Saturday, March 31, 2007

Korean, Chinese, Arabic, and Thai .... in Uruguay?

Well...yes and no.

Allow me to share some international food experiences I have had the last few weeks. Some are keepers others we can pass on by.

1. Korean

Previously mentioned in a post from our good friend, Chuck, we located some Korean food in Ciudad Vieja. This place is authentic as I can imagine it would be in a Korean neighborhood, as not only the sign but also the menu is totally in Korean. There is not a Spanish word in sight. Located near Radisson in Plaza Independencia, it is easy to pass up unless you are tipped off to its location. They have only been there four months, and when you go inside you will see nothing but Korean faces from the chef, to the chef's wife and baby, to the Korean diners. Ask for the English menu (something we discovered after the third time going and struggling with Korean-Spanish charades) but be forewarned that not everything may be available. I strongly recommend the fried dumplings, the dumpling soup, and their great fresh salads. They also have squid stir fry (pictured below), noodles with black bean sauce, and spicy dishes of meat, rice, and veggies. If you are really hungry, and up for a great feast, order the Korean BBQ (sizzling panceta, onions, jalapenos, garlic accompanied by cold salads, leafy greens, sesame leaves, and sauces). They insist it is for two but my husband and I both agree it could feed four. It is truly delicious and you will not leave hungry. If you go, tell them the North Americans from California sent you.

Unfortunately I can't tell you exact prices as we never receive an actual bill. But here is some idea...
Korean BBQ, beer, dumplings and salad $660 (for "two")

Four main dishes with rice, one soup, two beers, water (complimentary) two orders of dumplings $900 pesos

2. "Chinese"

I give this place a "A" for effort and a "C-" for taste. Located in Punta Carretas shopping, "Verde & Wok" has all the necessary ingredients to make a great lunch. Owned by a well known chef, uses fresh ingredients, includes many vegetables and lean meats, and is even prepared right in front of you. Unfortunately, you can have the best fixins' and still not know how to put them together well. I ordered verduras al provencal which was a mix of sliced vegetables tossed in a sauce and cooked in a wok. What I expected was crisp greens with tasty sauce. What I received was watery, limp veggies with trace amounts of flavor. I was disappointed. I wanted to say...Step aside Che, hand me that wok!!!

Sum up:
verduras a la provencal
wok oriental
drinks and cubierto included
$240 pesos

Puntas Carretas Mall

3. Arabic

Does anyone else besides me just love the Disco in Punta Carretas mall? ( I swear I am far from a mall rat...though you all might be sensing a theme here)

Anyway, IF you can find some out-of-the-ordinary ingredients you may just find them here. This week I stumbled upon whole wheat pan arabe. They come in large pita size, and small snack size as well. If anyone has had the mini whole wheat pitas from TJ's back in the states, they taste just like those! YUM. They also have thin flat bread they suggest for "tacos" and thicker flat bread that reminds me of something you might eat at an Indian restaurant.

4. I teased you with Thai.

Though not found in Montevideo, I did inherit some Thai curry paste and spices from a dear friend who left the country and who had previously done a big shop in BA for Asian ingredients. The pan arabe sure came in handy tonight, as did white rice, as that curry was HOT HOT HOT. Good thing I couldn't find the fresh thai chiles with which to garnish the dish as the directions suggested.

That is all for now....


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pan de Ciruela

At times, Uruguayan food plays with that balance of sweet and savory. When taken to extremes the result is almost unpalatable. For example, friends told us about the specialty "tarta de atún" that was served as a first course at the family Christmas dinner. It consisted of a sweet pie crust, a filling of canned tuna, and another sweet layer on top. I have seen this sort of creation in a grocery store downtown. What I thought was apple pie had a layer of sliced jam and cheese in the middle. There was also the ham and cheese tart with sliced canned pineapple and maraschino cherries.

However..there are those times when the sweet and savory combo is conducted very well and (in my opinion) Pan de Ciruela is a great example. It is a loaf bread made of butter, milk, sugar, eggs, flour, and prunes. After it is baked, it is cooled and sliced and made into little ham and cheese sandwiches and served with coffee or tea. The loaf above is from my own oven, and the sandwiches are the "vegetarian version" ( I ran out of ham in the house!)

