Tag Archives: Empanadas

Cuba Libre ***

cuba libre
 
215.627.0666
10 S. 2nd Street (2nd & Market)
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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This past month featured Restaurant Week here in Philadelphia, and I had the opportunity to check out Cuba Libre with a couple of friends. The beauty about restaurant week is that you get to sample multiple courses from a  prix fixe menu at a reduced price. In this case, we were each allowed to choose two appetizers, one entree, and one dessert for $35. But before we even had the opportunity to look at the food menu, we were distracted by the longwinded cocktail list, which includes 14 uniquely flavored mojitos!

Feeling pressured to try at least one of these specialty cocktails, we decide to order the Classic Mojito and sample it amongst the table. The mojito was  fabulous but definitely not something that should be in conjunction with a heavy meal, and so we opted for a pitcher of Red Sangria to drink with our dinner ($37.50 and we got 8 glasses from it). The sangria was good, but nothing extraordinary (it is also not very strong, as 3 full glasses did not get my 100-lb self even remotely tipsy!).

Cuba Libre Red Sangria

But onto the food, which is what we came for in the first place! To start, our server brought us a nice basket of bread with an o-u-t-r-a-g-e-o-u-s mango butter. This light, almost whipped, butter transformed the bread into a sweet french toast-like dessert. Honestly, the flavored butter was probably my favorite item brought to the table all evening. It was memorable and unique.

Cuba Libre Bread and Mango Butter

For my first appetizer, I ordered the Pulpo con Berenjenaswhich is a truffle and citrus marinated baby octopus that is then grilled and served atop a Haitian eggplant salad.  The octopus was cooked perfectly and wasn’t rubbery in the least bit. The flavors were all well-balanced and the portion size was perfect, leaving me wanting one more forkful.

Cuba Libre Octopus

The Eight Hour Guava BBQ Ribs, on the other hand, were not as good as I had hoped they would be. I had high expectations for these “award winning” St. Louis cut pork ribs, glazed in a Guava BBQ Sauce with jicama-Sambal salad, but they were VERY fatty with hardly any meat at all. Very disappointing. Sad face.

Cuba Libre Guava BBQ Ribs

Others at the table ordered the Empanadas stuffed with pulled pork, roasted poblano pepper, and charred tomatoes;

Empanadas

as well as the Sopa de Frijoles Negros, which was sweet rather than spicy; and finally the signature Cuban Tostones, which are twice-fried green plantains with a garlic-mojo dipping sauce. I thought the tostones and mojo sauce were both bland compared to those I’ve had at other Cuban restaurants.

Cuba Libre Tostones

Sensing that the Cuban food not up to par with what I had grown accustomed to in Miami, I decided to deviate from a traditional Cuban dish for my entree. Instead, I ordered El Pollo del Solar, which is a lime-garlic marinated chicken breast with caramelized onions & steamed kale, served with a black bean croqueta and a sweet and sour mango gravy.  Technically, the chicken was cooked perfectly–juicy and succulent, but flavor-wise the dish was really lacking. I didn’t think the chicken was well seasoned, in fact I couldn’t detect any garlic notes and the black bean croqueta was very, very dry. Not even the mango gravy could restore it’s moisture content. The kale on the other hand, was very soft and delicious, as well as the mango gravy that bathed it.

Cuba Libre Pollo del Solar

Everyone else at the table ordered the traditional Arroz Con Pollo, which is saffron-scented rice, combined with boneless chicken thighs, wild mushrooms, green peas, Manzanilla olives and a hard-boiled egg. Garnishing the dish was an asparagus, palacio chorizo, and roasted Piquillo pepper salad, finished with a splash of Estrella Damm beer. The dish was enormous, and had beautiful presentation with the bright yellow color of the saffron, and the contrasting green of the peas and asparagus. I stole a couple of forkfuls from my friend Liz, and enjoyed them thoroughly, although it is not a traditional Cuban Arroz con Pollo. It was much lighter but very tasty in a unique way.

Cuba Libre Arroz con Pollo

For dessert, I (predictably) ordered the Tres Leches de Caramelo, which is a vanilla sponge cake soaked in three-dulce de leche flavored milks with a mocha moose.  I am a tres leches connoisseur, and this one was right up to par.

Cuba Libre Tres Leches

The other dessert that was ordered was the Dulce de Leche Ice Cream. Ice cream is ice cream. It was good!

