A Trio of Disappointments

2006.Aug.23 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Restaurants

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A trio of mini-reviews, as I don’t feel like I got a solid sense of any of these places, but am also unlikely to go back to any of them. So, I’ll just give some impressions and leave you to make your own decisions on whether or not to try them out.

Melia Bistro, Posadas 1557, Recoleta – I’m not normally a fan of hotel restaurants. Most of them serve food that could have been topped by the cooks in my high school cafeteria, they just plate it pretty. Sort of like putting a tux on that kid from shop class and then being surprised when he spits a wad of tobacco in the middle of the dance floor. Every now and again I’m surprised, and I’ve had good meals at one or another, but they’re the exception that proves the rule, as the saying goes. I also have prior experience in the dining room of a Melia hotel which didn’t bode well. At the same time, we were only having lunch, and, as you’ll see, basically just salads and sanwiches, so although I have a sense of what they’re likely to turn out of the kitchen, it’s possible that when it comes to full meals they offer something better.

Still, we’d decided on checking out lunch at the Melia Recoleta Plaza Boutique Hotel (how’s that for a mouthful) mostly because several times walking by we’d seen signs for live jazz. Turns out the live jazz show is Thursday evenings only (20 peso drink minimum per person, or dinner and show for 90… you can do the math on what dinner’s costing). I’m not going to say that lunch was a disaster. It wasn’t. I’m not going to say it was a disappointment. It wasn’t. But that’s only because our expectations weren’t high. The room is beautiful, as is the lobby of the hotel, one of the more nicely appointed hotel lobbies and restaurants I’ve seen around here.

Melia Bistro - langostino appetizerThe restaurant was empty other than a single gentleman having coffee while reading a paper. Two people wandered in at one point during our meal, but after looking at the menu, promptly left. I’m thinking we should have done the same. Appetizers – the verdes y crocantes, described as a salad of mixed greens and croutons was an inordinately large bowl of lettuces with a peacock’s tail worth of thinly sliced and toasted breads, enough bread to have kept us both busy for an afternoon, the salad fresh, but nothing interesting, and only oil and vinegar (which is common here) available; the other, this plate of langostinos supposed with a tomato stuffed with “mushroom caviar” – the caviar a mix of cold, chopped button mushrooms in runny mayonnaise, the langostinos not langostinos, but five rather small shrimp. For main courses we went with simple sandwiches, a club sandwich and a burger – the former simply not a club sandwich, but merely a chicken sandwich with some lettuce and a slice of lunchmeat ham on it, the latter the not unexpected thin patty of meat, though topped with lots of lettuce, melted cheese, the same ham (which the waiter had said was crispy bacon), and an over-fried egg. Cute little dishes of french fries accompanied each, not bad fries, along with miniscule dishes of ketchup and mayo – each no more than a tablespoon’s worth – a request for more, and some mustard, resulted in larger dishes of all three, but took about ten minutes to accomplish. Still, at 65 pesos apiece for salads and sandwiches, it’s outrageous.

Abríl, Balcarce 722, San Telmo – Not to be confused with the cafe of the same name along Arenales in Recoleta, this is a small, bistro-ish spot in a quiet corner of San Telmo. One of those places that you walk in and immediately feel comfortable and welcome. One of the places, that as my friend Mickey pointed out, the chef is proud enough of to put his name on the awning outside, something that’s classic in Europe, but rarely seen here. My friends had eaten dinner here a few days before and enjoyed it thoroughly, and thought I would too. It turns out that at lunch they only offer a simple menú ejecutivo, with very limited options, and from what they tell me, the food, while in the same general style, was not remotely like what is available at dinner. That’s a shame, because the place was packed, and I’d bet they could easily offer more options, or a full menu, and do brilliantly.

The room is painted in a sort of cinnabar color, and their are little Japanese touches scattered here and there, though there’s nothing Japanese about the food – slightly discordant, but I like the room anyway. It’s lit well – not too bright, not to dim, just perfect for the day time; if they do as well at night, they’re one up on 99% of the restaurants in town.

Abril - carre de cerdoThe appetizer choices were a simple green salad, disappointingly small, mostly because it was a very fresh mix of nice greens, but literally no more than a few mouthfuls; or an equally tiny roasted eggplant and pepper salad. No hot appetizers, no soups, just two salads. There were four main courses, and three of us ordered this same carre de cerdo, which is a nice filet of pork. The meat itself quite tasty and properly cooked – not overdone and dry, just a touch past medium. It’s topped with a strange, soupy coleslaw, made with watery mayonnaise, and underneath was another sauce that I think was more of the watery mayonnaise mixed with balsamic vinegar. The flavors worked, but the whole thing was a bit of a liquid mess. We shared one dessert, a quite good natilla de chocolate, or more simply, chocolate pudding. On the strength of my friends’ recommendation, I may go back at some point in the future when I’m in the neighborhood… we shall see.

