A simple dish is never really that simple of a dish. Every ingredient counts, sticking out like a loud declaration, like the way that Julio Baéz, the head chef and owner of Julia in a budding Villa Crespo, hides a slightly spiced nut oil and hunks of pistachio inside his tartare, all camouflaged under a layer of acidic provolone cheese.
Then, he places the disk of raw meat over a melted butter sauce, greasy like a pizzeria, that pulls out the heat out of the ‘nduja, a spreadable spicy pork sausage typical to the Calabria region of Italy. The dish is accompanied by thick slices of bread, delightly gummy but with a thin outer layer that clatters and cracks like the browned borders of a fried egg. Strings of charred algae cling onto each bite of bread like long tentacles.
A note to celiacs: we were barely able to notice the difference between a regular sourdough and their gluten-free bread basket.
The restaurant is named after Baéz’ daughter, “barely a few months old and she already has her own restaurant”, joked Sol, our server. The homage feels fitting. Baez, who previously lead the kitchen at the fabulously decadent Aramburu Bis, injects a cool dose of playfulness in all his dishes. He does this quite plainly in the kaleidoscope of colors of a vegetable carpaccio or on the sly with an artichoke plate that sends unexpected notes of lavender and merengue soaring across the tongue.
The cement and stone dining room, although cold, abandons the stiffness of the hyper decorated Retiro restaurant’s Baez came up in. The anonymousness of those restaurants are absent as well—when you leave, the kitchen says thank you and goodbye.
Jars of vinegars packed with wild flowers or stuffed with baby carrots line the thin counter that separates the small dining room from the smaller kitchen. The carrots show up in an artichoke dish, Julia’s obra maestra, in the form of thin rounds layered atop broad slices of alcaucil. A lemon emulsion tastes like a cool merengue; notes of orange taste almost silvestral, like a beachy forest breeze that rakes up fragrances of pine and wild lavender. Pecorino cheese and chunks of walnut bring earthy notes to otherwise juniper flavors. It pairs beautifully with a barely there white malbec by Osado or a dry criolla by Paso a Paso.
Sashimi is treated with a vinegar and sesame oil rather than the expected citric blows—the punch is all the same. Rehydrated shitake mushrooms add a chewy texture to the otherwise buttery white fish and have the added benefit of sopping up all the juice. A vegetable carpaccio missed the mark. Whole kernels of coriander left a bitter flavor that fought between a dry anis and a cloudy szechuan. A heavy hand of tahini didn’t help — it stuck like wallpaper on the back of the throat.
For dessert, a cheese plate stacked with camembert, brie and roquefort were paired by fresh slices of pear and a sticky apple marmalade. It could easily be ordered as a fresh starter. It could also be followed by a dreamy pavlova, assembled like a makeshift tent that hides a trio of white chocolate, black olive and lemon cream.
In order to truly enjoy the pavlova, you have to give it a light smack with the back of your spoon. That’s what I imagine little Julia would do, at least.
Address: Loyola 807, Villa Crespo
Open: Tuesday through Saturday 8pm to midnight, Saturday 12 to 3pm
Price per person: $1200