Saturday, December 8, 2012

After the Toxic Clouds and Floods: Crossing the City for Dinner


On Thursday, after inspecting a couple new hotels in Recoleta, I had planned to spend most of the day in Puerto Madero and, later, pay a visit to the Boca Juniors soccer museum. Those plans changed, though, when a sudden alert advised people to stay indoors because of an explosion at the port that, the earliest reports said, involved highly toxic mercury. That was quickly denied, but ensuing reports suggested it was a carbonate pesticide and there was a distinct chemical odor in the air.
Given the reports, and an impending rainstorm, the best strategy was to return home and sit it out. As I worked on the laptop, watching the storm through our sliding balcony doors, parts of the sidewalk across the street disappeared under water, and the forecast was for a continued downpour. So persistent was the rain, and the transit mess it caused, that I nearly missed a planned dinner at the puertas cerradas (“closed doors”) restaurant Cocina Sunae, which specializes in Southeast Asian cuisine (still relatively uncommon in Buenos Aires).

By early evening, when I left to catch a bus to Sunae’s “remote” Villa Ortúzar location, the rain had nearly stopped, but I waited more than half an hour with no sighting of the No. 93 bus I needed to get there (for most buses on Palermo’s Avenida Las Heras, waits are rarely longer than five minutes). Finally, I gave up and walked to a side street in search of a cab, but almost all of them were occupied. Just when I thought I would have to call and cancel the reservation, a taxi dropped two passengers nearby and I jumped in before the cabbie had a chance to take a dispatch call.

I arrived just in time for the 8:15 reservation, spending 45 pesos (about US$10 at the official exchange rate) versus 1.20 pesos (about 25 US cents) for the bus. As it happened, the rain and subsequent transit mess meant quite a few cancellations, so only a handful of other diners were there.
It was worth the trouble, though, for a four-course dinner that included fish croquettes, spring rolls (pictured above), caramelized pork (pictured below), and shrimp curry, plus a fresh-fruit mix dessert with a scoop of green tea ice cream. Married to an Argentine, chef Christina Sunae Wiseman is a US citizen of Filipino and Korean origins, with a diverse culinary background. The food is spicy by Argentine standards – in fact, they grow their own peppers on the roof of their casa chorizo (“sausage house,” so-called because it occupies a deep but narrow property).
Most of Sunae’s clients, in fact, are Argentines, but some foreigners show up toward the end of their trips, when they’ve tired of beef, pasta, pizza and other Argentine standards. Dinner, which can accommodate nearly 50 people when the patio’s open – it wasn’t open on this muggy evening – starts early, around 8 p.m. for most foreign guests. There’s a later shift, around 10 p.m., which most Argentines prefer.

Sunae gets bonus points, of course, because she originally came to Buenos Aires with the guidance of an earlier edition of my Moon Handbook to the city, which occupies a place of honor in the dining room. I left around 10:30 p.m. and, walking two blocks to the bus stop, had no trouble getting a No. 93 bus back to Palermo.



Chile Travel Adventures
I won’t get back to Chile next year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be pay attention to the country across the Andes. Last year, in partnership with Sutro Media, I published my first iPhone app Argentina Travel Adventures, which recently came out in an Android version as well. More recently – just a couple days ago, in fact – Chile Travel Adventures has gone live to complement Argentina in both iPhone and in Android format, so that readers can explore southernmost South America on their mobiles as well as in print. At just US$2.99 each, the apps are, figuratively if not literally, a giveaway, with regular updates at no additional charge.

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