Antonio’s Path to Albamonte
¨I´ve been around for over 60 years,¨taxista Antonio told us, ¨I know a few things.¨
He´d picked up my food questing partner and me near the subte station on Avenida Callao, balking at first at my request to take us somewhere good to eat.
¨Well, any restaurant that doesn´t have beef, no sirve,¨ he pronounced.
And so we were headed to his preferred neighborhood steak house on the corner of Gascon and Cordoba.
My food questing partner, who happens to be a vegetarian, kept quiet.
¨I´ve know Argentina de punta a punta. And I´ve driven everything: trucks, private cars, buses – ¨
¨What´s your favorite thing to drive?¨I asked him.
¨Let´s just say I´d prefer to drive a car and not a woman.¨
We burst into laughter. The taxista relaxed his grip on the steering wheel.
¨You know what? There´s a really good pasta place in Chacarita I used to go to a lot. Their aglonotti are mortales. The hours are a little wierd, but – ¨
My vegetarian friend´s eyes lit up.
¨Why don´t we go there instead?¨ I suggested.
I had the feeling that this pasta place was a secret of Antonio´s, a treasure that he´d only chosen to reveal after determining that we could appreciate its value. How could we not go there?
¨The owner of this restaurant used to sell racehorses,¨ he said, ¨So on the weekends after the races, his friends would go eat there. They always arrived hungry, always wanting something to eat as soon as they sat down. They couldn´t wait for the pasta to cook.¨
He rubbed a hand over his belly, which was encased in an orange wool sweater.
¨So one day a waiter went into the kitchen and asked if any of the cooks knew how to make pizza. And now…¨He paused for dramatic effect, ¨They make the best pizza in Buenos Aires. And they don´t even call themselves a pizzeria!¨
By the time we pulled up to Ristorante Albamonte, we sensed that we were about to eat very, very well.
Our anticipation mounted when we entered the dining room, where a team of waiters of a certain age polished wine glasses and silverware, ready for the blitz they knew was coming.
We lay our monogrammed napkins in our laps and studied the menu between glances at the photos of race horses and jockeys on the pink walls. Silk flowers and wood paneling suggested that the decor hadn´t changed much since the place opened in 1956.
A gruff waiter approached and bore bad tidings: Albamonte doesn´t serve pizza at lunchtime.
We nearly forgave him when he shoved a bottlecap under our table to keep it from wobbling and draped a napkin over our purses to protect them from sticky fingers.
Crestfallen but hopeful, we ordered ravioloni with scarparo (tomato, flatleaf parsley, and garlic) sauce and fusilli with pesto and tuco (simple tomato) sauce. Antonio had, after all, waxed poetic about the pastas, too.
While we waited for our food, customer after customer darkened Albamonte´s door and greeted the portly man behind the cash register before sitting down. Soon, plates of rabas (fried calamari) began to fly out of the kitchen. I ordered some (defying the protests of our waiter, who was concerned that we couldn´t eat everything).
When I tasted the rabas, I understood what the fuss was about (Note from my food questing partner to restaurant lovers who are going somewhere new and popular: if you have the time, sit and observe what others are ordering). The rabas were a classic done absolutely right: thick and fried to tender perfection inside a light, crispy, generously salted batter.
Unfortunately, the nutless pesto and super-sweet tomato sauce defiled what were otherwise exceptional fusilli (housemade and cooked al dente).
But our ravioloni – puffs of ricotta and mozzarella enveloped in thin dough and smothered in a bright, herbacious tomato sauce – fulfilled our pasta hopes and confirmed that Antonio was right to rave about Albamonte.
By the time we´d devoured all we could, every table was full. We bid our waiter goodbye and promised to return to a restaurant that resembled the taxista who´d guided us there: classic, traditional and quietly fabulous.
We´ll report back on the pizza.
May 28, 2008 – Pizza Post Script
Taxista Antonio was right. The thin-crust pizza at Albamonte just might be the best in the city. Baked in a wood-oven, the dough manages to stay crispy beneath generous helpings of mozzarella and super-fresh tomato sauce. We could barely keep our silverware in our hands as we cut through slice after slice of this close to perfect pie. Go for dinner and go early – even on a Tuesday, the place fills up with pizza lovers in the know.
Note: In case of power outages, this restaurant has its own generators!