A wonderful welcome to the restaurant community, after just one visit I already knew Astor would become my top pick for best new spot in 2013 for the following reasons: creative cooking + great ingredients + interesting flavors + inviting atmosphere + classic porteño decor presented in a fresh way + buena onda service + accessible prices.
Opening in August of 2013, Astor joined a modern porteño food revolution – reinventing Argentine cuisine with a contemporary facelift, combining sprinklings of traditional flare, with a strong emphasis on creative seasonal and local ingredients.
Astor is the food baby of the passionate chef Antonio Soriano. Ex-chef of Chez Nous, he studied at Le Cordon Bleu, worked in kitchens throughout Europe, and is part of the GAJO chef family. He named the restaurant after the famous Argentine tango composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla, who incorporated elements of jazz and classical musical to modernize the traditional porteño music into nuevo tango — just like Astor Manduque Porteño and the nueva cocina argentina movement.
The menu is smart, unique, complex, sophisticated, but not at all pretentious. The reduced menu changes every few weeks and generally includes 3 starters, 3 main dishes, and 3 desserts — all inspired by seasonal and high quality local ingredients. Diners have the option of ordering an “esencia” sampling of 3 courses, a “degustación” of 5 courses, or the whole Astor “experiencia” tasting the entire menu.
Ultra food obsessors who can appreciate creative flavor combinations and experimenting with textures and various cooking methods will instantly notice the edible art presented on the plate. And, at the same time, those who just want to eat no matter what the food looks like can still partake in some good old fashioned fork to mouth action.
The whole menu tasting is a motherload to handle, but my inner food perv would be disappointed if I ordered anything less.
Since the tasting menu covers a fair number of dishes, I’ll have to categorize each as: The Decent, The Good, The Great, and the I-WANNA-HAVE-YO-FOOD-BABY.
The meal starts off in the best way possible: a mate infused aperitivo take on tereré with cinzano and grapefruit juice, served in a mate gourd cold with a bombilla. It’s placed alongside a delicious bread basket with flavored butter, a sign for a fabulous dinner to come. (*And no extra cubierto is charged.)
White gazpacho, white tomatoes, white cucumber, almonds, garlic. Fresh, crisp, cool, rich in garlicky flavors. It came served in a pinguino pitcher and I could eat a whole bowl/pinguino of this white party on a plate. The Great.
Ñandu (like ostrich), almond farofa, pickled vegetables, mango sauce beautifully presented on funky shaped plates, great balance of textures and flavors. The Great.
Dick in a box?
Not quite. More like a play on anchovy pizza with olives, tomato sauce, white fleshy anchovy and basil. Loved the concept, wasn’t crazy about the dough and thickly cut ultra chewy anchovy. The Decent.
Chicken, peanuts, cilantro, parsley, zucchini and chutney. Gimme dat crispy skin adornment and sweet chutney any day. The Great.
Carrillera (braised beef cheeks), onion, mustard, apple, mini potatoes, mushroom. I want to take it out to dinner — some place fancy — and then slowly kiss those beef cheeks all day and all night. I-WANNA-HAVE-YO-FOOD-BABY.
Grilled fish, pesto, tomatoes, lime, habas, and a mothafuckin CAPERBERRY (I’ve never seen these in BA). I-WANNA-HAVE-YO-FOOD-BABY.
Duck, seasonal fruits, paté, campari, orange sorbet. This was by far my least favorite of the night, it reminded me of a Thanksgiving plate gone wrong. It seemed like there were too many components going on, and a lot of strong flavors that collided if eaten in the same bite. The Decent.
This leads us to a flaw: since the dishes are so elaborate with many flavors, picky eaters may have to look elsewhere — or make sure to order conservatively.
Jabali, bulgur wheat, white polenta ball, peach, baby eggplant, baby carrot, red curry. Porteñas gone wild boar. The Great.
And as if there was room for more food at the end, this caramelized apple with homemade helado was dropped off. It didn’t make certain body parts move, but creative and a solid dessert. The Good.
Okay, one more. Parfait de frutos rojos, garrapiñada of dried fruit, raspberry, mango tarta y hierba luisa, almond crumble, coconut. The Great.
And once I came for the awesome lunch menu (that’s currently unavailable)….
Country chicken with crispy skin, leeks, butternut squash. Chicken was a bit dry but overall fresh and refined plate of healthy food. The Good.
Simple grilled fish with beautiful seasoned vegetables, fennel, and pickled salad. Bright, subtle, simple with a painting perfect presentation. The Great.
THE BREAKFAST OF GODDAMN CHAMPIONS. Slow cooked egg with bacon, pea puré and onion gravy. Can Astor please open for brunch?! Ohhhh happy mouth, happy dreams, happy life. I-WANNA-HAVE-YO-FOOD-BABY.
I guess it’s only natural after that long meal to show a photo of the door to the men and women pipi rooms… (?)
A little positive rant on the front of the house service: friendly, knowledgable, confident, capable. There are no set sections for servers and each covers the whole floor. You’d imagine it would be a shitshow with multicourses flying out cold to the wrong tables — but none of that happened. The whole service ran quite smooth: timing was spot on between each course and every dish came out beautifully plated.
Since creepily snooping on what’s going on in the kitchen just happens to be a favorite pastime of mine, restaurants with a bar mean a few things:
1. A better alternative for solo diners #tableforone #foreveralone
2. Most of the spots that are joining the bar bandwagon actually have made these chairs comfortable at the right height for easier eating.
3. Chef sluts and cook chasers can freely lurk without the extra obvious awkwardness.
Bottom line: Querido Astor, damn boo you fine I wanna have yo food baby.
Astor – Manduque Porteño
Ciudad de la Paz 353, Colegiales/Belgrano
Tel. 11 4554 0802, Reservations recommended
Hours: Mon – Fri: 8pm – close, closed Sat & Sun
Average price per person: AR$260