January 4, 2010

Cry For Me, Argentina

Yesterday, we got back from a week-long trip to Argentina. Yes, the food, wine, people, and all of the sights were great. Going to Argentina and having a fabulous time is like having Randy Quaid over for dinner and getting the police called on you; it's just going to happen. So, rather than do a day-by-day kind of account, I'm instead going to talk about some of the surprises we encountered while we were in country.

Argentinians operate on a slightly different schedule. It's not really a country that's suited for early risers. The first day we got there, we went to this really nice restaurant there on the bay and attempted to secure a table for dinner. It was about 7:30 PM at the time, and the place was buzzing with people. When we went up to the host and asked for a table though, he told us the restaurant was closed until dinner started. I asked, "Who are all of those people eating?" He said, "They're still finishing lunch."

When you adjust to the schedule and find yourself eating dinner at midnight, you'll see the tables around you full of families. And they're not families eating late because they're running from the law or because they just had to bail Mom out of jail, it's just how they roll.

It's hard to overestimate the importance of beef in Argentina. I made a lot of jokes before we went on how I'd be surviving the next week solely on rib eyes and malbec, just like Marlon Brando. That was actually an incredibly prescient observation. Pretty much every meal is beef, with a side of a beef, a cup of au jus as your beverage, and beef cake for dessert. If you need a toothpick, they give you a cow tendon.

At one point, we got this glowing restaurant recommendation in Mendoza. She told us the restaurant, the waiter to ask for, and the exact thing to order. With that level of detail, you get pretty excited as to what's coming. We proceeded to find the restaurant and the waiter, and we ordered as we told. About fifteen minutes later, the waiter comes out with a big grin and a huge plate. What was on the plate? What was this incredibly awesome meal that we were in store for? It was a 4 pound hunk of incredibly rare steak that we were all to share. No vegetables, no sides, just meat. (And yes, it was a hell of a steak.) When in Argentina, switch to carnivore mode.

They're still figuring out the tourist thing. One day, we took this epic tour of the Andes. The tour itself was just amazing; it's hard to describe how majestic those mountains were. About halfway through the tour, we stopped at this little village up in Andes for lunch. It didn't take us long to discover that something was wrong with our waiter. I had to ask for my ice cream dessert (absurdly great ice cream across the whole country) roughly 157 times. Rather than ask for the 158th time, I went up to the manager and explained my frustration. The manager gave me a remarkably honest explanation: the waiter was just really, really drunk.

The manager called the waiter over so we could all talk together, and he asked the waiter a couple of questions. "Are you drunk?" No response. "Did this guy ever get his ice cream?" No response. "Fine, go back to work." I love it that, at this little tourist trap cafe, it's not totally unreasonable to get a smashed waiter, as long as he's timely with the ice cream.

I could go on and on about the surprises, but the whole point here is that the place is different. I don't really see the point in travelling if it's just like home. I, for one, welcome the late night dinners with infants, the daily 2 pound allotment of sirloin, and the gloriously drunk waiters. Mucho gusto, Argentina!

Posted by Cody at January 4, 2010 9:51 PM