The weekend before last I took a little 3 day/2 night trip over to Ushuaia with some friends to meet other friends. I had a plan of putting together a little travel guide based on notes from previous trips and this one, but I’ve changed my mind for now. So, I’ll just post the observations I noted down on the day after I returned but will update this some time down the road.
I wish that I had more photos to display or perhaps a better selection. A snow storm that moved on a day before left some spectacular scenery. Stupidity and overconfidence got the best of me and my camera’s battery died early the next day after arrival. After noticing the low battery warning blink on the screen while taking the first shot, I took as many as I could, as quickly as I could, while fumbling through different configurations.
Distributors & Logistics
Although more frequent in the colder months, there is always a short supply (or no supply) of something. I’m referring to food & drink here but don’t worry, it is all mostly a matter of inconvenience than anything that would ruin your vacation. Unless, not being able to drink Coca-cola for a day or week would do such a thing. Before you blame a restaurateur for being an idiot and not ordering more of something if they know they’re going to sell out, remember where you are. This is a city with a high influx of tourists and an island at almost the end of the world. Supply and demand play a crucial role and there may be some distributors who are bumbling fools. Not to mention bad weather may slow transportation down a bit.
Restaurants & Dining
-Dinner at the Albatros Hotel’s restaurant on the night we arrived. Spectacular service. The waiter, who frighteningly looks like James Carville in his younger years, knew we were there to have a good time while enjoying good food and thus accommodated for that. You know, that special extra effort that is given when the staff know you are not tourists who are just going to have a quick meal and head off to your rooms or elsewhere. The printed wine list was short with the lowest priced wine at $70 ARS. The restaurant has two glass enclosed wine vaults that you can peruse for a wider selection. The four of us, out of what would be party of six, who arrived first took a table at the bar while our dinner table was being prepared. Our waiter strongly recommended a Escorihuela Gascon Cabernet 2000 ($75 ARS.) I had an enjoyable taste of Escorihuela Gascon Cabernet 2005 a few weeks back, so I seconded his selection. Although this was only the second time at trying their wines, I’m becoming quite a fan.
After finishing off the bottle of wine, a basket of freshly baked bread accompanied with a small bowl of hummus, and a platter of jamon crudo we proceeded to our table. Once comfy in our padded high-backed chairs, the waiter fired off a short list of the current house specialties. The choices were: Squid ink ravioli filled with salmon along with chunks of salmon in a cream sauce; lamb-filled ravioli with a oyster mushroom sauce; rolls of lamb stuffed with marinated sun-dried tomatoes and wrapped in jamon crudo (cured ham) served with pan-roasted vegetables in a mushroom sauce; grilled merluza negra(Chilean sea bass) topped with a cream sauce served with a beet risotto. I was gunning for merluza negra at first but after learning about the accompanying beet risotto, my mind went elsewhere. Although I have no problem with beets, most of the time, they are not something I desperately crave. Also, I’m always skeptical of how risottos will turn out in restaurants. Merluza negra for another day. Since I wasn’t in the mood for pasta either, although the dishes sounded delicious, I went for the rolled lamb. Another friend ordered the same dish but they only had enough lamb for one dish. (logistics remember?) He went with lamb ravioli instead. Two ordered the salmon raviolis and the other two selected the merluza negra.
All of the dishes were presented well and given approval by all on their deliciousness. My two rolls of lamb, each about the size of D batteries, were a tad bit salty due to the jamon crudo, but delicious nonetheless. The succulent lamb–cut from lamb chops, tangy tomatoes, and crunchy jamon crudo worked wonderfully together. The vegetables were fingerling potatoes, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, the smallest organic looking baby carrots I have ever seen in my life (about a centimeter or two in length), baby corn that tasted absolutely fresh, and sliced of baby portobello mushrooms in a demi-glace type sauce. To top it off a few streaks of parsley oil.
-We went to have pizza at Pizza & Pasta, 137 Av. San Martin. Large pizzas are about $8-$15 ARS more than most pizzerias in my area. The range was from high 20′s to low 40′s (ARS). For pasta, pasta type and sauce have unique prices. Cheapest combination of pasta and sauce was basic fresh spaghetti noodles ($16 ARS) with pesto ($8 ARS). Shared a large Napolitana pizza with a lunch companion for ($34 ARS.) Napolitana is the gage I use to judge a pizzeria for the first time. Soft, chewy and thin pizza crust cooked on a stone with no crunch at all. The slices of fresh tomatoes were not even fully heated through. The cheese had just reached the point where it was fully melted. Good quality, but needed more time. Very fine strips of some type of basil that had a pungency I have never experienced before that kept making its presence known throughout the day. Sauce tasted and looked fresh. If I was really hungry I could have probably killed the whole pie myself. I’d rate the pie at 5/10. I’ve had much better pizza at much lower prices but this place is on the main tourist strip so…
-The recent development and tourism boom over the past few years has brought many new restaurants and inspired the older ones to update their menus. The chefs and cooks that staff some of these establishments appear to be more concerned that the presentation of their dishes appear as art than how they actually taste. Items are towered or leaned against one another. Coulis, oil purees, infused oils, and reduction sauces are lightly drizzled as if the chef is painting his last masterpiece. Beautifully presented, mind you, but disasters in flavors and textures. Overcooked, too salty, and inferior ingredients are a few items that come to mind. Are these restaurants staffing their kitchens with recent culinary grads or those who are taking semester internships?
-If traveling to Ushuaia, do some restaurant research before making your trip. Search review sites and blogs to build up a list of restaurants to try. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be spontaneous or adventurous, but you should at least have something to fall back on that others approved of.
-Lunch time during the summer season is a mad house. Cruise passengers hit the streets, excited to dig their knives and forks into the famous local fuegian lamb and centolla. Tables are hard to get and the selection of food disappears quickly. Fortunately, the sea faring tourists have to drag themselves back to their floating cities at around 6 p.m. for departure. You’ll probably have a much more enjoyable dining experience at night.
-Winter time means ski season. Both residents and tourists alike want to hit the slopes or other areas offering winter sports, especially on weekends. Since many of these places are a bit of a distance from the city, most people like to eat on location and then continue with their fun for the rest of the day. The major plus is that you can pretty much score a table at any restaurant open for lunch. At night, the thrill seekers may turn in early or dine at their hotels, leaving you with many options for dinner.
When you walk down the main touristy commercial strip that is known as Avenida San Martin, you’ll pass numerous restaurants with signs boasting: “Free Seafood,” “Free Lamb,” “Tenedor Libre,” “$45 per person.” (So much for free eh?) These are all-you-can-eat restaurants with buffet islands and a parrilla section. What may really catch your eye are the displays of succulent whole lamb splayed on a cross, slowly roasting over a hot fire. Before you rush in and grab a table, take note of a few things first.
-I recommend that you pass them by and find a full service restaurant.
(But if that doesn’t stop you….)
-Check out the parrilla section. Do any of the items look as if they are ready to be served? Do you see the parrillero cutting up or serving grilled items? Does the lamb look only half-cooked? If you are unsure of anything, ask around to see what time they will serve items from the parrilla. The best time to dine is around 1 p.m.
-Check the buffet bars to see what they serve and how well they are stocked. Did you come all of this way to eat super oily(to levels I have never seen before), corn starch-congealed, westernized versions of Chinese food?
-The restaurant may have various types of seafood signage all over the windows but what do they really offer.
-If you walk in at around 2 p.m., what is currently available may be all that is available for the rest of the lunch hour. Be sure to ask if the buffet items will continue to be restocked.