Ox: Argentine Food Might Be Better In Portland Posted on 9 Sep 01:08 , 0 comments
I also hadn’t seen a parrilla, or eaten an empanada, or seen Tatiana since I’d left Argentina either.
So this was a big night for me.
Three of us piled into a taxi in SE Portland, and headed for Ox, an Argentine-inspired restaurant, whose menu I had been fantasizing about for weeks. Chorizo. That’s all I ever wanted to hear. Chorizo. I’d say it aloud, trying to roll my rrrrr’s while salivating. Chorrrrizoooo. Me muero.
Taxi drivers in Portland aren’t like taxi drivers in Buenos Aires, from my initial assessment. They skew younger. They speak English. They wear hipster glasses and their clients can track them using mobile apps. Seat-belts are a sure thing.
Sometimes, when I’m driving my own car, I daydream. It isn’t a safe habit. I get the most vivid flashbacks of Buenos Aires. My body might physically be in Los Estados Unidos, but my mind is in Buenos Aires. I drive down Avenida Santa Fe. The jacarandas are blooming. I hear the piropos, I feel the humidity. Marble walls and iron gates are covered with graffiti and garbage: a scene so rich my eyes feast on the visual bounty. Then I blink, before I run a red light. I have to remind myself constantly to live in the present moment.
They talk about reverse culture shock, but the actual shock of returning to your culture, is that you can’t really talk about it. You’re left alone to process. You start to lock away the memories of your daily life and profound experiences into undisclosed caverns of your heart. You no longer gush when people ask you about Argentina. You just smile, and tell them what they want to hear: “It was a great experience. Glad to be back.”
How do you process moving back from a country where you spent three prodigious years? Is there a process for that?
I don’t want to be the girl who can’t stop talking about her time abroad – but, what else can I say? I don’t have a different set of life experiences to reference. Sometimes I have a hard time relating. I have to catch up on three years of popular culture.
I’m overwhelmingly happy to be back, but still, I miss Buenos Aires. I miss speaking Spanish. I miss my verduleria. I miss pseudo-philosophical conversations on the meaning of life with taxi cab drivers. I miss my sunny walks through Palermo, dining with diplomats, drinking mate in the park. I was good at big city life. My wardrobe doesn’t always translate in my new life.
I’m nostalgic for the city that taught me the meaning of nostalgia, while experiencing simultaneous feelings of excitement and gratitude about this new stage of my life: my growing business, my new apartment, lovely new friends. I don’t intend for my nostalgia to detract from the present moment. I don’t want to linger in the past, but I don’t want to deny the experiences that brought me to the where I am today.
I guess it takes time?
For one night, my old life and my new life were reconciled over an amazing dinner with Tatiana and Tom, at Ox, in Portland. Enjoying a meal, inspired by the country I love, with dear friends, was the perfect remedy for reverse culture shock.
There was a wait, so we gladly waited, with wine. I’m over Malbec these days, and onto Merlot.
Since my only experiences with Argentine food have been in Argentina, I was expecting the traditional carnivorous and carbtastic fare. I should have expected more from the creative culinary genius that Portland innovates. Ox was so much more than the chorizo. We started with a Dungeness Crab Bruschetta, with thinly sliced veggies and “shiso”. I don’t know what shiso is. Sounds like something out of a Portlandia parody.
Tatiana and Tom both insisted on the Clam Chowder – and their expert foodie opinion is reliable. I’d never had anything like this soup, with the piece of bone, and the crispy marrow, the light, buttery soup, with spicy kicks from jalapeño. It was otherworldly. I had an irrational fear that returning home would mean I wouldn’t be exposed to new things – this clam chowder showed me that I have nothing to fear.
Is bone marrow the best food in the world? Puede ser.
Clam chowder? Not so Argentine. Exposed brick, with soft glowing, lamp light? Very Argentine.
Then came the chorizo. This was no street-meat chori. This chorizo was sweet, and smokey, and the texture was so smooth. Suave, che, super suavecito. No sabes.
I was pretty stuffed by this point …. which was tragic, because this stunning sea scallops over sweet corn in bacon sherry creme with crab was, hmmmm… I’m failing to come up with words worthy of describing it. I’ll just repeat: BACON SHERRY CREME. Me entendes?
If that dish was a reference to Argentina, it was lost on me. But, the real parrilla made up for it all. Hermosa, hermosa parrilla.