Of all the non-Mexican cuisines in the city, Argentine is by far the most popular. There seems to be a steakhouse with “Buenos Aires” in its name on every corner. Mexicans like a good steak.
When my gastronome friends Tom and Juan Carlos heartily recommended a new outdoor Argentine puesto (street stall) right in my neighborhood, I was intrigued. Just off a busy 6-way intersection near Insurgentes and Yucatán in Colonia Roma, El Rincón Criollo is like nothing else in the city. Less than a year old, this tiny outdoor restaurant is dwarfed by of one of those blindingly lit pharmacies which shriek, visually, day and night . You could easily walk right by. In this most unlikely spot a cozy corner of Buenos Aires has been created.
The triangular space features a counter with ten stools and several umbrella-shaded tables, protected from the street by some potted plants. Behind the counter porteño Martín Forstmann prepares wonderful home-style bonaerense (i.e. from Buenos Aires) cuisine.
The affable Forstmann, whose Spanish is graced by an South American accent as thick as dulce de leche, arrived in Mexico five years ago with his wife. He had planned to open a catering business, but certainly not a restaurant. He elaborated: “while we were looking for an apartment, we spotted an empty stand with a “for rent” sign on it. It seemed to be calling out to us.” Their little restaurant was open for business a week later (although they still had no place to live). Forstmann grew up in a culinary family. His grandmother sold home-baked desserts door-to-door and his older brother is a chef. “I learned by watching and eating,” he explained. “The recipes come from my family. Our chimichurri (the classic parsley and garlic sauce) is done exactly as my mother used to make it at home.”
Argentines are famed for their empanadas, and the ones here are some of the best I’ve eaten. I had a hard time deciding between the humita (corn, béchamel, onion, green pepper and spices) and the carne (the ground meat delicately perfumed with cumin and pepper) so I tried them both. Larger and more filling is the tarta, a deep-dish savory pie. You can choose between spinach and atún, (filled with a spicy tuna mixture), the chef’s personal recommendation. They are served with a simply dressed mixed salad, which makes a satisfying light meal.
For a heartier lunch, there are baguettes, large sandwiches made with fresh, crunchy rolls, also
served with a small salad. The choripan (argentine sausage) is mouth-watering and not too spicy.
The menu lists several pastas. Ñoquis (the Spanish spelling of gnocchi) and ravioli are home-made and served with several choices of sauce. I tried the salsa rosa, tomato sauce made richer and prettier by a splash of cream. It was light and didn’t overwhelm the flavor of the pasta.
The stars of the show, as always in an Argentine restaurant, are the meats. El Rincon Criollo’s are of consistently high quality. The house special is called bife de chorizo. The chef explained to me that this has nothing to do with our chorizo, but is an argentine cut of beef, round, juicy and tender. The name refers to its shape, not its flavor. The meat here is grilled to perfection and served with either chimichurri, or a more Mexican-style salsa picante. The standard arrachera is tender and succulent.
Finally, for dessert, order a traditional Argentine mate (a type of tea, the country's national drink) and some alfajor Santafecino del Bono, airy cookies filled with dulce de leche, the sweet caramel popular all over South America. These typically Argentine sweets are hand-made daily.
Prices are very reasonable; empanadas are only $16 pesos, baguettes are under $50 and a full meal will not set you back more than $100.
As for ambience, there’s an eclectic mix of music, from Argentine tango to American country and Cuban salsa, with the occasional honking of our eternally impatient D.F. drivers thrown in. But what’s a little urban chaos? It will all seem irrelevant from the comfort of your Argentine home.
El Rincón Criollo - Comida Argentina al Paso
Yucatán 40-A, corner of Insurgentes
Open Monday-Friday 12-10PM, Saturday 1:30-7PM
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