Buenos Aires Cafe
Don't forget to save room for dessert
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Nov. 13, 2009
Buenos Aires Cafe1201 E. Sixth, 382-1189
Monday-Saturday, 9am-3pm & 6-10pm
Chef/owner Reina Morris opened the first Buenos Aires Cafe back in 2005 to the delight of 78704 neighbors who fell for her hospitality and the delicious food of her native Argentina. She quickly garnered a following, and soon the small space on South First Street was not enough. Now there's a location on the Eastside, where even more people can delight in her well-deserved reputation.
The renovation of the building formerly occupied by Tony's Southern Comfort is amazing. The warm colors and sparse decor somehow make the space feel bigger. Upon entering, patrons are greeted by a small wine bar with choice Argentinean selections and a pastry case filled with Morris' incomparable pastries. There's a small room to the left with bar tables for quiet conversation, and the dining room is inviting and cozy. The kitchen staff prides themselves on the use of fresh ingredients and their effort to support local farmers and markets whenever possible. Vegetables appear in season, and both the pork and beef are naturally raised, hormone free, and certified organic. This attention to detail translates beautifully to the food.
Because of the thousands of Argentines living in Mexico City, I became familiar with their traditional cuisine at an early age and make it a point to visit Argentine restaurants whenever I go home. At Buenos Aires Cafe, lunch is a casual affair, with a menu of sandwiches, salads, soups, and pastries. I started with a superb butternut-squash soup ($3.49, cup) followed by a sampling of traditional Argentine empanadas ($2.59 each), which provided a gustatory flashback to my childhood. Both the carne picante (spicy picadillo with raisins and green olives) and the tuna (cooked with olives, tomatoes, pimentos, onion, and oregano), encased in the flakiest of pastries, were superb. If I could make a menu request, it would be for jugo de carne, the traditional Argentine beef consommé. I crave the stuff. And maybe some grilled chistorra as an appetizer?
I recently returned for dinner with friends. As a starter we shared a large ensalada mixta ($6.99) of field greens, tomatoes, grated carrots, red onions, and hearts of palm, dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette. Although there are only six items on the dinner menu, they cover a range of interesting choices. I enjoyed the pastel de papas ($10.99), beef picadillo (same as the empanadas) baked in a large ramekin, topped with golden mashed potatoes. The tasty Milanesa a la Napolitana ($13.99), a breaded beef cutlet covered with homemade marinara sauce, ham, and melted mozzarella, is served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and broccoli florets. Everyone agreed that the colorful gnocchi quartet ($12.99), in pumpkin-cinnamon, sweet-potato chipotle, cilantro-jalapeño, and potato-herb flavors, tossed with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, haricots verts, butter sauce, and fresh Parmesan, was our favorite entrée. The evening's special, pan-seared salmon with lemon-caper beurre blanc, was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, if a bit overpriced at $24.
The most important thing to remember when dining at Buenos Aires Cafe is to save room for dessert. Morris' pastries, the likes of which are found nowhere else in Austin, are delicacies worth every calorie, and they represent flavors and textures I have not experienced outside Mexico City. Try the Pionono ($5.49), a Kalhua-and-coffee-soaked cake rolled with fresh strawberries, real whipped cream, and homemade dulce de leche; the Mil Hojas ($5.49), puff pastry cake layered with dulce de leche; or the Pastafrola ($4.99), a quince-paste tart encased in a perfect crust and dusted with shredded coconut. All are unique and delicious, especially with a cup of their strong café cortado. With so much interesting dining now going on in that section of East Sixth, Buenos Aires Cafe should not be overlooked as one of the best dining options in the neighborhood.