If Tony Hawk and Chef Ludo had a love baby, it would probably come out something like Leandro Cristóbal of the acclaimed Café San Juan. Sexy Argentine celebrity mega chef, total groso in the kitchen, TV personality, reality TV show star, tattooed
douche bag bad ass, and skater boy playa has made Café San Juan one of the most popular restaurants in Buenos Aires. I’d describe the cuisine as mutt-like modern Argentine with some Spanish sprinklings and a few love-juice squirts of the Chef’s Hungarian roots. Café San Juan has gotten lots of hype over the years, and while it’s not a huge bargain anymore and no longer a hidden treasure, the food is still pretty darn good. The dishes really shine. They are all winners. They have bold flavors. Unique ingredient combinations. An inventive selection that is always changing depending what’s in season. There are no physical menus, just a portable chalk board that the mozo uncomfortably hovers over the table while you choose what you’ll be eating: tapas-style plates, appetizers, larger dishes filled with seafood, meat, more meat, fish, more seafood. Choosing what to eat becomes a difficult task, not only does everything look good, but you have the added pressure of a dude standing in front of you holding this heavy-ish chalk board impatiently waiting for an overly-zealous-food gringa to make her crucial food decisions. It’s stressful.Let’s get to it. If you like paté, order the paté de conejo con confitura de ciruela or for those who zon’t zpeak ze ezpanish rabbit paté with a plum jam. It also comes with a cool herb-stick in the middle.Talk about zoo breath, eat the bruschetta-like tapenade appetizer with anchovies and give someone a beso with extra lengua. They offer a few different escabeches. I’ve seen rabbit, chicken and lamb tongue all on the menu.. I’ve tried the chicken and lamb, and while I probably wouldn’t order it again, still pretty nice flavors.Mejillones are more my style. Once at a restaurant I ordered a big plate of what I thought was mejillones (mussels), but I really ordered a massive portion of mollejas (sweetbread). It was a sad day. Luckily, the mejillones are really mejillones at Café San Juan and this massive tray overflowing with the shelled buggers come in the most slurpable broth. I was so excited with this plate I couldn’t keep the camera steady.I don’t remember what this was, some sort of fish (really helpful, I know) with a bunch of veggies in a sweet tangy sauce with crunchy bits. Terrible explanation, great plate of food that I licked clean. Literally. I put my tongue up to the plate and gave it that beso with lots of lengua.I bet you wanna pop those skrimps in your mouth right now? Langostinos with tomatoes and mushrooms may sound a bit meh, but the tiny slivers of garlic gave it the extra umph.Salted desserts are pretty much my favorite thing. This chocolate mousse cake bomba was covered in salted almondy delights.The only disappointment was the bife de chorizo. The meat, overcooked in some parts, undercooked in others, vegetables had pieces of chorizo added into it which normally I’d be way into, but it was just too greasy <see grease puddle on plate>. I know others who rave about the bife, so my eating partner was convinced that the poorly presented dish was intentional since we were caught filming inside the restaurant without asking.
For a hot minute, PUTF (yeah I just made Pick Up The Fork into an acronym) was going to incorporate webisodes into the blog, venturing off to BA restaurants and filming the entire food experience. For a test run, Café San Juan seemed like an ideal place to start, as it’s the only restaurant in Buenos Aires that already has it’s own food reality TV show. Long story short, I ain’t one to be in front of the camera. Awkward and uncomfortable, watching the playback of me eating was more painful than being forced to endure a childbirth video in Freshman health class.I’ll get my annoying, white whine complaints out of the way: Yes, Café San Juan used to be better in the glory days when it was more affordable and still somewhat of a secret. Compared to other Buenos Aires restaurants, they are somewhat reservation Nazi’s with a strict policy, since they are actually looking to turn tables, kicking diners out if they overlap their allotted time. But it’s still popular for a reason, and not just because their whole door is covered in all the press they’ve received. It’s because Leandro is a major hottie who cooks bad ass food and does wonders in the kitchen.
Café San Juan
San Juan 450, San Telmo
Tuesday – Sunday: 12pm – 4pm, 8pm – close
Price: Estimate $120 – $150 per person, cash only.
Note: As of August 2012, it seems this spot ain’t as good as it used to be.