At first I thought it would be such an odd combination. I tried to picture cutting up my mom's banana bread and layering turkey and provolone inside. But these delightful little sandwiches I enjoy time and time again at my local tetería, and they were kind enough to give me the recipe.

Where to find them:
Most teterías or confiterías

Qué aproveche!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Nonsense Sandwich Bread

I'm big label reader. In the states I see other consumers looking at backs of packages or scanning nutrition ingredients. Here, I think they just want me to chose quickly and move on ahead to the check out line.

I was disappointed to find that most sandwich breads were loaded with trans fats, and those that were not were about as flavorful as cardboard when toasted. I have yet to find a nearby bakery that sells fresh whole wheat sandwich bread, but I have discovered the brand Fargo which makes a whole wheat or integral sliced bread that we use daily in our house. It is free from the offensive trans fats, soft rather than dense, and toasts beautifully for breakfast. They also have a couple other varieties including a white sliced sandwich bread. It is easy to find at most grocery markets and little corner stores.

one loaf about $43 pesos

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Partners in Crime

I can't help but share some great posts on food in Uruguay. Most have gorgeous pictures as well, so be sure to check them out!

Torta Frita
(pictured above)


El Horno

Mercado del Puerto


Beer in Uruguay

Coffee in Uruguay

Friday, March 16, 2007

Balcón del Lobo

This past Friday night, I had a craving to try a new restaurant. I recalled how we stumbled upon a spot not to long ago, when we were walking from the Rambla to Bar Tabaré. At first we thought we spied an outdoor family dinner party, and then realized that nested among the residential area of Punta Carretas, there was a little hideaway called Balcón del Lobo.

Walking past the cava, the room set a side for private dinner parties, we climbed up marble steps to the entrance of the restaurant. Immediately we were warmly welcomed by the smells of the meat roasting on the parilla and the grilling provolone along side it. The restaurant had ample room inside, and with both the aromas and the cozy "at home feel", it was tempting to chose an indoor seat. But the outdoor patio looked equally lovely, and already had more diners, so we chose a seat which would give me a good view of the happenings of the restaurant.

After walking from Pocitos, we had worked up a good appetite and were ready for dinner. The menu did not have many options for appetizers, so we chose a salad to share. Out of a dozen or so different choices, we ordered a corn, tomato, onion, and bell pepper mix. There were several other selections, including todoverde - a mix of green leafy vegetables, rojo - beets, tomatoes, and red peppers, waldorf, zanahoria y pasas - raisins and carrots served with honey and mustard.

The second page of the menu listed their fish choices and sauces, followed by pastas and other Italian fare, and finished off with the wide offerings of parilla.

Diner´s Tip:
As pasta and parilla are always common, I try to look for something special on the menu, but not too different. That is when restaurant tasting in Montevideo, if I see "fusion food" I have learned silence the temptations to chose them. Curried salads, stir-frys, "thai" inspired pasta, or reductions of ginger and honey bring up red flags for me. Not that the food will be BAD. I just know it will not be what I am used to, or what I am hoping for.

However, I find Italian choices are often good. A simple risotto with mushrooms and otras verduras sounded just perfect and so my decision was rapidly made. My husband was going Italian as well, and after wavering back and forth between stuffed eggplant and spaghetti putanseca, he decided on the later.

After finishing our salad and first glass of wine, the main courses were delivered to our table. My risotto was perfect - exactly the tastes and textures that I was hoping for. The risotto rice was al dente, that is firm and chewy, and the chef was generous with the fresh mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, onion, and eggplant that was embedded in the risotto tower.

While my husband liked his choice, it was slightly different then he expected. If you like anchovies, he would highly recommend his dinner. But for him, it lacked the picante of the dried red pepper flakes, and had a very strong anchovy presence. Generous sprinklings of grated cheese helped balance out the flavors. He agreed that the risotto was delicious, and helped me finish up the last few bites.

The ambiance was so tranquil and the Brazilian music was so nice, that we wanted to linger a little longer. Solution? Dessert.

I have often seen panqueque de manzana on dessert menus. I had been imagining an American breakfast pancake with dulce de leche instead of syrup, but when someone told me it was more crepe-like with a caramelized sugar coating, I was suddenly more interested. Neglecting the todochocolate, flan de coco, mocha ice cream, or "diabetic" cheesecake, we choose a panqueque de manzana with vanilla ice cream.

