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Seduced by Baby Beef

December 18, 2010

Do you want to transform a loyal vegetarian into a religious carnivore? Take him to South America. I’m devoting this post solely to beef, Uruguayan beef.

The first day of our vacation was nothing notable. We spent all day by the pool, relaxing on the comfortable sun beds, drinking refreshing white wine and pretending to exercise by slowly crossing la piscina couple of times. After we obtained our deserved portion of sunburn, we passed out for the rest of the night, not being able to struggle through the jet leg and eternal tiredness we were left with after grad school.

The second day felt much better. The new day met us with 100F, bright sun and amazing aroma stemming from the nearby parillas. For lunch, we decided to explore the local meat market, also known as Mercado del Puerto. The whole dining complex is protected from the burning sun by an extensive roof that preserves that divine coolness, which is so necessary while consuming rich savory steaks. All the restaurants are located two steps from each other and are absolutely identical, so it’s really hard to guess which one will serve you the best beef. All you can rely on are the mastery and promotional skills of local owners to attract prospective clients. Every restaurant has its own parilla (asado) that displays the variety of meats and vegetables. You can enjoy a savory greasy chorizo, tender and juicy baby beef, a unique burst of flavors from picanha, and many other mouth watering viands.

We ordered baby beef (in Uruguay, you always have to order it muy jugoso, which means rare, or otherwise, you’ll get a well-done, dry piece of meat), Provolone relleno for appetizer, papas al plomo for the side dish and medio y medio to polish it off. Provolone relleno is a huge melted piece of cheese filled with pieces of chorizo, roasted pepper, tomato paste and fresh herbs. It is served on a hot pan and looks like a French omelette. One such appetizer will be enough to share among three or four people. Then comes the steak featuring an amazing char-grilled crust and a divine duet of tenderness and flavor. It is served with salsa (tomato, red pepper, onions, olive oil, vinegar and cilantro) and chimichurri (a mix of local fresh herbs and spices, garlic and olive oil). The meat is followed by a giant jacket potato baked in foil and topped with butter and salt. Of course, steak is always better with full red wine, but if you want to experiment, try medio y medio–a half and half mixture of champagne and white wine.

After the rich lunch, it is worth checking out local artisans in la ciudad vieja and walk on the miles-long promenade called La Rambla with a magnificent view of the river. That’s another peculiarity of Montevideo. The city stands in the mouth of Rio de la Plata, which is basically a part of the ocean due to its width and salty water, but Uruguayans insist on calling it river. If you want to do some shopping, the best place would be Punta Carretas, an elegant shopping center featuring local and international brands, and a movie theater that shows films in English.

Another great place to indulge in awesome steaks is Casa Violeta, a Brazilian rodizio situated atop of a picturesque hill. You can either opt for a traditional Brazilian way of serving meat or just order a regular steak. My recommendation would be baby beef or cowboy steak. I prefer bone-in steaks because of their stronger flavors, so my personal choice would be cowboy steak. In Spanish, there is an expression, “cortar el bife con el otro lado del cuchillo,” which means cut your steak with the dull side of the knife. That’s how tender it is.

After a delicious dinner in Casa Violeta, we went to check out a trendy bar called Hemingway situated on the cliff hanging 30 meters above the sea. The place is very popular both among locals and tourists, so it won’t hurt to make a reservation on the terrace that opens up to a beautiful view of the sea and Montevideo, and also features spectacular sunsets. The bar has an extensive cocktail list and amazing desserts with its pearl called mint and chocolate mousse that will just melt in your mouth.

Tomorrow we’re setting off for Buenos Aires, motherland of tango and soccer, and of course the best beef in the world. Come back soon for my further excitement about a good old steak!

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