There’s this super-exclusive little place in La Barra I’ve been frequenting quite a lot lately that serves up deliciously comforting home-cooking in very small batches (for 2 plates and leftovers). The chef is a slightly erratic Argentine man with longish hair and sharp incisors who was first inspired to cook by the all-too-cool lisped Brit, Jamie Oliver.
He’s clearly got asado-ing down to a science (being from here I expect nothing less), serving up delicious entrañas, matambres (un-stuffed, un-curled with lemon), and vacíos finos sizzling off the grill at a perfectly jugosos cooking point, adding a bit of rosemary at times for extra flavor but otherwise using minimal seasoning. He claims to make a pretty decent burger (being from Argentine, I will need to try this before I believe it). Below are some photos of a chivito I enjoyed at Chez Mister last week. It was customized to my palate, prepared with good bread from a nearby panaderia, the beef herbed with rosemary and plenty of cracked pepper, no heavy eggs, no olives, crispy pancetta instead of the typically chewy old bacon you get at restos, more mustard than mayo, American cheese instead of fake mozz and plenty of onions for my Eastern European palate.
He knows when meat needs salad next to it and when it does not and when he does serve it, it’s always a simple but super-fresh, inventive one. Here is one he recently served me with a perfectly grilled piece of meat. It had chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (which he understands is not the same as the faux-mozz most Argentines are so fond of), drizzled with balsamic, sprinkled with cracked black pepper and a bit of dill for a hint of herby green freshness.
He appreciates good bread made with hand-knead dough above all else. He is at the moment experimenting with the art of baking breads with different styles of dough but complains that while the first one always comes out perfect, the succeeding tries fail. I’ve tried these so-called failures and can’t disagree more. His pizzas a la piedra with hand-made, super-thin masa and a creative array of toppings (grilled explant, veggies, jamón crudo (prosciutto), grilled tomatoes, arugula, caramelized onions, etc.) are great every time, as is his aluminum-wrapped-and baked veggie-topped white fish whose aroma, while it cooks, is mesmerizing.
He is a lover of artesanal cheeses and serves them at mid-day degustation style with only a bit of herb, olive oil and balsamic added. With his cheese plates he often serves bread toasted almost to a burn-point to add a charred crispiness to offset the softness of the gooey cheeses. He is also particularly a fan of the camembert-conserve combo, compelling him to add a small bowl of raspberry jam to his tasting plates as well. He likes to shop local for his ingredients, preferring to pick up cheese rounds from home-made product stands which line Uruguayan country roads.
He respects the potato in all its forms, complaining of the lack of spud diversity in Uruguay (3). He makes delicious patatas bravas, mixing in some sweet potato every once in a while and doing some sort of magic to make the outside perfectly crispy and the inside soft every time.
He enjoys a culinary challenge. He has made American-style breakfast pancakes from scratch almost every morning I have been to his kitchen and has disproven my assertion that pancakes can only be made from the Betty Crocker Bisquick powder. They are fluffy and airy on the inside and crunchy on the outside every time. Before I provided US-brought maple syrup, he also got creative with toppings, playing around with various yoghurt-mascapone-fruit preserve blends.
He makes a mean chicken-gnocchi soup, creamy and velvety soft, slightly spicy, with bits of dark-meat chicken cooked though until fall-off-bone tender and gnocchi at a perfectly chewy consistency. Very comforting on a chill evening at his restaurant by the sea.
The only problem with Señor Chef is that he seems to think it’s more appropriate to photograph a sandwich from a birds-eye perspective rather than aiming for the cross-section from a 30-40° angle. As one can clearly assess from the photos below, this is an incredibly misguided conception.
But well …I love him anyway. And I can’t remember the last time I’ve consistently eaten so well.
Besos to the chef!