After forty days in the hospital, Walter dragged himself home, lay in bed, and waited for his wounds to heal.
Friday night, for the first time since the shooting, he got back in his cab. Three co-adventurers and I were lucky enough to cross paths with him.
Around 8:30pm, on the heels of a failed taxi adventure in which the driver tried to take us to a local chain restaurant I’d rather not name, Walter found us on Avenida Santa Fe.
Within seconds of piling into his cab and launching our pitch, we knew our fortunes had shifted.
“I can take you to El Nuevo Castel’s,” he said, “It’s cheap, the food is always good, and everything is made to order. At this hour, it’ll be all families. But after 12:30, it’s almost all taxistas.”
Nine or ten years ago, Walter told us, a taxi driver friend had brought him to El Nuevo Castel’s. He’s been a regular ever since.
“Perfect,” we said, “Let’s go.”
Walter hasn’t been back to El Nuevo Castel’s since he was shot. For now, the hole in his esophagus limits his diet to soup, mashed potatoes, and boiled chicken.
I asked him if he was wary about coming back to work.
He said he wasn’t.
But as Shakira gave way to the Beatles on the radio, Walter’s eyes betrayed the cracks in his macho man mask. He didn’t like to drive at night, he said. Tonight was an exception.
Weaving between buses and cutting through side streets, he coasted to a stop in front of the restaurant he’d chosen for us. We thanked him profusely, tipped him generously, and hoped that he was heading straight home.
As we settled into our seats at El Nuevo Castel’s, we saw that Walter was right: the place was filling up with families young and old. At the table next door, a girl of five braided her mother’s night-colored hair. Fluorescent lights blazed overhead. Three forlorn hams hung from the ceiling alongside a sagging Argentine flag.
We made the unanimous decision to order the taxista‘s two favorite dishes: lasagne and bife de chorizo a la riojana (sirloin steak topped with ham and a fried egg) with French fries.
In the spirit of dying another day, we also asked our very friendly, very blue eye-shadowed server for a Suprema a la Suiza (breaded chicken cutlet with cheese and white sauce).
Although the over-baked lasagne and greasy fries made me question Walter’s good taste, I was wowed by the bife. Inch-thick, lean and grilled to a gorgeous medium rare, it was worthy of the taxi driver’s praise. Meanwhile, the Suprema was guilty pleasure that we could cut with a spoon – thick white sauce, excessive cheese and all.
Dessert – homemade flan with dulce de leche and a sweet-savory queso y dulce (cheese and sweet potato paste) – took us further down the path of pleasure. I couldn’t decide which I liked better.
All of this, plus a bottle of wine and two bottles of water, came to 100 pesos (about U$27).
Digesting my disbelief, I saluted Walter, the death-defying cabbie, for leading us to a cheap, solid, soulful meal we could have never found on our own.
May the taxista’s wounds heal swiftly – and may his return to the bife de chorizo at El Nuevo Castel’s be soon to follow.
El Nuevo Castel’s
Avenida Entre Ríos 946 – San Cristóbal
Open: Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30am-dinner (with a siesta in the afternoon)