Ox: Argentine Food Might Be Better In Portland

Posted on September 9, 2013 by Vivi in RESTAURANTS, TRAVEL

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant I hadn’t been in a taxi since I’d left Argentina.

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.  ChorrrrizooooMe 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.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Wine List

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Cocktail Menu and Drinks

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Wine List Other Drinks

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.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Crab Bruschetta

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.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Clam Chowder with Bone Marrow

Is bone marrow the best food in the world?  Puede ser.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Clam Chowder After

Clam chowder?  Not so Argentine.  Exposed brick, with soft glowing, lamp light?  Very Argentine.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Interior Design

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.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Chorizo

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? 

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Scallops and Sweet Corn

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.

OX Portland Argentine Restaurant Parrilla Argentine BBQ SteakI can honestly say, that no true, stereotypical Argentine would appreciate this restaurant.  Provecho, yanquis! 

6 Comments

  1. I love this post, not just because it reminds me of our grand meal, but because it shows the bittersweet feelings around leaving a country—how it’s not always clear whether you miss it or hate it and how references to it are accepted. I have found that for me it’s somewhere at those extremes that love for a place exists.

  2. so jealous you ate here. i have been meaning to go.

  3. well i need to say that i really liked the story, the chorizo was the only thing that i liked from the dishes that u ate,as u already know argentinians don’t eat too much vegetables that’s why i wonder why it was in the menu, i liked the way that they decorated the restaurant it’s true it looks argentinian, maybe if they get a handsome argentinian waiter they will get more clients that’s how marketing works babe!

  4. I am glad I came across your blog because your words about reverse culture shock make me feel less lonely! I recently (well, not that recently, 5 months ago, although sometimes it feels like only 5 minutes ago) got back from nearly 2 years in South America (Chile and 5 weeks in beautiful Argentina). I can totally relate to falling into daydreams about experiences and trying to consolidate your happiness about being home (I am, too) and that pesky nostalgia and feeling of longing for the things that can only be experienced there. Trying to process what sometimes feels like another life definitely seems to take a long time. I wish you much luck with your new adventures back home in the U.S.

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