British couple celebrating their 25 wedding anniversary, an American couple and their two friends, and three men (Canadian, French and Belgian) who were installing a flight simulator at the BA airport.

Dinner that night had an Amazonian theme, inspired by Dan and Henry’s travels in the region. Each dish came paired with wine.

casa saltshaker menu

Our first course was a salad of tomato, avocado and hearts of palm…

salad

…followed by a hearty soup of perjerry, cilntro and pureed chickpeas. This was easily my favorite dish of the night—I’d happily eat it every day.

soup

Next came a baked pasta stuffed with cream cheese, soppressata and leek, over a pea puree…

IMG_0743

…and a main dish of pollack and a sweet potato/quinoa cake.

fish and qunioa cake

The dessert was delicious: a huge slice of chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate honeycomb. I had no trouble polishing it off!

cheesecake

My dinner companions were awesome—throughout the whole meal, everyone was talking and joking like old friends. (I was especially fascinated to learn about the simulator team’s work: The Canadian was part of the team that built the simulator, the Belgian was a veteran KLM pilot who was testing the simulator, and the French guy was the one who fixed the problems they came across.)

I was also impressed at how well paced the evening was. I was afraid that it might be long and drawn out (since I’d just arrived earlier on a red eye). But everything was timed perfectly, with enough opportunity to chat after one course but not so long that you wondered how long it would take the next to come out.

Dan and Henry were nice and polite, though they have the air of veterans who’ve been doing this for a long time. I was expecting them to be a little warmer, but they were a bit businesslike—though that’s what their puerta cerrada is: a business.

Still, I had a ton of fun eating, drinking and sharing stories with the other guests—and it was a great way to kick off all the eating I’d end up doing in BA.

San Telmo Market and Downtown Sights

On Sundays in Buenos Aires, there’s one place where you can bet you’ll find most first-time visitors: at the San Telmo market.

The outdoor bazaar runs along Calle Defensa, with the bulk of vendors between Venezuela and San Juan.

Even though it looked like quite a trek, I decided to walk from my Barrio Norte apartment to the market. I mapped my route so that I’d pass some of BA’s most notable sights along the way.

Like the Palacio de Justicia…

palacio de justicia

…and Teatro Colon. (I was hoping to take a tour of the theatre, but it was closed for Election Day. I did go back another day—photos in a coming post.)

teatro colon

I made my way over to Avienda 9 de Julio to see the Obelisk…

obelisk

…and other interesting sights.

Ave 9 de julio

By the time I got to the market, I was starving—way too hungry to even look at anything.

There was a choripanВ (chorizo sandwich) vendor on the corner of Mexico and Defensa, where I entered the market. But few people were eating there, so I sought out another. (When it comes to street food, I follow the old rules: Eat at places with lots of customers and that cook food to order.)

I found another place farther up the block. Like the first, this choripan vendor seemed to be in an old auto repair lot. But here, lots of people were chowing down.

choripan place

I purchased one choripan…

choripan venedor

…dressed it with lettuce and chimichurri—and inhaled it. It was flavorful and a little greasy, but exactly what I wanted, at that moment!

choripan

Once fortified, I could turn my attention to the actual market.

san telmo market 1

Many blocks were packed, with seemingly every single other tourist roaming from vendor to vendor.

san telmo market 2

When it comes to markets around the world, my sister can hit one for an hour or two and emerge with amazing finds: soft scarves, elegant table cloths, fine pottery and the like. I don’t have those talents. For me, the San Telmo market was a big browse fest, as I checked out items likeВ faux Toms…

faux toms

…colorful notebooks and boxes…

painting at san telmo

…mate jugs…

mate jugs

…these, um, interesting leather masks…

leather masks

…and these gorgeous tango prints.

tango paintings

I’d read that there are sometimes tango dancers performing at Plaza Dorrego, but there weren’t any when I got there.

I hadn’t plotted a route home, but I fortuitously happened upon more of BA’s most iconic sites on my way back. I stayed on Defensa until I’d passed the last of the vendors—and found myself at Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

casa roasada

Casa Rosada's plaza

Casa Rosada’s plaza

From there, I headed down Avienda de Mayo, because the tree-lined street was just so pretty.

SAM_0617

After a few blocks, I came upon the Argentine National Congress.

argentine national congress

I eventually made it home, sweaty and tired—I realized I’d been walking for nearly six hours! My feet were killing me. The sneakers I’d brought to walk in turned out to be not so comfortable, and I actually had a few blisters! But I was glad I was able to squeeze in so much of BA in one day.