The lights flicker on and off in the lower section of Abasto. As we distance ourselves from Avenida Pueyrredón and crawl deeper into the neighborhood, vague outlines of vecinos come in and out of focus. Blocky shtreimel hats bounce heavily atop the heads of one portly and another tall Hasidic man. Their wives and children trail behind. A young African carrying an oversized briefcase chats on his phone in an unfamiliar tongue as he coolly saunters past. A motorcycle pops up onto the sidewalk and makes me hurl myself to the side. A boy jumps off and retrieves a plastic bag of Peruvian take-out that smells like fried batter and onions.
The power is luckily on at Il Vero Arturito, or at least it turned on as we entered the restaurant to a roaring applause. The dining room is completely packed. Waiters dressed in long-sleeved button ups and black aprons dance around the room. They huddle around the bar to load up either arm with stacks of dishes and race back to their tables with an eagerness uncharacteristic of a typical bodegón.
Tables are crammed closely together and are filled with families young and old. To my right, an elderly woman stares dough-eyed at a plate of raviolis painted red. To my left, a blue-eyed baby sucks on a roll with a generous swath of butter before passing out. Everyone within an arms length hushes in unison as a waiter walks past with a plate of tiramisu. The scenery feels all at once both ordinary and magical—a sense of nostalgia and belonging is laid on so heavily that even as a foreigner it is difficult not to feel at home.
That sentiment is echoed in the menu. Dishes are presented with their Spanish names but described in English. “Of course,” my dining partner explains, “everyone but a gringo knows exactly what a revuelto gramajo is.”
To start, the tired bread basket cubierto is swapped out for a miniature fried empanada. The dough cracks loudly and is stuffed with juicy ground beef that has been slow-roasted in its own juices. Satisfying punches of beef lard and nutmeg pop across the palate. For an appetizer, every single waiter recommends the bocadillos de acelga. This is probably because they are always good but also because every waiter plays the same gag when splitting the seventh bocadillo between a couple.
The rest of the menu is like every other old-school bodegón: an encyclopedic leather book filled with pages of minutas, pastas, mariscos and grilled meats. Dishes are served with a haphazard confidence that stands at a contrast to the formal service—our waiter announces my dish with a sincere “permiso, caballero” before piling noodles drenched in oily tomato sauce onto my plate. It’s often ugly but always charming, nonetheless.
Fusilli al scarparo is a house specialty. Hollow noodles are tossed with a messy tomato and basil sauce that stains the sides of the bowl. The noodles are soft and an herby sauce made with generous helpings of nutty olive oil cling to the dough. These, also, are great the day after as the red pepper deepens in flavor. Sorrentinos stuffed with ricotta and nuts are another fail-safe option.
Escalopes a la marsala are made with thin slices of tenderized round steak tossed in marsala wine. Escalopes vary from one bodegón to the next. Some bread the steak in flour, making the final result similar to a milanesa; here they are tossed in cornstarch which gives a silky texture that rolls across the tongue. The meat is delicate and should be used to sop up the sauce, which is slightly sweet with a characteristic bitter finish that sticks to the back of your tongue. Papas noisette, happy little rolls of fried mashed potato—distant cousins of the North American hash brown.
Sticking to the hispano-italo bodegón tradition, gambas al ajillo are always a solid choice. Plump pieces of shrimp are tossed in a sauce heavy on the pimentón and garlic. This is where the tired bread bowl you ignored because of the aforementioned empanadas come into play, soak up the toasted baguette with all the sauce.
For dessert, the flan mixto is a solid choice but the peras a la borgoña are easy to scan over. They are fresh pears cooked in red wine and served with sweet vanilla ice cream and little mountains of cream.
Il Vero Arturito is open for lunch and dinner service. There is usually a line out the door for dinner service, both an annoyance and a sign of a good meal.
Il Vero Arturito
Address: San Luis 2999, Abasto
Open: Tuesday from 8pm to midnight; Wednesday through Sunday 12pm to 4pm and 8pm to midnight
Price per person: $500-600