Cuba Libre Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

Overall, I’m not in a hurry to go back to Cuba Libre for dinner. But, I am very interested in going back for a night of salsa dancing and mojitos (and maybe some bread with mango butter?!?!). Having spent 5 years living in Miami, I got accustomed to traditional Cuban food that was priced insanely cheap. This being said, I find it difficult to spend an exorbitant amount of money on Cuban cuisine that doesn’t satisfy my craving for the classic dishes. The restaurant atmosphere was very cool though and the mojitos are worth the trip.

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Filed under Bars, Buck's County, Cocktails, Dessert, International Restaurants, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Restaurants

{ Beef Empanadas with Avocado Dipping Sauce }

I’ve been back in the States for about 1 month now, and have been taking full advantage of enjoying my much missed American grub (Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, Wawa milkshakes, Five Guys burger’s, and the like). But then yesterday, a very unexpected thing occurred–I was struck by an empanada craving. This took me by surprise because I swore that I would never want another empanada upon leaving South America. Not because I don’t like them, but because I had consumed so many over my 6 months there.

Empanadas are the beating heart of Argentine cuisine, and the epitome of South American fast food. They are as beloved and frequently consumed as French fries are by Americans.  And, since you may have already gathered, I’m not one to deny myself food indulgences, I ate up empanadas like I would never be able to get them again after I returned home. I would start off the day with a ham and ricotta one from La Cocina, then grab a spicy chicken one from Na Serapia on my walk to class, and the Kobe beef ones from La Cabrera made a perfect appetizer before my gut-dropping, artery-clogging, 200mg t-bone steak.

Then after months of ordering empanadas out (everywhere from 5 star restaurants to hole-in-the-wall pizza dives that Guy Fieri only wishes he could find), I decided to try making them myself. I didn’t think they would be nearly as good as the authentic Argentine ones, but when they turned out equally delicious, I knew that I had embarked on something detrimental to my health (not to mention, slender physic). Empanadas were no longer something only savored outside of the home, they were a new refrigerator staple, my go-to drunk snack, and my favorite food to experiment with in cooking. I created all sorts of crazy empanada fillings and flavor combinations, and each one had a unique dipping sauce paired with it.

You see, dipping sauce was my American twist on the Argentine classic. Lets face it, we are a nation in love with condiments- a people that put ketchup and hot sauce on any and every thing, a generation of extra dressing on the siders, and yes, I’m talking to you, all my heavy handed salt shakers. Condiments are the cornerstone of American food. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the boutique burgers being served up in our country. Forget lettuce, tomato, and onion. We don’t want it unless its got foie gras, truffled mushrooms, carmalized onions, Kobe beef, and a price tag of about 15 dollars. Condiments = deliciousness.

So without further ado (sorry for my condiment digression), I present to you my recipe for spicy beef empanadas with DELICIOUS spicy avocado dipping sauce!

{ Ingredients }

For the Avocado Dipping Sauce:

  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 roasted jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Dash of Tobasco or Cholula hot sauce
{ Directions } Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Adjust seasoning to preference.

For the Spicy Beef Empanadas:

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) of lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 2 scallions, chopped (white & green parts)
  • 1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 20 pre-packaged frozen empanada shells (I use Goya or Saltena brands)

 { To Make the Beef Filling } Heat the vegetable oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, peppers, and kosher salt. Sautee until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground beef, breaking it up with back of a spoon. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, tomato puree and beef bullion. Cover pot with a lid and allow to cook for 2 minutes.

Mix beef, stirring in scallions and chopped olives. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from heat. Allow to cool and then use for empanada or taco filling.

{ To Assemble the Empanadas } Defrost empanada shells and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or cooking spray.

Dip the tip of your finger in warm water and moisten 1/2 the rim of the empanada shell, making a half-moon motion. Spoon the empanada filling into the center of the dough and fold over half-wise, pinching the edges between your fingers so that the dough seals around the meat pocket.

Place the empanada on the prepared baking sheet and firmly press down on the edges with the back of a fork to enforce the closure.

Then, using a silicone brush, gently apply an egg wash (1 beaten egg + 1 tablespoon water) to the tops of the empanadas. This helps them to get shiny and golden in the oven.

Repeat this process until you have finished making all of the empanadas. Place the baking sheet into the oven and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes, until the tops are golden.

Remove from oven and serve with avocado dipping sauce.

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{ Homemade Empanadas }

I’ve been hunting for BA’s most delicious empanada for months now, and so far, my favorite contenders for the title also happen to be the spiciest (list of top 10 picks coming soon!). However, finding the right combination of tender meat, flakey dough, and proper spice can be quite a challenge in a country where hot sauce and chili peppers are shunned like the the plague. Also, Argentines don’t like to combine different food groups when it comes to stuffing empanadas (in a manner akin to children segregating their mashed potatoes from their meatloaf, as if an imaginary forcefield was dividing their plate). It’s either meat or cheese….never both in one pastry!

