Grubsheet has always regarded llamas and their alpaca cousins as gentle creatures to be shorn occasionally for their silky wool and otherwise patted and pampered. So it's somewhat disconcerting at first to find some unfortunate llama turned into wafer thin slivers on the plate in front of us, drizzled with oil and vinegar. Yes, folks, it's llama cappaccio, just one of the signature dishes at one of the hottest of the many hot restaurants in Buenos Aires, the most exciting city in Latin America and perhaps the whole world.
|Llama carpaccio and other treats|
So we begin with yacare wrap, pieces of local alligator in a delicate pastry accompanied by something called txatxiki foam, then the llama cappaccio ( a lot more subtle than beef ), then a seafood deviation of marinated red mullet in basil and lemon followed by grilled ostrich with fondant potato, liquid yoke and onions. Ostrich, of course, is an African native so this is an Argentine interloper. But no matter. It was all delicious, especially washed down with an ocean of chardonnay and bonarda (an Argentine red varietal) from the celebrated Algodon winery in the foothills of the Andes near Mendoza."Llama!", people exclaim when I tell them. "How could you?" It's pointless looking sheepish so I try to look, well, llama-ish. But guilt is an emotion that soon passes, subsumed in the raw excitement all around us.
|The vibrant street culture of San Telmo|
|Tree-lined boulevards redolent with history|
Fabrizio, of course, has to make a living, not an easy thing in a country with such an appalling economic record. The Argentine middle class was almost wiped out in the economic collapse of 2001, when the banks closed their doors and educated people took to the streets beating pots and pans to complain about the country's general hopelessness. Things have stabilised since but once burnt, twice shy as the saying goes. Most people in a position to do so have their money in Swiss or American bank accounts and still stash dollar bills under their mattresses.
|The Kirchners: Inheritors of "Evita's" mantle|
|Don't mention the war: Protesting Falkland veterans|
To be fair to the Kirchners, the Argentine economy is a lot better than it was and the government has begun to repay its vast national debt. But the last 50 years have been a huge blow to the national psyche of a country that was once the richest in the world. Yes, at the turn of the 20th century, Buenos Aires shone brighter than almost anywhere else, an opulence still reflected in its public buildings and splendid tree-lined boulevards. This is a city that oozes romance and style yet with a Latin edge and a hint of potential danger. There are some parts of the city you shouldn't venture into even in daylight and any local not trying to steal your wallet will be happy to mark the "do not cross" lines on your map.
|The cult of Carlos Gardel|
The upside is that all over BA, the sounds of the tango waft out of shops and bars. Funnily enough, Argentina's biggest ever tango music star - their national Elvis - is a crooner called Carlos Gardel, who rose to international stardom in the 1920s and plunged the whole of Latin America into mourning when he was killed in a plane crash in Colombia in 1935. His most famous song is called Mi Buenos Aires Querido, My Beloved Buenos Aires, which you can catch on YouTube and is ubiquitous, even making it into the classical music repetoire courtesy of a fellow Porteno, the Argentine-born Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. Soak up the music and soak up the place. You're bound, like us, to find that Dorothy was wrong. There is a better place than home. It's called Buenos Aires. Querido indeed.