Downtown Buenos Aires was once a culinary wasteland, with few quick options for the neighborhood's enormous daytime population. Thankfully, it's starting to change. And the brains behind Fresco, a new all-organic deli, don't just want to revitalize the way the neighborhood eats: They also want to change the way that Argentines look at sustainable food.


The braised pork sandwich is sliced isosceles style and stacked like the Tower of Babel. It stands tall on a shiny white plate. A cacophony of sweet onion confit, slow-cooked pork, cheddar cheese and a touch of barbecue sauce, it is starkly different from the sammie that sits opposite. On the other plate is thin-sliced pastrami neatly layered on top of an orderly mix of vegetables between a poppyseed bagel so light and fluffy I thought it might float away. Clean lines are the overarching visual theme throughout the restaurant, seen both in the food presentation and the minimal and airy interior design. It is no wonder that this deli is named Fresco, or "fresh" in English.

 

Fresco is another dot on the map of new ideas in what has historically been a culinary dead zone. The Microcentro business district is densely populated by day, but once the suits loosen their ties and head home this small, unofficial neighborhood feels like a ghost town. However, walk around midday and you will find something rare in a city that values long, sit-down meals: a diverse set of quick lunch options ranging from ramen, sushi, and gourmet hot dogs and burgers to Vietnamese sandwiches, healthy takeaways, arepas, curries and wraps. Fresco is, however, still the first of its kind  a deli with a seasonal, organic menu. 

Fresco via Facebook


This informal lunch counter is an experimental culinary project by owners Eugenia Passini and Sebastián Pertiné, who want to reinvent fast food with their first foray into the restaurant business. The pair has worked the concept so that each aspect of the business stimulates positive change in the community. Ingredients are sourced from verifiably organic producers, “down to the tiniest olive,” and everything is made fresh daily  whatever is left over at the end of the day is donated. It is an ambitious project in a city like Buenos Aires, where access to organic products, at least for most people, is limited to a handful of co-ops and high-end restaurants. 
 

“We knew very well that we wanted to offer fast food that was high-quality and genuinely delicious, with a menu that changed with the seasons,” says Pertiné, who can be found most afternoons at the restaurant greeting guests and explaining the menu and concept. 
 

To bring the big idea to fruition, he and Passini knew that they would have to put together a "dream team" of like-minded culinary giants.
 

Photo by Kevin Vaughn


So they reached out to bartender Renato Giovannoni (owner of speakeasy Florería Atlántico and gin company Principe de los Apostoles), Fernando Trocca (well-known chef and restaurateur, and the owner of Sucre), and Horacio Gallo, interior designer to some of the city’s most recognized eateries. 

 

Getting in touch with them was easier than expected, and done primarily over Facebook

 

“I wrote to Trocca with the naïveté of a little boy, and he, being such a humble guy, accepted the invite to meet with us,”  Pertiné says. Trocca was immediately interested. “The ideas behind Fresco [have] a lot in common with Trocca’s own philosophy: the importance of a seasonal menu and local producers.”

 

The small menu at Fresco includes the aforementioned pastrami bagel, one of the most popular items at the restaurant. A welcome twist on the American classic, the meat is cut paper thin but maintains a dense texture, and the sandwich has a wonderful crunchiness thanks to the pickles and radish. The trout, also served on a bagel, is sourced from the bottom of the Andes and is completely free of hormones and antibiotics; the difference is evident in its vibrant color. 
 

Photo by Kevin Vaughn


The food encourages sharing, which fits with an interior design that favors large communal seating over small, private tables. There are a handful of sandwiches and salads that all can be enjoyed individually but are even better when ordered together and split with a dining companion. Respectable portions of pastries, jars of granola and fruit salads make up healthy dessert options. Fresh juices and lemonade likewise can be shared among eating partners. 

 

The interior of Fresco, which seats 30 to 40 people, is fashioned out of recycled materials and harks back to old-school Buenos Aires cafes with its white tiled columns, marble tabletops and wooden seats. Nothing about the space feels overly manufactured as in many new restaurants, where it has become almost an obsession to appropriate a New York aesthetic rather than modernize Buenos Aires’ own historical cafe culture. It’s a fitting concept for Fresco, considering that the restaurant is located in a historic building in a neighborhood filled with beautiful architectural relics. 


Fresco opened in mid-December, and was easily among the most anticipated projects of the last year. The idea is not to remain as a single downtown cafeteria, but to eventually expand to various locations around the city before building a chain that can spread to other provincial capitals. 
 

Photo by Kevin Vaughn


“The idea is to be more than just a restaurant that sells sandwiches, but a full sensory experience,” says Passini. “In the coming year we will unite our food philosophy with art, music and technology.” 


Time will tell if Passini and Pertiné’s dining concept will take off and spread. But such a fresh idea is sure to become one of the biggest hits of 2016. 


Av. Julio A. Roca 761. 011 4342 1347; somosfresco.com.ar


By Kevin Vaughn

When Kevin isn't writing about Buenos Aires food and culture, he's guiding travelers to Buenos Aires with his intimate arts and lifestyle tours via Buenos Aires Art Tours. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.