This continues to boggle my mind, because they have all the best ingredients at their disposal…they just never seem to get assembled in the way that I would combine them. I love meat and I love cheese….so why not put them together in one super delicious empanada, rather than forcing me to take a bite of caprese followed by a bite of carne (besides that fact that it always lures me into purchasing two empanadas, of course)?!

In an effort to solve this rather distressing empanada dilemma, I have decided to try making my own! Which brings me to TheGrubDaily’s first ever food event–a DIY Empanada Party, hosted in conjunction with the fabulous KitchenParty.org and LVstudio! I offered my home and empanadas caseras in exchange for good company and a bottle of wine to share! It turned out to be a wild success, as 120 empanadas were served before people began using their paper plates as fans in my tiny, overheated apartment.

I laid out a buffet table with various ingredients for filling the empanadas (chicken, beef, cheese, tomato, act…), and all 25 attendees were given the opportunity to come and make their own creations! With the help of a few native Argentine girls (Valeria and Elvira), everyone was shown how to properly stuff and close the empanada dough and then they were sent into the oven for baking!

The following recipe is a very Traditional Argentine Beef Empanada filling, showed to me by my very dear cleaning lady. The one below it, is a spicy “Gringo” version of that recipe, as adapted by myself. I recommend using Saltena empanada shells (or Goya, if you are in the US), rather than wasting time on homemade ones.

Traditional Argentine Beef Empanada Filling:

{ Ingredients }

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) of lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 2 scallions, chopped (white & green parts)
  • 1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped

{ To Make the Filling } Heat the vegetable oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and kosher salt. Sautee until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground beef, breaking it up with back of a spoon. Add the cumin and beef bullion. Cover pot with a lid and allow to cook for 2 minutes.

Mix beef, stirring in scallions and chopped olives. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from heat and fold in chopped egg. Allow to cool and then use for empanada or taco filling.

“Gringo” Spicy Beef Empanada Filling:

{ Ingredients }

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) of lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 2 scallions, chopped (white & green parts)
  • 1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 1 yukon potato, boiled and chopped small

{ To Make the Filling } Heat the vegetable oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, peppers, and kosher salt. Sautee until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the ground beef, breaking it up with back of a spoon. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, tomato puree and beef bullion. Cover pot with a lid and allow to cook for 2 minutes.

Mix beef, stirring in scallions and chopped olives. Once the meat is cooked through, stir in chopped potato and remove from heat. Allow to cool and then use for empanada or taco filling.

**I like my meat extra spicy, so I also added a couple of dashes of Cholula Hot Sauce while cooking!

Spicy Shredded Chicken Empanada Filling:

{ Ingredients }

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 spanish onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2-1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 scallions, chopped (white & green parts)
  • Slice Jalapeños (optional)

{ To Make the Filling } Place chicken breasts in a large stock pot, adding enough water to cover the meat. Heat over a medium-high flame, allowing to simmer until cooked through.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, before beginning to shred chicken (using hands or two forks).

In a large stock pot of a medium high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and sautee until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, green onion, kosher salt, chicken stock, and 1/2 cup of the tomato puree. Return the shredded chicken to the stock pot and stir to combine (if the meat needs more moisture, add more of the tomato puree).

Allow to cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and use to as empanada filling or taco meat!

{ To Assemble the Empanadas } Remove an empanada dough from the package and wet one half of the pastry edge using a finger dipped in water. Spoon a your desired filling into the middle and fold over the ends (so moist end meets dry end), pinching hard to ensure that they are properly shut.

Then crimp the edges using a fork or your fingers, as we have done here:

Place onto a greased baking sheet and allow to bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees until the edges and tops are golden brown (about 10 minutes).

Remove from oven and enjoy!

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Na Serapia ****

 
 
(+54) 11-4801-5307
Av. Las Heras 3357
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Palermo

If you choose not to embrace empanadas while living in South America, then you are severely limiting your convenience food options. They are the ultimate fast food and a perfect bite on the go–tiny, warm, cheap, and filling. There is a lot of debate amongst Argentine’s as to which region of the country prepares them best, but many purport that it is in fact the Northern region of Salta.

