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My first taste of offal was awful. I was sitting in a tiny restaurant next door to my friend's Buenos Aires apartment, choking on smoke of both the grill and Marlboro Red varieties and drinking Quilmes, the crappy Argentine beer of choice, when a sizzling platter of meats — a parrillada — arrived at our table. I forked up a coil of a sausage-looking substance that my friend called "tripa" and took a bite. I tasted bitterness and iron beneath the crunch and chew: I was eating intestines.
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And I was not happy about it. I looked longingly at the menu, wishing I'd ordered one of those other dishes found everywhere in Buenos Aires: empanadas stuffed with beef or chicken, breaded and fried milanesa, sausage sandwiches, Argentina's version of Italian food or even just an ensalada mixta: shredded lettuce and tomatoes topped with white vinegar and oil. Instead, I filled up on bread and Coca-Cola while my friend, who'd already been in Argentina six months compared to my six hours, put down bite after bite of tripa, then moved on to the blood sausage.
I'd gone to Argentina to learn about the literary influence of Jorge Luis Borges, to study the economics of the Southern Cone and to become fluent in Spanish. While by the end of my stay I'd accomplished very little on the academic front, the vibrant, inexpensive restaurant scene had done a lot to educate my palate. Argentina taught me how to drink and eat — even offal, and I developed a deep love for parts of animals that I'd previously considered waste.
Lucky for me, gastropubs had appeared by the time I returned to the States, and offal was starting to grace menus all over town, albeit in much more precious forms. Velvety foie gras, in seared, terrine, torchon, moussed, foamed and shaved forms. Sweetbreads, usually cut into chunks and breaded and fried so that they resembled chicken nuggets and served with fruit compotes. A few kitchens had started dabbling with tongue and blood sausage; others were serving up heart, kidneys and testicles — and not just the Rocky Mountain oyster version. I was a sucker for all of this offal, even if it often arrived as a stylized plate of meat and accoutrements that gave no clue to the organ of origin.
That's not how they do it in Argentina. There, they simply toss the offal on a grill along with a dozen other cuts of cow, as well as chicken and pork, and then serve it undisguised. I missed that back home in Colorado, along with much of the rest of the Argentine culinary canon — until Caminito Tango opened in May, in the former home of Viejo Domingo. After the owner of that spot took off, the Argentine cooks he'd left behind convinced Tirso Abarca, who owns the building as well as the car wash next door, to go into business with them.
The new crew didn't make many changes to the small, boxy dining room, which has parakeet-green walls, a little wine-bottle-lined bar in the back corner, and about twenty booths and tables, covered with black tablecloths and set with red linen napkins. But they did add a grill in the kitchen, and that allowed them to create a menu that's almost exactly what you'd find in a neighborhood restaurant in Buenos Aires: a half-dozen varieties of empanadas, a few sandwiches, a couple of pedestrian pastas reflecting the Italian influence, and an entire section devoted to meats coming off the grill, including the massive parrillada, which feeds at least two people and features six cuts of meat — three of them offal.
I knew as soon as I sat down that I'd get the parrillada, but since the friend I was meeting was late, I ordered a glass of wine for the wait. Argentina's wine-making industry first gained recognition for its cheap malbec, and that's what I drank in Buenos Aires when I wasn't drinking Quilmes, so it felt sacrilegious to go with anything else. I ordered the only malbec on the list, which turned out to be a highly quaffable table wine: fruity, simple and way too easy to suck down.
We ordered a few more glasses when my friend arrived, along with the parrillada for two. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it came with a couple of sides — had we really been in Argentina, those would have been à la carte — as well as a distinctly non-Argentine touch to start: a complimentary cup of brothy mushroom soup.
Caminito Tango runs at a very Southern Hemisphere pace, and even though the restaurant was empty that night, service was extremely slow — but also extremely friendly. Since we had our wine, though, we were in no hurry. Finally, our server returned with one of the cooks as reinforcement, and they loaded our table with a sizzling grill pan heaped with meat, a bowl of mashed potatoes, a plate of ensalada mixta, a basket of bread and a little dish of chimichurri, the blend of garlic and parsley in olive oil that's served with just about everything in Argentina.
to study borges and study the economics of the southern cone? please. nobody's buying that. you went cuz it was cheap and you heard the nightlife is great. no shame in that.
Wow... that made me feel like going to Caminito Tango and see what they've got for me...
I like the story though, being patient and conserving etiquette while waiting..... just to not ruin the night,,,,
I should say Caminito Tango should include itself at Crumblrr.com to maximize its presence online like Amore Infused.
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