Nothing better than light, fresh seafood on a miserably hot and sticky summer day in the “Paris of South America”. Especially when it’s prepared Peruvian-style, with plenty of tart lime juice and spicy chile to wake up your heat-stricken, sweaty face. I enjoyed just this at Astrid & Gastón the other day, 3 great marine dishes paired with chilled Sauv Blanc in the cool, elegant dining room of their 1920’s French boutique hotel Buenos Aires location. Not every day do I indulge in fresh seafood in BA so this was definitely a treat.
Tartare de salmon rosado
Thin slices of perfectly fatty, slippery tuna immersed in a sweet, slightly tart and VERY yellow (visually striking) maracuya purée, drizzled with a bit of soy and dotted with black sesame seeds. In the middle of the plate, a little tower of deep-fried, crispy tortilla chip triangles, layered with delicate little chunks of salmon mixed with creamy guacamole and a bit of quinoa, sprinkled with ribbons of scallion. I loved the idea of showcasing the raw salmon by juxtaposing two popular preparations of it (simple sashimi style and traditional French chopped-up-and-mixed-with-stuff style) in a single plate. The fried chips added a firm body to contrast with the buttery soft salmon and a bit of much needed oily-crunchy sinfulness to an otherwise ultra-healthy and light dish. The guacamole was packed with citrusy flavor and harmonized with the salmon and the sauce very nicely, while the quinoa grains clinging to the stuff added a playful, slightly chewy, bubbly texture. My only qualm-ito with this dish was that the sauce was too much and a bit too sweet, robbing the salmon of some of its super-subtle natural sweetness. The spots of soy sauce woke it up a bit though, so it was ok…
Again, I liked the play on a single ingredient, in this case the squid whose body was presented in its bare, slightly chewy cooked form and whose tentacles were encased in a crispy tempura. Under the squid lay hearty, juicy chunks of delicious raw white fish (corvina?) marinated, to its very core, in lime juice. Crisp strips of red onion added a nice crunch. The pureed salsa criolla, tomato-based with chile, lime juice and spices had a very complex, interesting flavor that definitely woke me up; a ring of some kind of baked Peruvian tuber and a breaded and fried patty of some wheaty mash were perfect for scooping up the excess.
A deliciously buttery, fatty and thick piece of salmon cooked perfectly, with a cross-section displaying a thin white line of cooked flesh on the underside and layers of still-bloody, beautiful pink protein on the interior- as it should be. Although the fish itself was wonderful to look at, to split on the grain and to chew, this was not my favorite dish. What was supposed to be a sesame seed crust was just not crunchy enough – the seeds were a bit chewy and raw, not toasted and nutty as they should’ve been. The soy and miso glaze was a bit burnt giving it a harsh flavor which, along with the sesame seeds, threatened to overpower the fish. Normally I like soy sauce on the murkier, burnt side but in this case it gave the dish an unpleasant pan-scrapings flavor. I found the side to be a very strange pairing, great in itself but not really fitting with the flavors and textures of the fish at all – a glob of gooey melted cheese with bits of tart-sweet apple running through it. In my opinion, fish and cheese should only meet on the palate in one specific context which is smoked, oily fish (lox or mackerel) with creamed, spreadable cheese on top of something dry and crunchy. Otherwise it just doesn’t really make sense. The apple chunks were kind of random and did not communicate with the miso-soy flavor of the fish at all. Furthermore, there was no texture contrast within the dish, no crispy carb to scoop the gooey cheese up with, so the end result was soft cheese with soft fish. The little heap of dill-pickled and julienned cucumber, onion and carrot that garnished the plate was refreshing and the sweetness of the pickling liquid complemented the sweetness of the apple in the cheese-goop-thing, but the wilted, warm, sautéed lettuce (why would you sautée lettuce?) was a bit too tired for my taste and didn’t bring the freshness I was hoping for to the bite.