As a self-proclaimed empanada connoisseur, I deemed it necessary to sample this regional style of cooking and decide my own opinion on the matter. So I headed to a very old and authentic hole-in-the-wall place, located just 3 blocks from my apartment called Na Serapia. There is an antique charm about the tiny place that comes highly recommended by locals.

I started the meal with a couple of Chicken Empanadas, Spicy Beef Empanadas, and Saltena-style Empanadas ($5 pesos ea.).  Out of the three the chicken one was my favorite because of the flavor and moisture in the shredded meat. The spicy chile sauce (or oil, rather) that they serve to accompany the empanada is also very good…and rarely found in a country which loathes spicy food! Besides the fillings, the pastries themselves were delicious. They were light and flakey, almost like a puff pastry. They also had a nice buttery texture, as opposed to the thick doughy texture of some other place’s empanadas.

Next I ordered a Tamale to split with my friend Julie. For those of you unfamiliar with tamales, they are masa (a starchy corn dough) stuffed with ground beef, which is then steamed and served in corn leaf wrapper ($18 pesos ea.). I have to admit that although I came for the empanadas, I was much more impressed by the quality of the tamale. Actually, I thought it was the best that I have had to date. The sweet corn dough was a perfect contrast to the spicy chile oil that I spooned on top, and the meat was soft and tender. The whole thing crumbled beautifully when poked with the fork. You must try!!

As if this wasn’t already enough food, I then ordered a bowl Locro, which is a hearty stew of beans and pork with chorizo ($27 pesos) typical of the Northern region. I really enjoyed the soup, but still think that La Cocina serves the best in the city.

Overall, I was pleased with my meal and wowed by the tamale. I would definitely go back soon because I think it is a charming atmosphere with good service and a tasty food.

READ ANOTHER BLOGGER REVIEW - TheLostAsian

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Filed under Buenos Aires Restaurants, Cafe / Bistro, International Restaurants

Romario’s Pizza ***

Locations all over Buenos Aires; you’ll be hard pressed to find a corner without one!

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It is a fact: Argentines love pizza. I dare to say they love it almost as much as their prized bovine. If you want to get a rise out of a Porteno, you can do one of two things: mention politics, or ask which restaurant makes the best pizza. Yes, I just compared Peronism and pizza.

Anyways, one of my new favorite pizza spots in BA is Romarios. It’s certainly not the oldest pizza place or the most famous–in fact, it is a chain (probably, the Argentine equivalent of America’s Pizza Hut). But I think it is delicious! I like to order their standard pizza pies, which come in 3 sizes, and I usually top mine with serrano ham, mozzarella, cubed tomatoes, garlic, olives, and fresh arugala. One slice of this pie probably has just as much sodium as a cup of ramen noodles, but it is worth every ounce of swelling. The cheese is hot and gooey and the crust isn’t too thick on the pizza. Addtionally, they make their pies with the sauce on top of the cheese, which keeps the crust from getting soggy.

Of course, you can also order a cheese and onion fugazette if you’re looking to carbo-load. Fugazette is a very popular form of Argetine pizza resembling a calzone. It is pizza dough stuffed with cheese and onion, olive oil, and herbs. It is delicious, but certainly filling. You can get delicious unhealthy food almost anywhere in BA though, so I suggest sticking to traditional pizza at Romarios.

If the pizza isn’t filling enough, order an empanada or two. They have an onion and pancetta empanada one that is ridiculously good and the spicy beef empanada is amazing.

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La Cocina *****

Pueyrredon 1508 
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Recoleta
(+54).4825.3171

 

La vida locro…

On the days when I don’t have time to sit down and eat half a cow for lunch, I find my way over to La Cocina located on Pueyrredon in Recoleta. This tiny, fast service restaurant only really offers two things; empanadas and locro. But they do both better than anyone else, and so the dinning room is always packed. Then again, this might have something to do with the fact that there are only 10 seats in the place…half of those being bar stools. None-the-less people are rushing in and out of this restaurant  all day to get their ribbon-tied empanada packages on the go. Ohh, and they use pink ribbon, which makes me happy…as if the empanada inside hadn’t already!

If I had to chose my favorite empanadas from La Cocina (easier said than done), I would have to go with the Jamon y Ricotta (7 pesos) and the Carne Picante (7 pesos). The carne picante heads straight to the top of the list simply because it is spicy–a rare find in Argentina. I also like that it doesn’t have the egg in the meat filling, which is very typical of Argentine meat empanadas. On the other hand, the Jamon y Ricotta is perfect for breakfast, because the fluffy cheese seems to be whipped with egg. It’s the closest thing to an egg sandwich this many miles away from home!

