“Balvanera takes its name from a historic ‘barrio’, or neighborhood, of Buenos Aires where poets, musicians, and creatives once convened.”
—from Balvanera’s website
Our second visit in as many months has already convinced us that six-week-old Balvanera is one of the very best new informal restaurants to open in Manhattan this year. It’s not likely that our remarkable dinners here, during which we cumulatively ate our way through half the menu, could have been a fluke. Certainly not with Gael Greene’s and other raves creating the kind of insider buzz that is bringing in chefs like Aldea’s George Mendes to check out the simple but passionate cooking of chef-owner Fernando Navas, an alum of the kitchens at elBulli, Nobu, and Samba Brands Management (of Sushi Samba fame).
And yet there were several tables open last night when we left the restaurant after an early dinner. Our theory? It’s partly the same reason we thought we’d never even bother visiting Balvanera: We’d read in Laura Catena’s wonderful book Vino Argentino (2010) that the typical portion size at an Argentine meal is 16 ounces(!) of meat per person. (Woof!) And with Americans having decreased their per-capita meat consumption over the past five years (with future declines predicted), meat-driven cuisines appear to be declining in popularity in turn. We certainly weren’t interested in checking out what we’d mistakenly thought might be “yet another steak joint.”
Meredith Boyle and chef-owner Fernando Navas at Balvanera
But while the flavor influences at Balvanera may be Argentinian, the spirit and execution here are lighter and definitely more produce-driven (with several vegetarian options), perhaps “more reflective of women’s sensibility,” suggests the restaurant’s very masculine chef-owner Navas, whose girlfriend Meredith Boyle brings gracious hospitality to the front of the house several nights a week. “We are proud of all of our dishes here, but especially the variety of vegetable-based dishes we offer,” he says.
Left: Empanadas Caseras / Center: Papas Rotas / Right: A Chocolate Dream