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Sunday, March 27, 2011
No-Name Parrilla at the San Telmo Market,Buenos Aires: Wining and Dining Away the Hours in Buenos Aires
Dadio and Fredi, just a couple a regular guys and a grill.San Telmo, Buenos Aires.
By day San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, is an attraction to antique hounds,the youth hostel sort, and locals found strolling its timeworn cobblestone streets. At night, the sounds of the bandoneón stirs the blood of the milongueros.
Just like any 'hood in Buenos Aires, there's no end to the parrillas, the Argentine tradition of fire roasted meats. You'll never get an accord from one person to the next, the more you ask, the more answers you shall have."Where is the best parrilla?", pronounced pa-reesha in Argentine dialect.Everyone thinks theirs is the best. The exasperated guide books and forums will lead you to La Cabrera or Don Julio, which will no doubt be a good meal, but Buenos Aires has more parrillas than LA has burger joints,so why limit yourself to the tourist trap?
A no-name parrilla exists on the Carlos Calvo side of the San Telmo Market with a short menu of Argentine grilled meats. The Parrilla Mercado San Telmo has been around for about a decade, run by good friends Fredi and Dadio who entertain a group of regulars each day with cheap wine,soccer matches broadcast on an old TV , and economic conversation.Here the sun seems to wait for the local dawdle of lives spent in sleepy bliss.
The walls are littered with posted notes from fans all over the world, mostly love letters to Fredi and Dadio's choripan, their stellar rendition of the Argentine chorizo sandwich.
Most of them written on those thin, waxy, unproductive South-American napkins that merely spread grease and substance around your hands.
The smallish grill and cramped dining area makes this one of the more humble parrillas around Buenos Aires. There's handmade chorizo, morcilla(blood sausage), chinchulin(intestine), vacío(flank steak),chicken, and bondiola(pork).
The house wine is $1.25 for a full glass. Is it a malbec, a bonardo? No,...it's $1.25! When Fredi, who is at times distracted by his friends and the soccer match on TV got around to pouring my wine,my eyes caught a glimpse of the used water bottle. Just an emptied out water bottle to refrigerate an unknown house wine, a stash of local hooch. I think I fell in love with this place at that very moment. The pace here is slow because it's meant to be enjoyed; good friends, some wine, and fine parrilla.
The guys seemed to have forgotten my order, but all of a sudden, it was coming right up. Me? No problem, a drunken woman sitting next to me in the tight space kept busting Fredi's balls about waiting on me."Fredi!" "Ay" "Fredi, ayudale!"
Her and I clinked glasses, and I sat back and watched the show. A pile of pan arabe, the local bread used for the various sandwiches and three bright, and fresh chimichurris flashed the universal codes of street food assurance. This is going to be good.
The star attraction of the two guys parrilla, spicy Argentine chorizo, is known to travelers all over the world, mostly from Latin-America by all the hand-written praise papered all over the walls of the restaurant, in spanish. Choripan is the more famous Argentine sandwich, but it was all looking good, and I had tried a great choripan the day before,how about some steak?
The vacío can be ordered in a sandwich or by itself; it's the greatest indulgence here at $5, you get a full cut for $7. The whole flank steak is slow cooked, then sliced to order. Dadio grilled the meat a little after tearing some ample strips off the attractive parcel of meat. This cut of steak is one of the definitive cuts in Argentina, and is cooked with an insulating layer of fat and tissue on the grill.
A bit of one of the house chimichurris(parsley and olive oil marinade) and you're good to go. The steak is tender, grassy, and with a touch of that lardy exterior that has been charring on the grate. It's the perfect piece of parrilla, a benchmark for all of your fancy sit-down parrillas to come.
The first day I stopped here I ordered the morcipan, a blood sausage sandwich. For those of us who love such things, the morcilla is a sight to behold. Its casing is thick, pliant, and silky smooth. Inside it's pure heaven.
Just a mild splash of a spicy chimichurri made with local chiles on this clean,smoky blood sausage.
With a glass of the amusing house wine, the bill comes to $3.25, unbelievable. It seems most just bring their own bottles, hang out, get a choripan and stare at each other, only taking time to crack a joke here and there, or to laugh at something that may have happened earlier in the day.
This is an excellent parrilla, and anything after this mellow grill of note shall be measured by this standard. Argentina is one of the greatest meat shows on Earth; you need neither a uniformed waiter nor a prop horse for cheesy, mounted photos to find the best Argentina has to offer.
If I could live near this place I'd be a regular too.....maybe I'd bring a better bottle of wine, but then again.....maybe not.
No-Name Parrilla, or the Two Guys in San Telmo
Carlos Calvo, near Bolivar on the side of the San Telmo Market
Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
open for lunch