I've reached the ass-end of the world, and it's actually quite lovely! No joke...after a three hour flight to Dallas followed by a ten hour flight to Buenos Aires, then a fourty-five minute bus ride to Aeroparque and a four hour flight to Ushuaia, you just run out of room. There ain't much further you can travel. In fact, when looking at the expansion patterns of early man, starting in the Rift Valley, across the Bering Strait land bridge, through the Americas - this was the last place they landed. 10,000 years ago, when civilizations were starting to develop in earnest (good morning Mesopotamia!), the last place mankind reached was here. Tierra Del Fuego. Cape Horn. Bumfuck Argentina.
There's a barren windswept quality to the place. Rugged mountains, frigid seas. Big ice-breakers and Antartica-bound cruise ships. Yet it is still Argentina, which means really-charming, European (almost), civilized, and... well-fed. Stunning, actually. And who would expect, a place to find a really good meal. Really good.
I'd read about the quality restaurants in Ushuaia, but that's very relative and subjective. I certainly can't trust Yelp or Tripadvisor for relevant reviews. Ness, the only recommendation resource of any worth, hasn't expanded outside of the USA, so I'm left to my own devices. Tales of legendary fish at a place called Kaupè lured us to try, even though prices were more in line with Danko than Ushuaia. Lonely Planet ranked this place the #4 restaurant in South America. Here? Really?
We entered a lovely house-like dining room where the chef-owner was standing in his whites, talking to guests. The place had a hush to it like many temples-of-food I'd visited in the past. Not as quiet as French Laundry, but that similar anticipatory reverence. The view is lovely, with large windows opening up to the Channel Beagle. There were large hunks of pure white fish on most plates, blinding white, impossibly white. There were few accoutrements.
We ordered from a small food menu and a massive wine list of argentine varietals. Katia would have a Sea Bass in black butter. She was craving fish, singing about it, dancing at the thought after our two days of travel and airplane food. King Crab in the chef's sauce for me. Carpaccio and scallop appetizers. Malbec.
Hot yummy house-made bread was delivered with a spinach cream in lieu of butter. Heavenly. The wine was sublime. Scallops were fresh and tasty swimming in a light interpretation of Lyonaisse. The carpaccio was outrageous, topped with a local cheese and large capers. Everyone talks about the quality of Argentine beef. My first taste was raw and it was magic.
But it was the white brick of fish we wanted. When it came to the table we nearly needed sunglasses. Did I mention it was snow white? One bite and Katia melted: "best fish I've ever had". The sauce was excellent, but it really just complimented the moist and tender sea bass. It didn't need much. We plowed through it with abandon, almost treating my wonderful king crab as a side dish.
A quick non sequitur. The one side dish we did have were some potatoes with a light mustard sauce. Any time I travel, potatoes are extremely different than home. Small in stature, deep in flavor, the non-US potato is a treat. Most US potatoes leave me flat. Why can't we figure this one out. Even the best farmers market potatoes seem to lack that non-US depth of flavor. Maybe it's the water?
Which leads me to the title of this post. After our meal we sat and talked with the chef until closing time. He was quiet and affable, self-taught...a local, in fact. This left me quizzical. what was his preparation of this fish, what was the technique? How did he accomplish what our trained chefs in SF seem to miss so often with fish? He smiled and said "it's the ingredients" (I've added the 'stupid' part to reflect my own snarkiness). The fish, the beef, the potatoes - he gets them every day from the source and they happen to be very good sources.
I'll give the man more credit for his handling of these ingredient, but as we all quest for perfection in our culinary goals it's not a bad mantra to keep in our heads: As we murder, molest, marinade and mangle our food sometime we need to just step back, get to the root of flavor and remember that "It's the ingredients, stupid".