If you’re craving more than a snack though, try a bowl of their hearty Locro–a thick stew made with beans, chorizo, ham, potato, and corn (27 pesos). It’s a stick to your ribs kind of lunch. A lunch, which is completely necessary in a country where they don’t eat dinner until 11 pm. I am still struggling with this concept because I prefer to eat like a baby–every two hours! If you like spicy, then ask for your locro picante and you’ll receive a generous drizzling of red hot chili oil on the top. It an experience for your taste buds.

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Cumana *****

Rodríguez Pena 1149
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Recoleta
001 4813 9207

As I mentioned in the previous post, Ariana and I have become ¨regulars¨ at La Cholita–frequenting the restuarant at least once a week to get our parrilla fix. But we aren´t the only one´s in BA that know about the deals to be had there, so there is often times a wait to get in (get there after 10 O´clock, and you´re not leaving until 1 or 1:30…no, I´m not joking). Luckily, right next door is a resturant called Cumana. It is the same price point as La Cholita, and the food is equally as delicious, but the menu offers a completely different selection of Argentine cuisine. Rather than parrilla, Cumana serves up food typical of the Northern region of the country, including homemade cazuelas, pizzas, calzones, empanadas, and potato dishes. Most people show up with the intentions of eating at either La Cholita or Cumana, but inevitably put down their name for both once they see the crowds waiting outside. Pretty much, which ever restaurant can accomodate the party first wins. Nobody goes home upset!

Inside Cumana, you will find an equally mixed crowd of locals and tourists. The locals come becasue the prices are unbeatably cheap, and the tourists come to sample a wide variety of the delicious cazuelas, which are thick and hearty stews served in lerge clay vessels. They come out steaming hot, and they never seem to cool off…you will still be blowing on the last spoonful (if you can even manage to eat that much of these filling casseroles, of course!) Some of the cazuelas are simply legumes, others include meats such as chorizo and beef, and then of course there are those that offer a mixture of vegetable and meat. My favorite cazuela at Cumana is the one with Lentejas y Chorizo (lentils and sausage). The menu simply reads Cazuela de Lentejas, but the Chorizo is a delcious surprise that adds a nice smoky flavor to the dish. The lentils are cooked to a tender perfection and the meal overall is like a hug in your belly.

I also hear that the Cazuela al Pastor is incredible, although I have never gone to Cumana hungry enough to tackle the dish myself. The waiter described it almost like a Sheppard´s Pie, layered with hearty ground beef, mashed potatoes, and cheese. Again, this is all baked and served in a large clay pot (it is on my list of things to eat in the very near future!). When I don´t order the Cazuelas de Lentejas, I go for the Locro–a thick soup made with beans, potatoes, squash, ham, and chorizo. It is like Pasta Fagiole on steriods, and without a doubt a ¨stick to your ribs¨ kind of meal. Although the locro is very delicious at Cumana, I must be honest an admit that there is one better at La Cocina on the corner of Puerrydon and Santa Fe (the review is coming soon!).

If your craving more than soup, I highly, highly, highly, recommend the pizza and calzones at Cumama. There is some special ingredient that they use, which makes the flavor of the pizza very unique. I can´t figure out if it is an herb, or if it is special cheese, or what. I am a pretty good food detetctive when it comes to identifying ingredients, but they have me absolutely stumped. Normally, I would ask the waiter for the secret, but given the language barrier, I am left to wonder. I like the Rucola Pizza with Fresh Sliced Tomato, Cured Ham, Mozarella, Tomato Sauce, and Oregano. It is salty, gooey, goodness. The calzones are also enourmous and look amazing (definitely enough for two people to share).

If you´re looking to eat soemthing I little lighter, as I was the other night, it´s not gonna happen here. I ordered the Ensalada de Cumana thinking that the vegetables would be healthy, but the salad came out in an enourmous baked bread bowl, topped with gobbs of mayonnaise. All of my biggest ordering errors in Argentina have involved salad and salad dessings. The menu will often read; ¨vinaigrette a la casa,¨ ¨ceasar dressing, and ¨dressing especialidad.¨ But do not be fooled….these are just synonyms for disguising the word mayonnaise. And not a drizzle of mayonnaise, an overwhelming heaping of it (see photo below). The moral of the story; order your salad plain and ask for a side of oil and vinegar. Otherwise, you might as well have just ordered the fattiest steak on the menu. Of course, once I removed the top layer of mayo covered lettuce, the salad was delicious. But I hate having to operate on my food before it becomes edible.

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