A thin crepe was covered with equally thin apple slices which had been carmelized in sugar. My husband loved it. As you can see from the picture, the apple crepe was served hot, and the ice cream was melting before we even dug in. For me it lacked the sweetness I was craving, as the sugar had been caramelized a bit too much leaving a slightly burnt taste on my palate. Just a few less seconds on the stove and perhaps a serving dulce de leche to sweeten it up would have been perfect.

All told, I would definitely return. The grilled meats smelled amazing, the salads were diverse, and there were filled pastas to try. If nothing else, "Round Two for Risotto" would be fine by me.

Sum up:
Cubierto charge, salad to share, two main dishes, bottle of water, 1/4 liter of wine, and dessert to share

Total: $504 pesos before tip

J.Zorillas de San Martín n. 93
Punta Carretas
Tel: 711 1273

Qué Aproveche!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Milanesa de pollo

To anyone living in Uruguay whether native or on foreign soil, the Milanesa is as common as pizza, parilla, and pasta. That is to say it is a household staple and has a guaranteed spot on the menu of your local resto-bar. Milanesa is pounded cut of either meat or chicken which is lightly breaded, then fried or baked. This is your basic Milanesa, served with a guarnación of papas fritas, arroz, or ensalada mixta. There are also fish, eggplant, and soy milanesas - to list a few. You name it and they probably bread it and fry it. From there, you can find a Milanesa al pan (Milanesa between two burger buns with a bit of tomato and lettuce) or the most satiating - Milanesa Napolitania - topped with ham, cheese, and tomato sauce. Order it for lunch and you won't need to eat until the following day.

I had never ordered a Milanesa in a restaurant simply because I was intimated by the size. Salads, pizzas, and hot toasty sandwiches usually got my vote at a casual restaurant such as Old Maz or Costal Azul. But last week at Trouville Pizzeria, a restuarant whose menu is a perfect example of Uruguayan standard fare, I barely glanced at la carta. "Milanesa de pollo, por favor - con arroz. Y ketchup!" In fact, I was craving the crispy crust and tender interior ever since my husband and I awkwardly fumbled around our neighbor's kitchen, attempting to cook Milanesa for their kids.

We were house sitting - and children sitting - for a few days at the beautiful home of an Uruguayan friend.

I had told the kids ( a daughter age 13 and son age 10) to tell me when they were hungry for dinner. "Gracias, te adviso," the 13 year old told me. Like all Uruguayans I know, they are accustomed to eating later in the evening. And though their mother had suggested dinner should be earlier due to the start of school the following day, there is still no plea of hunger at 9:00. Around 9:15 I ask the son if he is getting hungry for dinner. "No, voy a comer chocolate." Chocolate? Not wanting to be the strict babysitter, I just smile.

But I forget that the psychology of food is different with kids. They are not thinking about what they are going to have for dinner. Nor are they thinking about how long it takes to prepare it. They are just, all of sudden, hungry.

I should have remembered this about kids. But I got relaxed lounging in the living room, waiting for the adviso.

9:30 The son tells my husband he is hungry. He would like a Milanesa. A Milanesa with rice, to be exact.

"Mi amor!" My husband call me from the living room. He has already agreed to help me with dinner, but is coming to remind me that helping does not equal making it alone.

Ok, so Milanesa. Where are they? Fridge? No, freezer. A single Styrofoam plate holds half a dozen Milanesas tightly wrapped in plastic. We undo the plastic and proceed to try to pry the breaded meat apart. Not a crumb falters. As there is no microwave we take them to the toaster oven. As I am reheating the rice, the son enters. "Cena está lista?" We glance worriedly at the toaster oven. So much for a Uruguayan fast food.

Several minutes later and a few hardy jabs with the butter knife, the Milanesas are successfully pulled apart, though some bits are missing their bready covering. My husband heats the oil and starts frying. The oldest grabs the mayo and ketchup from the fridge and tosses a bouillon cube into the rice for more flavor. We bring the hot rice and condiments to the table as hubby serves up the labor of love.

I observe. The kids slather ketchup on the chook and douse their rice with a little mayo. I skip the mayo but load up on the ketchup. I glance at my plate. No veggies? No salad? Whatever. I never said that this post was on health food. I cut into the crispy outer crust and tender inside; with a dollop of ketchup I take a bite. So simple, so good, and very satisfying. I am taken back to "kid food" - days of chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and tater tots. Initially opting for a smaller piece, I join my husband for a second. I like the crunchy bits were he has slightly burnt the crumbly exterior.

