Cow tail, choclo (corn on the cob), pork tail and pork chop, roast beef, carrots, cabbage, sausage, blood sausage, tongue, bacon, rice, chicken and spinach. With all these ingredients, last Sunday at noon, 31 April 2017, the restaurant of the historic Plaza Hotel in the Retiro neighborhood served its last ‘puchero’, after 108 years of service.
I was never a huge fan of ‘puchero’, but I did frequent the Plaza Bar for my sunday bloody-mary, and good newspaper read. The restaurant ‘El Grill’ served all the classic dishes and had quite a remarkable local wine list. I believe the only wine list in the world with more than 10 vintages of Catena Zapata’s famed Estiba Reservada listed in it. Showing vintages from the 1990s to the 2000s, at prices that were of course into four numbers, but not as high as the wine market would be asking for. A small reminder for the dear reader, we are the only wine company in the world to house a whole collection of Estiba Reservada, one bottle (sometimes more) from each vintage produced. 1990, the first, thru till 2010, the last. It’s unique!
Alas, another of my sanctuaries closes here. When is this going to stop?
In 1909, La Paza Hotel was the highest building in the city of Buenos Aires and the first five star hotel in South America. Most of the waiters and the kitchen staff had been working there all their lives. As a child, the last head Chef, Donato Mazzeo, remembers helping his father to peel the potatoes and learn the craft first hand. It was a story, in the same vane, to be repeated throughout the lives of many of the staff working in the Bar and Grill. Carlos, one of the waiters, told me that after 34 years in El Grill, ”I would choose to work here again. I was born in a humble family and grew up and perfected myself in the hotel. We will be at the bottom of the canyon, serving the last pout. I am not going to return because I am happy, but it gave me all these years a good memory” (sorry for the poor translation)
Francisco, the head sommelier for 30 years recalls, “All these years we had bad and good times, but the important thing is that we are leaving this cellar and kitchen as it should be, working full, preparing the food for the restaurants and banquets, the best way to say goodbye”. He encouraged his people, but he was also nostalgic. “I was a child in the 80s, when the life was a little slower, and there was flexibility in the workplace that today is totally unthinkable. So I grew up here, I came to work with my old man and I even went to sleep here”.
So where does this leave us, in this over loud, ever increasingly profit grabbing, nialistic, screen-lead, watts-not-uP world we have created for ourselves? actually this is obviously only a rhetorical question for this bloggy bugga. There are classic buildings being torn down all over the world and being replaced by glass bubbles. There are bars and restaurants closing down in Buenos Aires as quickly as there are hamburger joints opening up. I do not think it is just here, I know that in London the fad is for expensive fish n’chips and more dam hamburgers.
There is hope on the horizon….isn’t there?