La Cupertina

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There were moments in Buenos Aires when I thought, “Thank God, I chose to study Spanish in Mexico.” These were not the moments when I was dancing till 4 a.m. or eating luscious steaks for criminal prices. I missed small-town Oaxaca the most when I sat staring at my “ensalada caprese,” a sorry mass of tasteless arugula, hunks of “mozzarella” or pizza cheese, and the saddest, blandest tomatoes to ever bear the name. To be fair, I was at an all-night eatery, as Zizou* and I had few choices after getting back to BA late at night. But Argentine traditional cooking just can’t compare to the zingy surprise of a street emapanada de mole amarillo or the complex curiosity of mole negro.

When there wasn’t steak, there were Argentine empanadas, and as Zizou found, most empanadas were a doughy excuse to carry some meat around in an easy way. When she complained the dough was utterly forgettable, we imagined gauchos carrying them cold in their saddlebags, caring little for texture or flavor.

This is where La Cupertina came in, to make us more gracious towards our host country. Located in Palermo Soho, and specializing in food from the province of Tucuman, La Cupertina is a very pretty place—heart cut-outs in the wooden chairs, green plants spilling over an antique stove. The owner, whose fame is apparent in the framed articles on one discrete wall, clearly cares a lot about what she is doing. I love people who care, and I loved her food as much as I’d hoped as we sat waiting in the sunny dining room.

The empanadas were baked, the ham and cheese empanadas with sugar. The tamal, more meat than masa, was moist and so good we ordered another one after finishing the first. The locro, though, was my favorite. A traditional stew of whole corn kernels with white beans, beef, and sausage, there was an intensity and range of flavor that I’d been missing while chewing the excellent Argentine beef.

Their desserts, too, are beautiful to behold, and although they were as sweet as all Argentine desserts, they weren’t so singular in their sweetness.

(But to be totally honest, the best empanadas we had the entire time we were there were from El Mazacote, the corner pizzeria in Montserrat. Flaky, buttery, revelatory—Zizou felt vindicated—“I told you the dough could be flaky!”)

* aka, my non-“French soccer star” friend and traveling companion.

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