“You want to go someplace I would eat?” Alberto, the mustachioed taxista from Caballito who’d picked us up on Avenida Cordoba in Villa Crespo, was incredulous.
I assured him that that was exactly what my co-adventurer (a former high school Spanish teacher from California) and I were after.
“Let me see. What are you looking for? Parilla? Pasta? Pizza? Somewhere I would eat…Somewhere I would eat…” he pondered aloud as he turned into Palermo Viejo, “Somewhere I would eat…Ah! At Don Battaglia, they have good food and the portions are muy abundantes.”
“Now the place isn’t like Puerto Madero,” he said, referring to the posh restaurants on Buenos Aires’s refurbished waterfront, “but you can eat well and it’s affordable for us locals. I go there with my family on the weekends.”
Sure enough, the dining room at Don Battaglia was bursting with families, children, older couples, and large groups of women out for Saturday lunch.
It all looked curiously familiar: the garlic braids and sides of ham hanging from the ceiling, the red and white checked tablecloths, the exposed brick, the liverwurst and pickles, the basket of focaccia, and the white wine/hard cider aperitif the waiter brought while my co-adventurer and I perused a menu that included ominous sounding dishes like breaded beef cutlets topped with creamed corn, peas, and pineapple and Moroccan chicken a la crema de curry.
Despite having never been to Don Battaglia, I felt I’d tasted the ingredients in this strange restaurant formula before…
We hit the salad bar, piling our plates high with roasted peppers and squash, eggplant in escabeche, and tabbouleh. As we feasted on the tasty vegetables, I watched scenes of the restaurant repeat on the closed-circuit televisions mounted on the walls.
We’d barely finished our salads when our very friendly server Carlos brought an enormous platter of bistecca di porco ripieno (a foot-long slab of pork loin stuffed with pancetta, provolone cheese and leeks surrounded by sweet potatoes smothered in béchamel sauce, sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers, more leeks, and slices of baked apple). I saw the alarmed look in my co-adventurer’s eyes as he took in the excess before us.
“If you don’t like it,” Carlos said, “You let me know, and I’ll get you something else.”
Obviously, he was convinced that we would like it.
We stared at that daunting arrangement of food, unsure about where to begin. I suddenly remembered where I’d had a close encounter with a similar plateful of bizarre extravagance – at Los Chanchitos (a parrilla I visited on a June taxi adventure in Caballito). Of course!
Don Battaglia had the same decor, served same pickles and liverwurst, featured a similarly far-out menu, and composed its dishes with the same perplexing lavishness as Los Chanchitos.
And just as at Los Chanchitos, our main course tasted far better than it looked. The mixture of pork loin, pancetta and provolone was a bomb of fatty decadence that the baked apples helped diffuse. The sautéed mushrooms/peppers/leeks were fresh and well-seasoned. The sweet potatoes could have easily done without the béchamel sauce, however, which busted the needle on the dish’s richness barometer.
We slogged through as much of the pork, pancetta and provolone as we could. Finally, Carlos had to wrap up half of it for us to take home. On my way out the door, I asked him if Don Battaglia had any affiliation with Los Chanchitos.
“Yes! We have the same owners. It’s actually a group of six restaurants in BA. We even have our own cooking school.”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been so amazed by the fact that two different taxistas in two different neighborhoods essentially brought me to the same restaurant on a different day. The more food quests I go on, the more I realize I’ll probably end up at a steak house, a pizza parlor, or a pasta restaurant – and that the food will most often be solid, simple, and good…but not great.
Perhaps Buenos Aires taxistas don’t hold the secrets to the city’s best food after all. But perhaps the food isn’t the point of these adventures anyway.