Wining onSunday, August 10, 2014
A surburban adventure
For The Herald
And the most recent suburban adventure fortunately began in a car to head to (sort of) San Isidro. No need to grapple with trains and dodgy lines or tracks, and ticket machines that outright refuse to play ball. The back seat is the way to travel.
But this was no ordinary San Isidro excursion. This was a trip to La Horqueta, a hood within a neighbourhood, and quite the fancy, upper crust one it is too. You know when you go to Puerto Madero and think “this is nice but it ain’t my Buenos Aires querido.” Well, for first-timers it’s a similar deal in La Horqueta, but without the tower blocks.
Parking up, it was if I’d walked onto Main Street on a Stepford Wives set, all pristine lawns and carefully painted walls. And I mean Stepford in a positive way, because it’s healthy to have a dose of beauty and perfection every once in a while and forget about daily hazards such as stepping in dog poo or whipping out a nice mobile phone only for it to non-consensually find a new owner.
So stepping across the threshold of Alo’s, a new bistro opened in May by cook Alejandro Feraud, is in keeping with the zone — a little Stepford, perfectly formed and really rather pretty. The front patio is home to a living wall, all luscious and flourishing, while an enclosed back yard is a dedicated herb and veggie patch, both lovingly tended by a jolly-looking rasta gardener.
Given that such passion has been extended to the exterior, making Alo’s as sustainable as possible, of course the interior has received an equal dose of love. Natural materials such as wood and stone feature, with pitribi wood tables designed by Fernando Moy a focal point while cement banquettes are rather more cosy thanks to generously plumped cushions. The open kitchen faces onto the main salon, while the prime seats are close to the ceiling-to-floor windows for maximum illumination.
Culinary knick-knacks such as Ale’s own cookbooks and drying chili peppers hung over the bar make the space warm and homely, despite bustling waiters whizzing between tables serving as a reminder that this is a restaurant. And if you sit at the bar, you can not only catch every salad leaf placement or sautéed prawn but also check out the vast range of gadgets such as the ice-cream maker, Kitchen Aid or a vacuum packing machine. No expense has been spared.
In addition, Ale’s CV is a strong one, training initially at Paris’ École Ritz Escoffier then travelling around the world and working in Thai, Kiwi, South African and Spanish kitchens. His mind is an open one and that fortunately is reflected in the menu.
A daytime spot open until 8pm, lunch is the main meal of the day. One tip is to rock up to a stool at the kitchen-side bar — from this vantage point, you can tuck into a tasting menu for a mere 100 pesos. Word to the wise, though, there are only four coveted hot spots. (NB, I lunched at Alo’s five weeks ago so the price might have gone up.) And that’s a great, bargainous way to sample a little bit of all the good work the kitchen is putting together.
My derriére is less au fait with stools so I sat at a real table.
Opting for the tasting menu is always fun, and a great chance to try a little of everything while putting the palate into overdrive. Matters kicked off with a mini fish burger made of salmon and prawns laid to rest on an English muffin and backed up by yucca, plantain and sweet potato chips. Immaculately plated (presentation is everything) and while I loved the miniature size and flavour, it could have used a dab of tartare sauce to pep it up. This is usually a starter costing 65 pesos. Others include the soup of the day (45 pesos) and charcuterie selection for 60, which I didn’t try.
Next was an exquisitely simple ricotta-stuffed ravioli in pomodoro sauce (78 pesos). This is where Alo’s comes into its own, as it tries to use organic ingredients where possible. Here, we’re talking about three elements: divella flour, cheese, tomato. And the essence of simplicity pays off as this is a mouth-watering and delectable, really tasty pasta dish.
Meanwhile, the beef triangolini with mushrooms (87 pesos) appeared in an adorable miniature Le Creuset saucepan. I was so taken aback by the presentation I forgot to write any notes. (At least I’m honest.) But it looked gorgeous!
Besides sticking to the menu, one of Ale’s pet projects is preserving anything he can, given that he worked at a foie gras factory in France for a while. So if some pickles turn up on the side, be sure to give them a go.
And with the braised pork and pumpkin purée (115 pesos) came some red onion slivers, another perfect example of his preservation skills that added some tang to the tender pork. Again, an attractive plating, set on black slate making the pinks and mustard hues stand out.
Overall, the menu is a creative affair, short yet palatable, veering between hearty meat dishes, lighter fishy fare or pasta for the traditionalist — something for everyone. And a lot of care is going into everything, it’s not just aesthetic fluff that’s easy on the eye; it’s easy on the palate as well. A big thumbs up — if only it were a bit closer or had a helicopter included with reservations for easier access.
Alo’s is the place where I first met what’s my current go-to rosé. Rosa de Maimará comes from Bodega Fernando Dupont in Jujuy — it’s never very easy to get hold of Dupont’s wine — and it’s a complete joy. The wine cave is in fact a well-thought out delight compiled by José Iuliano from my wine school CAVE, with some diverse grapes — I also got to try my first Tocai from Finca La Anita winery, a white Italian grape that also goes by the more familiar moniker of Sauvignon vert.
And while the service was bustling, it wasn’t quite up to par, with staff not bringing out wine or water at the appropriate moments. It just felt all a bit new to them, and it showed. However, in the intervening five weeks, it might have evened out.
As for the clientele, a lot looked like polo wives to me, although ladies who lunch, yummy mummies and business folk also rocked up. Ale himself is from Martínez and naturally understands his clientele’s needs, which is why the green and gadget elements are of importance, as is a tea-time menu.
And while it’s tricky for the average public transport-dependent porteño to get to, plan to visit a friend in San Isidro (they all have motors) and cunningly suggest you lunch, brunch or tea there. Alo’s will pay off your carbon footprint debt — that’s what the greenery’s for, right?
Avenida Alte. Blanco Encalada 2120
Boulogne Sur Mer, San Isidro