It’s Independence Day in Argentina, and I thought I’d celebrate from afar by re-posting the story of one of my all-time favorite Buenos Aires taxi adventures. I’ve been back to Albamonte many times since taxista Antonio dropped us off here, and I’ve never been disappointed. It isn’t only the thin-crust pizza, which they bake in a wood-burning oven and (in keeping with Roman tradition) don’t make at lunchtime – it’s the fact that this is a family-run restaurant in word and in deed.
¨Any restaurant that doesn’t have beef is good for nothing,¨ said the taxista, veering in the direction of what he told us was his favorite neighborhood steak house, on the corner of Gascon and Cordoba.
My friend S, who is a vegetarian, said nothing, trying to mask the resignation in her smile.
¨I know Argentina de punta a punta,” the taxista continued, running a hand through his wavy gray hair. “And I’ve driven everything: trucks, private cars, buses — ¨
¨What’s your favorite thing to drive?¨ I asked him.
¨Let’s just say I’d prefer to drive a car and not a woman.¨
We laughed. He stopped at a red light, relaxing his grip on the steering wheel, dark eyes darting between our reflections in the rear view mirror and the Sunday traffic ahead. He told us his name was Antonio.
¨You know what?” Antonio said, lowering the volume on the talk show on the radio. “There’s a really good pasta place in Chacarita I used to go to a lot…”
“Their aglonotti are deadly. The hours are a little weird, but – ¨
S’s eyes lit up. The light turned green.
¨Could you take us there instead?¨ I said.
He made a U-turn. ¨The owner of this restaurant used to sell racehorses,¨ he said. ¨So on the weekends after the races, his friends would go eat there. They always arrived hungry, always wanting something to eat as soon as they sat down. They couldn’t wait for the pasta to cook.¨
He swallowed as if salivating, stroking his basketball belly, which was encased in an orange wool sweater.
¨So one day a waiter went into the kitchen and asked if any of the cooks knew how to make pizza. And now…¨ He paused for dramatic effect, braking in front of a wine-red awning beneath a billboard that read Ristorante Albamonte in golden letters, ¨…they make the best pizza in Buenos Aires. And they don’t even call themselves a pizzeria!¨
When S and I walked through the glass door, past the gauzy curtains lining the entrance and into the dining room, waiters of a certain age were polishing wine glasses and silverware, smoothing the linen on the two-toned tablecloths, looking ready for a blitz they seemed to be expecting.
We lay our monogrammed napkins in our laps and studied the menu between glances at the photos of race horses and jockeys on the pink walls. Silk flowers and wood paneling suggested that the decor hadn’t changed much since the place opened in 1956.
A waiter approached and bore bad tidings: Albamonte doesn´t serve pizza at lunchtime, he told us, shoving a bottle cap under one of our table legs to keep it from wobbling and draping a napkin over our purses to protect them from sticky fingers.
Crestfallen but hopeful, we ordered ravioloni (the closest thing to Antonio’s aglonotti we could find on the menu) with scarparo (tomato, flatleaf parsley, and garlic) sauce and fusilli with pesto and tuco (simple tomato) sauce.
While we waited for our food, customer after customer entered, mostly gray-haired men around Antonio’s age, greeting the portly man behind the cash register before they sat down. Soon, plates of rabas (fried calamari) began to fly out of the kitchen. I ordered some (in spite of the protests of our waiter, who was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to eat everything).
When I tasted the rabas, I understood what the fuss was about: thick and fried to tender perfection inside a light, crispy, generously-salted batter, these were rabas done absolutely right.
Unfortunately, the nutless pesto and super-sweet tomato sauce defiled what were otherwise very good fusilli (house-made and cooked al dente).
But our ravioloni – puffs of ricotta and mozzarella enveloped in thin dough and smothered in a bright, herb-laden tomato sauce – nourished our hopes and confirmed that Antonio was right to rave about Albamonte.
We´ll report back on the pizza.
Av. Corrientes 6735 (between Maure and Olleros) – Chacarita
Lunch: Thurs-Sun, 12-14:30 (No pizza at lunch!)
Dinner: Tues-Sun, 20-23:30 (Closed on Mondays)
Note: In case of power outages, this restaurant has its own generators (!).
Pizza Post Script
Taxista Antonio was right, we discovered, when we returned to Albamonte a few nights later: The thin-crust pizza here just might be the best in the city. Baked in a wood-oven, the dough manages to stay crispy beneath generous helpings of mozzarella and super-fresh tomato sauce. We could barely keep our silverware in our hands as we cut through slice after slice of this close to perfect pie. Go for dinner and go early – even on Tuesdays, the place is packed with pizza lovers.