If I understood the situation correctly I was, a number of years ago, the first customer at Buenos Aires Restaurant. Excited upon walking down 6th Street and discovering that an Argentine parrilla was about to open in my neighborhood, I jotted down the phone number and called as soon as I got home. It was about noon and the thickly accented Argentine who answered the phone told me that their grand opening would be that day and that their hours would be 2p until after midnight.

I was free for lunch, so showed up shortly after two to find the place obviously closed. Ismail (as I would later learn he was called) was outside, leaning against a car and smoking. They would be opening at six for their first day. I must have looked disappointed because as I reluctantly turned away, probably muttering something about the phone call earlier, he abruptly pulled himself upright and motioned me inside. Obviously the owner, he walked around the restaurant turning on lights and shouting orders to the kitchen. Before long the whole place had been opened up, seemingly just for me, since he had promised a 2p opening when I had called earlier and he was not going to make a liar out of himself.

I don’t remember what I had other than that my main course was one of the traditional Argentine cuts (most of which they import from Uruguay). I’m sure I had some Malbec, probably palmitos y camarones to begin, and panqueque con dulce de leche to end. I think Ismail followed that up with a cafe con leche and an after dinner drink on the house. I have been “family” there ever since, surrounded on many afternoons by crowds of Spanish speakers, Argentine celebrities like the boxer Maravilla Martínez (in the photo), and U.N. diplomats who find it worth the downtown trek. It was here that I had a short conversation with María Kodama, widow of Borges, who must have wondered why exactly Ismail was introducing me to her. It’s not only a fascinating place, but, run by real porteños, is as close to authentic Argentine as I’ve found in New York.

For information on Buenos Aires Restaurant click here. The author was interviewed here as the restaurant’s first customer.

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