[Note: this restaurant has closed.]

Zelanda Hand Resto, Humboldt 1897, Palermo viejo – Don’t ask me what a “Hand Resto” is, I tried to get an explanation from our waiter, who launched into a recitation about the chef having worked in New Zealand and Australia and something about something that made no sense and he didn’t even seem to realized that “Hand” was an English word. He gave up with a “it’s just the way it is”. I thought perhaps there was a kiwi-aussie term of the same for some type of bistro, but can’t find any evidence of that on looking today. I’ve walked past the place several times, and been intrigued by its assertion of “Austral-Asian Cuisine”, and we were in the neighborhood having drinks with friends, so we finally popped in. Empty as it always seems to be – I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than half a dozen folk in the place, while restaurants around it are often teeming with people. There were three young ladies having coffee and chatting at 10:30 at night. No one else. Not a good sign, but we thought we’d give it a go.

The room is brightly lit and a little bit formal feeling for the neighborhood. It’s all hard surfaces, and despite the few number of people in it was a trifle loud – though a lot of that turned out to be one man who may have been the owner or manager chatting at high volume with the three waiter/bartenders (more than the room would probably need if it was full, the place isn’t big) – when he finallly left midway through dinner, the room got much more tranquil. No one else even glanced at the place the rest of the evening, all heading for other locations. We ordered wine, from the half dozen selections left available out of their winelist, which the waiter didn’t bother to present as he said, “we really don’t have anything that’s on it, just a few bottles of things behind the bar.”

It’s actually a shame, because some of the food is quite good. It’s also hit and miss. It’s definitely Asian influenced, though I didn’t see anything that I would have particularly pointed towards as “Austral” influenced; on the other hand, having spent a fair amount of time in Sydney, modern Australian cooking is all over the map. We started with the mixed appetizer plate – more than enough for two people to share – two greasy and soggy lamb filled fried springrolls, two reasonably good pickled vegetable cold springrolls, and half a dozen really excellent fried wontons graced one of the two plates placed on the table; the other held three deep fried wonton skins, three pieces of tempura battered fried chicken which was pretty good, and half a dozen very iffy vegetable fritters. A bowl of soy and a bowl of fairly good chutney accompanied the plates. We moved on to share a plate of “Asian coleslaw” – a mistake both in volume, as the appetizers were more than enough, and in and of itself – it was a very large plate of mixed fresh greens and wads of wilted dill and parsley (why use pristinely fresh greens and then mar it with over the hill herbs?), and it was all mixed with shaved bits of green onion, red cabbage, and papaya. Nothing coleslaw-ish about it unless you count that it had some cabbage in it. No dressing, just the usual oil and vinegar, and a very large peppermill, no salt.

Zelanda - red curryOn the other hand, the main courses were both good. The red curry of chicken pictured here (sorry for the camera phone again), was dead-on what it should be. A beautiful mix of spicy hot red curry and coconut milk, packed full of chicken and vegetables, really excellent. Disappointingly it was accompanied by flavorless, overcooked, mashed together, “jasmine rice”. The other dish, interestingly presented, a tournedo of lomo (possibly the smallest piece of lomo ever served in Buenos Aires) was served beautifully rare, wrapped in a bamboo leaf, which after removing was whisked away by our waiter, the whole thing atop a very interesting mix of hummus, pink grapefruit sections, greens, and crispy fried onions. The hummus could have been pureed a bit better, there were, here and there, partially unpureed chickpeas, but the flavors were great. We finished with a shared passionfruit parfait with melted chocolate ganache… only without the chocolate, which we pointed out to our waiter after getting his attention again – he disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later to announce they didn’t have any – no apology, nothing offered to make up for that we were getting half the dessert. Glad we didn’t order the chocolate marquise…we’d have gotten a sprig of mint on a plate.

So, why not go back to this one? First, I doubt it will be there much longer, I can’t imagine them continuing to survive on the volume of business that it seems they do, though perhaps I’m just not seeing it when busy. (I’m betting not, the winelist is probably an indication of them not being able to get deliveries, which probably means they’re not paying their bills, or they are, but can’t afford to order more.) Second, too many missteps and too many excuses. We heard more than once from our waiter when something was missing or not quite right – well, yesterday was a holiday, and we don’t have this or that, and the cooks aren’t really doing things like they normally would… then for god’s sake, don’t offer it; cut your menu back for the day. Also, a trifle pricey, though not outrageously so, it ran us, with tip, about 65 pesos apiece. Certainly a better deal than the hotel lunch above for the same price!

[Note: this restaurant has closed.]

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