Whenever I hear of a restaurant in a hip boutique hotel in an even hipper neighborhood, I expect something of a let down. I expect overpriced drinks and food that is big on hype but poorly executed. Hernán Gipponi in Buenos Aires’s Fierro Hotel, which opened in October of 2010, is a rare exception. It’s the only boutique hotel restaurant I’ve found in South America that is comparable is the Tcherassi hotel’s Vera restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia. The restaurant’s namesake, chef Hernán Gipponi, is one of the rare talents in Buenos Aires that can look beyond a superb cut of beef. Formerly of the Bilbao’s Guggenheim and Quique Dacosta in Denia, Valencia, Gipponi’s menu tends to be adventurous and his kitchen’s execution is spot on.
Ají de Gallina is one of the first Peruvian recipes that picky North American eaters fall in love with. To put it simply, it is shredded chicken served in a mildly spicy, nutty sauce with a side of white rice. The dish’s origins date back to the Vice Royalty, around the time of the French Revolution. Some historians have stated that French chefs who lost their positions as private chefs with aristocratic families in France during the revolution traveled to the new world to work for wealthy criollo families in newly rich Lima and helped develop Ají de Gallina using the local ingredients they encountered. Apart from oral legend there’s no actual record of this occurring, though the story sounds nice and plausible. Today the dish is one of the most widely served in the country.
Moving deeper into the mountains from Ponce, sticking to the famed Ruta Panorámica, Puerto Rico’s landscape takes a drastic turn. Buick size ferns grow out into the road and patches of green bamboo form a canopy over it. Avocadoes and oranges fall from trees and rot on the pavement, filling the air with a beautifully pungent aroma. The chirps of the coqui are constant. I have flashbacks of Dominica and Costa Rica.
For every person I spoke with on an eating trip in Puerto Rico’s southern shore there were dozens of recipes I couldn’t even get to, like a place that serves sandwiches using flattened plantains as bread. There is one meal that nearly everyone recommended: Chuletas Can Can. These fried pork chops with the fat cap left on appear on a few menus near the town of Yauco, most famously at La Guardarray, a 50-year-old Meson that invented the dish to serve to visiting cockfighters. The old place is big now. They’ve expanded beyond the original room, adding several new open-air dining rooms and a stage for live music and dancing.
For more than 120 years Mendoza, Argentina’s Mercado Central (central market) has occupied the same place a few minutes from the center plaza. Not overly polished or touristy, it’s an inexpensive break from the slick eateries that dominate central Mendoza. There’s no glossy finish, just the raw, grit deal. Butcher’s chop up bloody innards. Spice stalls intoxicate. Old school yellers push fish or meat or slices of pizza.
n Torrontés, from Argentina (Wines of The Times) the New York Times proclaims that torrontés, one of Argentina’s other blossoming white wines (another is viognier) has begun to take the United States by storm. In 2004, less than 30,00 cases of torrontés were exported to the U.S. In 2010, that number ballooned to 231,000 cases, the Times reports via Wines of Argentina.