Sunday, 18 December 2016

Gijon - its a surprise

We return from Tucuman exhausted by a humid walk on hot sidewalks. Dusk has settled, but it is still warm. In the transition from afternoon to night, families descend from small apartments to front steps to breathe in the cooler evening air. We are at that moment. I feel the moisture on my brow, but in the time taken to walk to Monserrat, a breeze lifts our mood, and we think about supper.

Gijon is close by at Chile 1402. It is a family parilla, brightly lit and always busy with tables both inside and out. The youngest waiter is in his late 50's. Its end wall is a shrine to football with Boca Junior and River Plate separated by glazed brickwork. A TV screen silently shows today's match. 

We are waived to a table and settle with the menu. A moment later we notice Michael. He sits alone with a bottle of Malbec, the last remnants of his meal about to be cleared. His departure is blocked as I slide our tables together, and he reciprocates by filling our waiting glasses from his bottle. This fragment of time tells of Buenos Aires - a place where companionship and friendship matter more than space and time. 

Stephanie takes charge of our ordering. Tonight, calamari frites followed by lomo steak to share, with mixed salad, a bottle of Malbec and sparkling water. In moments our two bottles of Malbec stand side by side, our's chosen for price, Michael's selected for quality.

In 1852 the French agronomist Michael A Poujet brought the Malbec grape to Argentina. Fortuitously for the variety, the Argentine landscape provided perfect soil and climate combination; so when towards the end of the C19 phylloxera decimated the French vines, the Cot was not lost. 

As so often happens, the Argentine copy was a huge improvement on the French original. The word 'Malbec', with a Cahors origin of 'bad-mouth', became one of Argenina's most successful exports. Contrasting now the re-introduced French Malbec with that of Argentina is to compare a table wine with a 'Grand Vin'. The Argentine flavours are full of spiced fruit with a touch of oak and a burst of exuberance. The colour is robustly deep purple. 

Our waiter slides into view with a huge bowl of calamari. They are battered and deep fried to perfection. Here at Gijon this is a speciality dish, each night dozens of portions being carried to dozens of tables. On the tongue they are soft, with just a gentle bite, teamed with a sense of the Southern Atlantic. 

Our wine tasting confirms that Micheal has a discerning palate from which we need to learn. The difference in our choices shows the subtlety of his against the vernacular of ours. Playfully, I try to switch them as we devour our calamari. 

Michael is a true tanguero, perhaps just a few years short of milonguero status. His grey hair and quiet dignity give him a timeless quality, one reflected in his expanse of conversation. We speak of life, of tango, of beauty and of wine. The restaurant buzzes around us, but we seep into a bubble of our own making in a moment of sharing. Here is a photograph of his companion, there is a reflection on the quality of our lomo which Stephanie divides with a fork. Life softens. The clattering of plates recedes. Over an hour passes in but minutes. 

We leave with a valued hug from our waiter and a cheerful handshake from a group of Portenos at the next table. Outside the air is now fresh, and a breeze blows leaves along the pavement. We joke about escorting each other home. The metallic sound of our key in the lock. The clang of the ornate iron framed doors to the street, and the peaceful haven of Casa Luna which we share.