As my husband and I finish up dinner the kids are dutifully washing their dishes. It's 10:30. Off to showers, teeth brushing, and then to bed. Babysitting, house caring, and dinner making had been a success. And lucky for me, I have a good food find.

Where to get Milanesas:

Everywhere, you're in Uruguay!
Ready to eat:
-local restaurants, deli counter at the grocery store, some confeterías
Price depends on locale, average around $90 pesos with guaranción.

To make at home:
-meat counter of grocery store (buy fresh not frozen in the box- you can freeze the fresh ones later at home), carnecerías, and even your local almacen

meat, chicken, fish, setan, soya, eggplant, relleno (filled with cheese or ham or both)

Qué aproveche!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

La Creperie

I haven't eaten enough crepes in my lifetime. I say that because every time I have the opportunity to eat this French pancake, I enjoy every bite. Why have I not sought them out more? Perhaps French crepes are hard to come by at your average restaurant, but last night we hit up the perfect spot - La Creperie in Ciudad Vieja.

Though it was nearly 10:30, there were few diners. I thought we were getting closer to dining at the Uruguayan hour, but then I was reminded that it was Saturday and dinner for locals would not really be starting for another hour of so. As usual, it didn't matter to us, and we nestled around a candle lit table in the far corner of the small restaurant.

A quick glance at the drink menu and my husband questioned, "Anyone up for sangria....or clerico?" We were easily convinced, and decided on a full liter of clerico for the three of us. Ideal on a lazy summer day but equally delicious as a dinner companion, clerico is a beverage of white wine, fresh fruit, and sugar. Glancing on another page, I was pleased to see a selection of fresh salads which differed from the normal lettuce, tomato, and grated carrot combo. We selected a large salad to share. Soon a delicious mix of leafy greens, celery, walnuts, apples, and ricotta cheese was delivered to our table. The clerico followed immediately, and "brindamos!" - we toasted to good food, great friends, and future adventure.

The menu is mostly crepes, both salty and sweet, salads, and a large selection of beverages ranging from coffees to licuados (smoothies) to the aforementioned sangria. Empanadas, tortas, and tartas remind the diner he is eating in an Uruguayan restaurant. In addition, there is a selection of specials of the day. The one that stood out to our dining companion was the berejena rellena, cooked eggplant stuffed with carne picada (ground meat), cheese, and a tomato sauce. My husband and I both chose chicken crepes. We decided to keep them simple, that is without sauce, though you can choose from salsa verde, salsa pomodora, salsa roquefort, and salsa de champaniones to accompany your crepe. The pancakes are prepared small and large, accommodating both sized appetites.

Bites of a toasty thin crepe, tender sliced chicken, and a delicate creme sauce entered my mouth in quick succession, only pausing to taste the steaming hot berejena rellena. I was pleased with my choice and a little regretful that I did not chose the larger size. Our companion's dish was flavorful, hearty, and well balanced with vegetable, meet, cheese, and sauce. We helped her polish off a few bites, as we all continued to sip our fruity drink.

I remember in Spain, they warn against eating the fruit in the sangria, as this is where all the alcohol is soaked up. You can say the same thing for clerico. But how can one resist? Around 12:00 I was feeling a bit giggly, after only a glass of the fruit filled potion. Less welcomed is the sleepy effect of sugary drink; coffees were needed to muster up the energy to set off to our next destination. The night was young, and we had a party to go to.

I woke up this morning craving a crepe. Too bad they don't deliver. I'm up for a second visit to taste the other varieties including spinach, mushroom, ricotta and nuts, and of course the sweet crepes. But unless bedtime soon follows, I think I will pass on the clerico. (Sadly, I didn't last too long at the after party.)

Sum up:
Salad to share, empanada for one, three entrees (two crepes and one special of the day), liter of clerico, two coffees (no cubierto charge), and tip
Total Bill = $670 pesos

La Creperie
Bartolome Mitre 1332,
Ciudad Vieja
902 1891

*Selected nights of the week and some mid-day weekends, La Creperia has tango classes and shows. Call for details on prices and times.