Category Archives: Street cafes

Mooching in Mendoza

Standard

Arriving at Mendoza was a shock to the system. After the hazy sunshine of Santiago we were met with grey cloudy skies and rain. Torrential at that; it bounced off the runway tarmac on our approach and we could clearly see major pooling beneath row upon row, of vines, huge puddles on some roads and water coursing along the acequias, irrigation ditches. Essentially a desert town with max 20cm of rainfall a year, it was far from the welcome we were expecting.

Sleepy leafy streets

Sleepy leafy streets

On Easter Sunday morning the city was still very much asleep, with a handful of flowers vendors setting up their stalls for business and the odd proud home owner out sweeping and cleaning the grey and ochre tiled veradas in front of their property.

imageMendoza, with it’s wide avenues, mix of historic and modern architecture, plazas and parques came across as a relaxed yet traditional city (Mendocinos do observe the siesta) full of flavour and culinary promise; Argentine, Italian plus the odd Middle Eastern cafes and restaurants line the streets of Av Sarmiento, Aristides Villanueva, Montevideo and Av Juan B Justo, to name but a few. We tried to imagine the buzz along these streets on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon, or balmy evening; restaurants and cafes brimming with chatter and the smell of grilled meat, seafood, rich tomato sauce and fresh breads. Anything, rather than how they appeared on a cold wet Sunday mid morning!!

As we couldn’t check into our “one night only” hotel for several hours, we donned waterproofs and walked the quiet tree lined avenues, fallen leaves and rain making tiled veradas, slick beneath our feet.

Local Heroes - SM & OH

Local Heroes – SM & OH

With hardly a soul around it took us no time to figure out the ‘lay of the land’, the five plazas providing points of interest and reference; the main plaza, Plaza Indepencia, in the centre and four smaller ones, Chile, Espana, Italia and Plaza San Martin, but two blocks from the corners of the main plaza. They were all added when the city was rebuilt after the massive earthquake in 1861, each unique plaza with it’s fountain(s) and decoration offering something different, aside from a space to hang out and contemplate life. Our favourites; Plaza Espana with its traditional and pretty mosaic walls depicting life in Mendoza and numerous tiled fountains and Plaza Chile with it’s sturdy sculpture of the two liberation leaders O’Higgins and San Martin.

Surprisingly the city seemed to have suffered more than it’s fair share of juvenile tagging along benches, walls and the odd sculpture; the dioramas depicting Mendoza’s history on Av Las Heras having also fallen foul of vandalism too.

Bedside reading outside banco hipo...

Bedside reading outside banco hipo…

We took in the nearby Iglesia y Basilica de San Francisco, with it’s image of the Virgin of Cuyo and patron of the ‘Army of the Andes’, considered more miraculous than anything because both church and chamber survived the ’68 earthquake. Outside and inside the former Banque Hipocetario Nacional, modern art reigned supreme, with a mix of local and national art exhibitions.

Stumbling across a Carrefour superstore, we got very excited – like a couple of real saddos, we took time and great pleasure, peeking along the aisles, examining what was on offer; household, beauty products, not to mention the massive food section, price checking and looking for things we hadn’t seen before – eyeing covertly (or at least we tried to) trolleys and baskets to see what ‘the locals’ were buying, we stood out like a sore thumb in the checkout queue – all our basket offered up was empanada cutters, coffee ‘socks’, fresh ground Lavazza coffee, suntan lotions and mosie repellant. Hardly a gourmet meal in the making.

One of many fountains - Pl Indepencia

One of many fountains – Pl Indepencia

Like the rest of Argentina, the city really came awake post sundown, all around the grassy lawns of Plaza Indepencia, more stalls were being set up, selling souvenirs, carved bone handle knives, leather goods, jewellery and plenty of knick knacks. We walked along Av Sarmiento towards the eastern peatonal, the pedestrian section, awash with cafes and bars starting to spill onto the pavement and chose a cafe for its “wifi zonal” sign. Bad move. Although the wifi and service were both pretty good, the pizza was far from. In fact it was probably one of the worst we have eaten. Ever. Consoling ourselves with the upgraded Malbec we were offered, we checked our emails.

