El Nono Amigo: No-no(t) as Good as Expected

This place gets reviewed daily – the little yellow Italian almacén on the corner (Guatemala and Carranza, specifically), with a big chalk-board listing cheeses, fiambres, sandwiches and salads, a round shelf in the middle busy with textile-capped little jars of homemade marmelada and pickled veggies and a back wall lined with a pretty extensive selection of Mendocino wines. Peeking out the window of the 93 as it rumbles down cobblestoned Carranza on my way to work, I see this place almost daily but have never gone in, choosing instead to fantasize about the perfect picada platters I once thought they must have. Well the other day, in matching CPP guises, my companion and I chose to try this place out (well I kind of made the decision to, he just kind of nodded cuz he was hungry) and I grabbed the menu enthusiastically, ready for the best picada of my life. This of course was my biggest mistake – letting my imagination run away with me, dragging me by the pigtails.

The picada platter was good, but just good. The giant folds of salami and mortadella were flavorful and not too greasy, the bread was fresh, the cheese was tart and crumbly, the marinated olives (green and black) were plump and juicy. But there was nothing particularly impressive about the platter. The bread was kind of dull, the meats were supermercado-quality and just too much (would’ve preferred a greater variety and smaller pieces), and there was only one cheese on the platter and not a very impressive one at that. The picada menu was also set up kind of strangely, as there were a variety of 4-5 fiambre platters and 4-5 cheese platters, but no combination of the two small enough to share as an entree. As the place is known for their gran varieté of cheeses and fiambres (it is, after all, a neighborhood almacén), I was expecting something to wow me a bit more, a tray full of CHARACTERS, a melty-shy camembert with a dollop of home-made raspberry jam, a pungent, in-your-face blue with a bit of local honey drizzled over the top, maybe a few chunks of chewy, spicy chorizo colorado and a smooth, tangy, just-sliced prosciutto. Maybe a few bits of chopped garlic or sprigs of rosemary stuck to those olives. Maybe a bit of local olive oil offered with the bread. I don’t know… These were the things I imagined looking into this place so many times. Maybe it was a bit too much to expect from an Argentine Palermo, after all we’re far from Italy.

I was satisfied with the pressed sandwich, but only because I’m obsessed with eggplants, especially eggplants of the smokey-garlicky-mushy-oily persuasion. I think because my grandmother used to make them often and they became part of me in a way, they do something to my taste buds that few other ingredients do. The sandwich was made with decent long bread (though with a more crumbly, grainy texture than French), with smokey-garlicky-mushy-oily marinated eggplant slices, a layer of gooey cheese and a few tomates confitados (slightly oil-roasted and dried tomatoes), pressed and toasted until all the ingredients warmed up and melted together a bit. I liked this sandwich because of my eggplant bias but stepping aside from that, it wasn’t that great. The eggplant was actually a bit too salty and not very smokey at all (again, at an almacén which so proudly displays its jars of marinated, roasted veggies I expect perfection…), the bread was a bit dull and the cheese was 1) the same one used in the picada, 2) a boring, no-brainer, quick-melting yellow with no particular flavor of its own and absolutely no connection with the tomatoes and eggplants it was melting all over. The whole point of having such a huge variety of cheeses is to be able to come up with unheard-of, funky harmonies between cheese and vegetable – a nutty, flaky Parmesan or a kick-ass tart goat cheese would have gone with the eggplant so much better than this lame melting skin-flap of provo-mozza-whatever.

The wine, a 2011 Aconquija Chardonnay, was good. Strong (super strong for a white) and very good. It wasn’t chilled which was kind of a downer, but I didn’t expect it to be at such a small resto with such a big selection. It went well with the olives. It pretty much went well with everything and made up for the lack of flavor in some mouthfuls.

In conclusion: El Nono Amigo – not bad, but not quite what I was expecting. Cool ambiance but many much better picada platters exist in BsAs. Their empanadas looked really good though, maybe I’ll get one of those on my way to work tomorrow.

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