What do you do with flyers that come through the letterbox? Normally, they are irrelevant to life and go in the bin.
But there was something about this flyer that stopped us in our tracks. It was not that the chef was from Washington DC (wherever that may be). But inspirational plates with novel ingredients? Could this be possible here in San Telmo? And so close by - right next to Origen, our favourite walking-distance cafe for breakfast.
When you go out for a meal somewhere new, you take a chance. We had walked by earlier glimpsing through the windows to a spotless kitchen and sharp interior. “Yes, let’s give it a go, and let’s see what David Soady the chef can serve up that will excite us”.
Going straight to the point, this proved to be the most interesting and exciting meal of any we have eaten in Buenos Aires: a masterpiece of composition, flavour, interest and appeal.
As fairly discerning ‘foodies’ Stephanie and I like to arrive early, before the rush and crush - generally the ingredients are fresh at opening, as is the cook. And so it was shortly after 7 pm that we walked into 13 Fronteras, to be greeted by Senor Soady. Here the kitchen, and the magic that happens in it, is an open part of the deal. You get to see the preparation and cooking of precisely what you are going to eat. And you get to chat with David, chef, owner and inspirer of 13 Fronteras.
With few other customers so early, we were able to monopolise David’s time - and using my lawyer’s skill and Stephanie’s guile, to interrogate him about his restaurant. We could now describe how the restaurant was inspired, and tell about David’s history since he left Washington DC and arrived two years ago (via El Salvador) in Buenos Aires. We gleaned that he had worked at Aramburu, one of South America’s best restaurants here in the city before opening 13 Fronteras in San Telmo on 10 December 2017.
But we would rather tell you about the food.
The menu at 13 Fronteras is quite simple. Gone is the impossible multiple choice of dozens of dishes. Here you have a choice of 13 mains. For alcoholic drinks, there is beer or red wine - making our selection of La Puerta Malbec from Famatina a simple and delightful task.
After much deliberation, Stephanie chose la churnea, a white fish caught of the coast of Buenos Aires Province, served boneless, together with chunos and toasted maiz mote. The dish, pictured here on the first plate, was utterly fascinating in flavour and composition. This was fine dining at a totally accessible price point.
Pictured on the second plate, I selected porchetta, delicious succulent pork, cooked whole, then portioned and served at the prime moment, so prepared to tender perfection.
We had opted for a pavement table nestling beneath a Jacaranda. As dusk fell, David returned to introduce us to the desert menu. By now, having understood the potential magic of 13 Fronteras, we simply left it to our chef to make our choice. David returned with coca panna cotta with hibiscus for Stephanie, and for me a desert with a surprising range of ingredients, including those that could never be guessed. “If you tell me what is in them, you may eat here for free for the rest of your lives”, David jested. Stephanie and I agonised for 10 seconds, before simply succumbing to the deserts and giving up on the task. The combination was perfection - like Argentine tango, the panna cotta being light as an upper body giro, the mystery desert being rich, vernacular and grounded.
What I have not managed to capture here was the fun of the meal, with its additions and San Salvador tones, courtesy of Cristabel, David’s San Salavadorian wife. Having David almost to ourselves was a bonus, but the conversation, guessing and tasting provided a special experience.
13 Fronteras is now number 1 on our list of Buenos Aires delights. When you arrive in the city, ensure that your first visit is early, for you will surely want to return.