My friend wanted to take a small group out for her birthday to a relatively "cool" restaurant that also had "cool" food to match. After an experience at Uriarte with my sister two weeks ago where I did not bring my camera (what a shame), I suggested repeating it ... both because I thought it fit what my friend was looking for (hip/trendy but also good food), and because I wanted to take some pictures to share. Like many restaurants in Palermo Viejo, Bar Uriarte is long and narrow. The open kitchen is in the front of the restaurant, right next to the door, and it's the first thing people see (and smell) when they walk in. On the edge of the kitchen is a counter where the well-presented dishes await table service under bright halogen spots. This meant that, while talking to the Maitre'd, my eyes and attention were elsewhere. I arrived on time, which apparently meant way too early, because I was the first one there. I decided to sit down at the bar to wait for everyone else to arrive. I ordered a Caipirinha and started talking with the person next to me who was also waiting for her friends. Shortly after, I found my friends walking down from the second floor staircase ... they had been waiting for me upstairs! After a few minutes of "you should have checked upstairs/downstairs" we were led down the long hallway of a restaurant to our table. Dark and comfortable couches line the front of the restaurant opposite the bar and kitchen, while the dining tables are in the back and on the second floor. Most of the diners seemed to be foreign, as they were either speaking in English or reading English menus. But don't be too concerned about the touristy vibes of the restaurant; your opinion will change very quickly once the food arrives.
We started off with some bread and a bottle of red wine. The bread was of three varieties: whole wheat, white, and country, none of which were baked on the premises. We decided we'd be ordering mostly meat, and since we only wanted one bottle of wine, we went with a Malbec, Tapiz 2005. Tasted somewhat like cherries. For appetizers, we decided to order 3 dishes and split them: Calamari Marinated in Thyme, Garlic, and Lime Juice, Veal Carpaccio with Capers, Almonds, Arugula, and Parmesan Cheese, and finally Sautéed Mushrooms in Olive Oil, with Pecorino Cheese and Toasted Pine Nuts. Of these three, the highlight for me were the mushrooms lightly cooked in olive oil which really brought out the earthy flavors. The calamari was close behind, with a firm texture and simple fresh flavor. The veal carpaccio seemed a little texturally imbalanced, as if the dish were half salad (arugula) and half crispy hors d'oeuvre. While I was not quite sure what the lemon was doing on that plate, the meat itself was indeed very soft and clean tasting, and could have easily stood on its own.
Main courses were equally satisfying: Braised Lamb with Roasted Potatoes and "Green Sauce,"Fresh White Fish Griddled, with Pumpkin Cream, Sweet Fennel, and Tapenade, Herb Stuffed Chicken with Barley, Bacon, and Leeks, and finally Veal Ravioli with Roast Juice, Oyster Mushrooms, Olives and Spinach. Despite the apparent absence of a mysterious green sauce, the highlight of these four courses was the braised lamb. The lamb was served with whole baby carrots, skin and all, which preserved much the raw carrot flavor, despite being tender from a moderate amount of cooking. I also really liked the griddled white fish; I've found it difficult to get a fresh cut of fish here and this certainly fit the bill. The pumpkin cream was well-spiced, and the nutty flavors complimented the sweet fennel very nicely. The lamb ravioli was way too watery, which can be seen from the picture. I felt like it was more like a lamb dumpling thin chinese soup than ravioli. Indeed, the flavor was earthy and pleasant; but, I would have liked something heartier with a thicker sauce that did not require a spoon.
No dessert this night; but we left that evening very full, and very happy. Despite the restaurant's swanky decor and intimidatingly attractive wait staff, the service was very warm and professional. This restaurant was a fantastic balance of innovative cuisine with well-balanced traditional flavors. I look forward to the next chance to return.