Discovering the New Nordic in South America
Christy Olsen Field
If James Bond lived in Buenos Aires, Olsen would surely be his favorite haunt.
This line sealed the deal for me. I came across the review of the restaurant Olsen in Buenos Aires while planning a two-week winter getaway to Argentina with my husband Carl in February.
I find Nordic connections everywhere I go, but this was a special one: Not only is it a restaurant in Argentina that bears one of my names, Olsen’s atmosphere and reputation meant it was added to the top-priority list for the trip.
Olsen is located in the chic neighborhood of Palermo Viejo, about five miles from the Buenos Aires city center. Palermo is the home of many of the city’s trendiest restaurants, hotels, and nightlife locations, and Olsen has a reputation as one of its top culinary destinations in the city for locals and tourists alike.
Owned by a French couple, Olsen is best known in Buenos Aires for its Nordic atmosphere, legendary Sunday brunch and impressive selection of 60+ quality vodkas. The restaurant recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and it is consistently ranked among Buenos Aires’ best restaurants.
The receptionist at our hotel warned us, “Olsen is famous, but it is very expensive. Just be prepared.”
I smiled and replied, “I have traveled throughout Norway … no price tag in Argentina could scare me!”
With our full itinerary, the only time we could make a visit to Olsen was an early lunch on Saturday afternoon.
The understated wooden entrance of the restaurant leads through an outdoor garden to the spacious, light-filled restaurant. Nordic cool emanated from the whole scene, from the exclusive gated location to the young hipster wait staff and the minimal Nordic decor. We were seated outside in a pair of low-slung Danish Modern chairs at a small table.
A look at the menu was enough to know that this was far from authentic Nordic cuisine, and we adjusted our expectations as such.
We decided to pass on the selection of smørrebrød, and went for the prix fixe menu: my husband selected the braised pork with a tomato salad and Olsen café potatoes, and I chose the fish of the day, accompanied by white gazpacho and green salad.
Instead of the customary basket of baked rolls found throughout Argentine restaurants, Olsen served a selection of whole grain bagels. They weren’t that special by North American standards, but they were the first whole grain products I had seen in two weeks, and a harbinger of the freshness to come.
The braised pork was the most Nordic element on the table. The portion sizes were small by Argentine standards, which meant it was just right for lunch. The fish of the day, which was unidentified on the menu, was cooked perfectly, and the fresh produce was a beautiful foil to the dish. The white gazpacho soup was the most delicious bite of the entire meal and perhaps the entire trip, though neither Nordic nor Argentine in origin.
The service was relaxed and rather slow, but pleasant enough. We were fine—the combination of sitting in warm summer sunshine and free wi-fi made it one of our most relaxed dining experiences of the trip.
When I asked Carl about his impressions of Olsen, he said: “To understand Olsen, you have to understand the setting. Olsen is unlike any other restaurant in Buenos Aires—it’s a departure from the smoky parrillas (barbeques) and the typical fried Argentine menus of sidewalk cafes. It feels like an exclusive oasis in this busy city.”
Our lunch was so enjoyable that we even ordered dessert to extend our visit a little longer: apple pudding cake and white chocolate soup with a hidden scoop of red fruit sorbet. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but it was the perfect finish to a most delightful meal.
The food was certainly not authentic, but Olsen captures the Nordic essence. We might not have come for the bar or brunch, yet our early lunch was well worth the visit. And the best part: Our meal cost 268 Argentine pesos, less than USD 30—one would be hard-pressed to find that good of a deal at a Scandinavian restaurant in the U.S., much less in Norway.
Though 007 didn’t make an appearance during our time at Olsen, by the time we left the restaurant around 1:30 pm, a waiting line of people made it clear that the New Nordic food movement is alive in Argentina.
Gorriti 5870, Buenos Aires 1414, Argentina
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to midnight (or later, depending on how good the party is); Sunday, 10 a.m. – midnight; closed Monday.
Best for Sunday brunch, happy hour
This article originally appeared in the March 28, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.