When we set out for lunch at Providencia in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the hotel staff warned us that the cafe had unpredictable hours. And there isn't really a sign -- just a big orange door that's sometimes painted green. (It was orange the day we went.) So I knocked...hard (following directions)...and a squaty woman wearing an apron opened the door speaking in urgent Spanish. She was holding a big steel pot. I tried to communicate that I'd like to eat something...por favor. She gestured for me to follow her, which I did, as we crossed the street -- pot in tow -- and headed down the road. She took us to another building, where inside it looked like we might be in a miniature restaurant with Alice in Wonderland chairs...or maybe just someone's apartment.
Before we could speak, a woman delivered two cups of brown broth to our table. In a thriller film, this would be the part where we drink the random liquid, begin to feel drowsy, and wake up hours later in a bathtub of blood with our kidneys missing. Turns out these people were nice though. And their brown liquid was rich with cumin and coriander. When I tried to ask about the other spices, our server said, "Oh! Lots!" Clearly, I need to improve my Spanish.
They also brought us warm brown bread and a ramekin of celery in a sweetened hot chili oil. I ordered El Potaje, literally The Soup with uneven hunks of sweet potato and zucchini and butter beans the size of chestnuts (adding to the Mad Hatter vibe) and a melty mound of queso nestled in the bottom of the bowl sort of like a topsy-turvy French onion soup.
The staff -- if you could call them that because they seemed way too happy to be working -- chopped and stirred behind the counter and serenaded us in an ironic-bay-at-the-moon kind of way to Argentinean folk music.
I couldn't tell you about Providencia, but Arevalito? My favorite meal in the city.
Dinner music: Nada Mas by Atahualpa Yupanqui