It is true that La Pipeta is situated in a cellar and that it is neither terribly fashionable nor even slightly elegant. But there is nothing underground about the food.
Bottles of wine, olives, anchovies and preserved red peppers ride the walls with neighborly indiscrimination. Pyramids of olive oil cans rise up from the floor. Haunches of country ham and rounds of salami dangle from wherever someone has thought to sink a nail. Sides of beef age, but not for long, in a glass-fronted refrigerator.
None of this is for effect. The decor mirrors a utilitarian spirit one flight down at the corner of Lavalle and San Martin streets in downtown Buenos Aires.
La Pipeta, where businessmen scheme and lovers moon over tablecloths of square-cut paper, is a food happening. Even more, La Pipeta typifies the quality-without-pretension school of dining that is the savory trademark of a gourmand metropolis where food counts more than frills.
As a tribute to its European heritage and its bountiful farms, Argentina is one country in which it is almost impossible for even the most callow visitor to get a bad meal. Every Argentine has a favorite neighborhood refuge for fresh and hearty food that is also inexpensive. La Pipeta is more frequently visited than most of its ilk because it is in the commercial heart of the city.
Like all Argentine restaurants, the menu reflects Spanish and Italian origins leavened by home-grown, range-fed beef that has few peers. And, again faithful to Argentine tradition, La Pipeta is long on meat and pasta, short on fish and vegetables.
For openers, try provoleta a la parrilla , a wheel of hard provolone cheese grilled lightly with olive oil and parsley, and a chorizo , a plump Argentine sausage.
An unbeatable main course is steak, in any one of its Gargantuan Argentine guises, and a mixed salad. Drink cold beer or the earthy, red house wine by the carafe. Add a charlotte , a slab of vanilla ice cream smothered with piping-hot chocolate sauce, and the entire bill will not reach $6.
You can't linger over the coffee at La Pipeta; they don't serve coffee. And there is always a hungry Argentine waiting for your table to become free.
La Pipeta, San Martin 498; telephone 393-5564.