Thankfully our choice of dining establishments and lodgings improved over the next few days!!

All day fave - Maria Antonieta

All day fave – Maria Antonieta

We were recommended Maria Antonieta and for a good reason. Resembling a French styled version of Fergus Henderson’s ‘St John’, with an open kitchen, it offered the best bread we had tasted and incredible up-market cafe dining. The tarta del dia, pumpkin on the day I tried it, was huge, even by a navvies yardstick and totally divine. As was the mixta salad with the bitterest of arugula leaves and sweetest tomatoes. I polished the lot off.

"Light" lunch - pumpkin tart

“Light” lunch – pumpkin tart

Azafran at night

Azafran at night

Azafran, was so good, we actually returned for a second helping. This may have been partly because I had a classic case of food envy first time round. Matt had ordered the Costeta de cerdo, pork chops with a traditional lentil stew and sticky beer reduction, whereas I had gone for the simple langoustine salad with avocado and Parmesan galettes. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious – just not in the same league.

Eyeing up the wine cellar

Eyeing up the wine cellar

Did I mention that there isn’t really a wine list? Instead you can pop into the cellar and choose from the racks, sommeliers on tap to offer a guiding hand. The decor inside, if you can get a table (we did, second time around) is rustic shabby chic and quite a draw card by itself. And they served the meanest and poshest empanadas we had tasted to date; Molleja y champinion, Chorizo con cebolla and Morcilla y parmesano. A meaty mix of sweetbreads, sausage and black pudding versions with a tomato concasse.
What more could you ask for??

Mmm... Empanadas

Mmm… Empanadas

Advertisements

Sunny Santiago

Standard

Our timing was a little off, arriving in Santiago at the start of the Easter long weekend. Nonetheless, we were determined to make the most of the limited time we had and at least see a couple of the highlights on this occasion; keeping a few things back for when we returned later in the month. My longed for retail therapy was definitely on hold, with a lot of shops closed for the holidays. Sigh.

The sun bounced off the shiny skyscrapers as we sped into town from the airport. Santiago, cosmopolitan capital that it is, boasts its own mini Manhattan, with a huge ‘downtown’ business district and well laid out avenues, mixed with apartment blocks and faded colonial mansions – all in the space of two dozen blocks or so. With views of the Andes (on a clear-ish day), sprawling parks and plazas, it is a city you can just about conquer by the Metro’s five lines and foot; we had yet to brave boarding a bus with our token Spanish and well thumbed phrase book. Next time. Maybe.

A large helping of hot dogs....

A large helping of hot dogs….

I hit the tourist trail to check out a few of the “must-sees”, whilst Matt continued researching our Galapagos trip. Knowing full well things¬†would be closed, I made for Plaza De Armes, at the heart of the city and previously, in good ol’ colonial days, the location of the gallows and public hangings. The square was buzzing with people making the most of both the sunshine and weekend; a few street vendors, selling mainly Peruvian (!) knick knacks, candy floss and balloons and an arcade housing some 12 cafes/stalls that seriously catered for any cravings you might have for “dirty white” hot dogs, slathered in mayo, more mayo, gauc, plus you name it, you can have it, number of toppings… Not for the faint hearted or cholesterol checking chicas.

National PO Building

National PO Building

Sadly the Correo Central, main post office was closed; not because I wanted to post anything – we have been beyond pants at sending post cards – but it is a stunning building, both inside and out. I decided against the Museo Historico Nacional and ducked into Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana instead, recently and lovingly renovated it is easy to see why it was deemed a national monument, with its incredible stained glass windows and chandelier that lit the first meetings of Congress after Independence.

Entrance to the mercado

Entrance to the mercado

Feeding time in the market

Feeding time in the market

Not far away the Mercado Central beckoned, an assault on the senses in every way, it was the best place for seafood in Santiago; in the centre and beneath the ornate wrought iron girders, colourful and packed restaurants vied for business, musicians played and stalls sold everything from fresh fruit and veg, cacao leaves, guitars and trinkets. Behind this lay the fish market and the original cafes that fed off the market, with scarred tables and chairs, plastic clothes and all the charm that went with them. A bubbling and blistering hot caldillo de congrio arrived and hit the spot – a hearty stew rather than soup – finished off with tomato, chilli and coriander with a pile of fresh limes, ready to squeeze over. Perfecto!

