Matt Lauer Goes To Argentina: Should You?

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With the dollar hitting new lows against the Euro every day, it's nice to know there's one delightful destination where the beleaguered greenback is still treated with respect. This place is such a hotspot that this morning on the TODAY show (GE), Matt Lauer popped up, as part of his popular travel segment, "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" In this case, it was Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Like an increasing number of Americans, my brother recently bought an apartment there both as an investment and because he hates the Northern Hemisphere's harsh winters. For a fraction of the price of a nondescript studio in Brooklyn or Queens, for example, you can buy a pre-war, three or four bedroom apartment with 14' ceilings in one of Buenos Aires' best neighborhoods.

But you don't have to buy an apartment to feel like a big spender. Argentina is justifiably famous for its steaks and a filet mignon dinner for four at Tierra De Los Parilleros, an elegant restaurant in the Puerto Madero district where the waiters dress like gauchos, costs around $60. Lunch is also a festive occasion, Argentineans treating it with the same leisurely reverence that Europeans do. Favorite establishments among the business lunch crowd include El Establo in Microcentro, the business district, where the Proveleta – a baked provolone appetizer with oregano – is worth every calorie it adds to your waistline, and only costs around $5. There's also the aptly named Palacio De Las Papas Fritas where the fries are weightless and an entire meal, including steak, salad, wine or beer, and dessert runs about $10. In most restaurants a bottle of top flight Malbec might run as little as $15. The biggest bargains there now seem to be in food and wine.

But for sheer gastronomical excess I'd recommend the dessert buffet at the new Park Hyatt Hotel. It boasts all the chocolate mousse, crème caramel, tiramisu and crème anglais you can eat while relaxing in the tropical warmth on its candlelit, multi-leveled terrace or in the dining room itself, which has the added virtue not only of being air-conditioned but within arm's reach of the buffet table.

Nonetheless, with the exception of leather goods, Argentina probably isn't one of those places where you'll want to arrive with an empty suitcase, as Europeans visiting New York do these days. Imported good remain as expensive, if not more so, than they are in the States. Don't think you'll go down there and buy an iPod for $50 or a Rolex Constellation for a couple of hundred dollars. And, my wife and kids were unimpressed with the sweaters I brought back, pointing out that they weren't really cashmere, but some funky blend called "cashmir." Fortunately, I was able to absorb the loss – they only cost $25 each.

Finally, Buenos Aires ain't Paris. Some of its tree-lined boulevards do remind you of the City of Lights—that is if you don't look too closely. While the economy is now growing at a robust 8% a year, Argentina is still recovering from the ruinous economic policies of the 1990s when it suffered hyperinflation and unemployment ran at 25%. Cheap storefronts have been slapped on elegant a fin-de-siècle buildings. Condensation from air-conditioning seems to drip from every overhang. The city's noisy buses belch noxious fumes. Even some of the city's finer restaurants are in urgent need of some spackle and a fresh coat of paint. And, the electricity went out during a showing I attended of There Will Be Blood at the city's most posh movie palace.

I never made it to Patagonia, Argentina’s glacier filled Alaska, a destination for many tourists visiting the country, but I did spend an entirely pleasant afternoon at the roof pool of the Hilton Hotel. Membership for the day was a not inconsequential sixty U.S. dollars. But it would have been wrong to head back to New York without a tan. Even though it’s fall there now, you can still get a tan. Besides, if you consider how much I saved on food and board, I could afford to splurge. That’s good because unlike Matt Lauer, I wasn’t covered on the TODAY show budget!

 

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