Fish market in full swing

Fish market in full swing

The fabulous fish girls

The fabulous fish girls

On the way to barrio Bellavista, I strolled along Parque Forestal, that runs along the river (I use the term loosely, as it was more of a stream in

Bellas Artes

Bellas Artes

places) Rio Mapocha and popped into the Museo Nacional de Belles Art, museum of modern art, keen to see the drawings of Paula Lynch, Chilean artist whose portraits in pencil you would swear where photos. The building a stunning Art Deco backdrop for an incredible installation by Finnish, Kaarina Kaikkonen featuring over one thousand garments – men an women’s – strung out, row upon row across the gallery’s entire central hall – resembling a gigantic washing line.

Even if I hadn’t have been up for a fix of modern art, it did mean that I could only hear the whistles, chants and other sounds of the student demo passing by. No dramas but there were rather a lot of riot police present.

Rows of garments at Museo de Belles Art

Rows of garments at Museo de Belles Art

"Bellisimo" Bellavista

“Bellisimo” Bellavista

Barrio Bellavista has a heartbeat of its own and was on our list of places to hang out in, on our return. A multicultural neighbourhood, part old city and part new and edgy with students, musicians, cafes, restaurants, bars (the most per square mile in Chile apparently), theatres and galleries. Patio Bellavista, the perfect pit stop for a cheeky cerveza and a chance to ”people watch’ amongst the restaurants and cafes and craft stalls; a band tuning up ready to take centre stage in the square later that evening, part of the weekend line up.

Getting around

Standard

We nixed the notion of hiring bikes pretty much from the offset; cobbled streets, pothole marked main roads and the reputation of Argentine drivers, put paid to that plan. Instead we settled for the Subte (metro) and ‘shanks pony’. Phrase book in hand we made our way to the nearest stop, Ministro Carranza and picked up a 10 journey ticket; at 2 1/2 pesos per ride and regular service across the six lines, it’s a great way to get across the city.

Linea A still has the original old wooden and worn carriage seats, Linea D the pick of the tourista hot spots and all the trains we travelled in were tagged and pimped. Just like the tube, to be avoided like the plague during rush-hour as it was hot and airless without the added hoards of commuters pushing to get on/off.

20130221-111537.jpg

What subway isn’t complete without cup rattlers telling their tale of woe and ‘performers’ whistling a tune or two? Best of the buskers, for us had to be the keyboard playing and sandal-wearing ‘Hagrid’, who set up in front of the doors (careful to ensure space for passers-by) plugged in his amp, theatrically tossed his locks, before thumping away on the ivories … When a stick wielding blind man (we doubted his authenticity, as did the chap sat beside us) bumped into his keyboard, he simply batted him away and rearranged his CD’s. Natch for sale.

Walking around Buenos Aires was a piece cake as the city, although sprawling, is real easy to navigate. Loved the little gems we found along way; quaint little shops full of kitsch collectibles, achingly-cool designer stores, vintage clothing and metro kool clobber, and numerous bag and serious shoe boutiques… already over our weight limit, I mentally bought loads!

The whole place is awash with resto’s, parillas, bars and cafes; literally on every street corner you can find somewhere to either whet your whistle or grab a bite to eat, or both. Maybe this is the reason why there are few street food vendors, even along the wide avenues around Ave 9 Julio . The only carts and mate vendors we came across were in San Telmo along Defensa.

20130221-170423.jpg

We really couldn’t leave BA without eating empanadas and ducked into a bakery cum confiteria to try one of each of the al hora, baked ones…freshly baked pockets of savoury goodness- cheese & ham, spinach, chicken and spicy beef. A true carnivore these days, I favoured the carne picante, beef and Matt, rather like the espinaca, spinach with surprise of a hard boiled egg.