“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Buenos Aires – I received an e-mail a few days ago from a local friend suggesting I check out an Armenian tenedor libre that he’d wandered across out in Villa Crespo. First, knowing how he tends to stay local to Recoleta and Palermo, I want to know what he was doing in Villa Crespo… He stated in no uncertain terms that food quality far surpassed my heretofore favorite restaurant of this style, and regular hangout (easily 2-3 times a month), Sarkis. He suggested checking out the review on the Guia Oleo, our local small scale version of a Zagat’s online guide. It indeed received good marks for food, and also showed three locations in the city, one of which is relatively close to home in Palermo – so a couple of us popped over to check out Garbis, on Scalabrini Ortiz off the corner of Cerviño.
We were the first folks in the door, though others soon followed – it’s a decent ambiance, done up in a sort of burgundy and brown color scheme, with a well laid-out buffet bar at the front. The options are basically for a complete tenedor libre – at 30 pesos, a true all you can eat – you have unlimited trips to the cold appetizer bar and dessert bar, and in-between, you can order as many hot plates as you like off the menu. There are also two more limited options – at 15 pesos for a main course plate and dessert or coffee only, and 20 pesos for the same plus a selection of any three items from the cold appetizer bar.
For me, easily the most interesting part was the cold appetizer/salad bar. The standouts were a roasted eggplant and cashew salad, a curried chicken salad, really good white bean salad, and an excellent chopped liver. On the other hand, the dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, were solid pasty lumps that were inedible, the babaganoush and hummus were lemony enough to support the citrus industry by themselves, and the tabouleh was just plain unpleasant. There was also an unidentified green paste – maybe peas? – that was sort of flavorless. I did go back for more of the eggplant and cashew salad.
The main courses were just as uneven. The lehmayun, or open arab-style empanada had chewy, flavorless crust, and decent but not interesting topping. The kebbe hervido, a sort of simmered meat and wheat ball, was outstanding and I could easily make a meal of them. The guefelte fish was light and fluffy, but was very sour, and not particularly pleasant to eat – I only ate half. The waiter’s recommendation for the house specialty of vegetable moussaka was about as appetizing as the photo looks, that is, not. A shishkebab with rice pilaf was good, but not great – nicely spiced, but the meat was a bit on the low quality side. I will say that throughout, our waiter was cheerful, friendly, and helpful, and definitely made the experience better – if he hadn’t been, despite the few good dishes, I think I’d probably completely pan this place. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder at my friend’s tastes – but then, he did specify the Villa Crespo locale, so perhaps there’s a difference, and I will be checking that one out at some point in the future – and he still insists the experience was quite different from what I’m describing here – I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
One of the things he had specifically mentioned was the outstanding bakhlava, as among the best he’s ever had. The version I had was a dense, honey soaked, chewy mess – with no nut filling – and wouldn’t make it onto the scale of “good”, let along “best”. The same could be said of the other traditional desserts I tried – very dense, to the point of hard to bite into – the only one I liked the little nut covered cookie, which was well flavored and delicate. The café árabe was no stronger than a typical espresso, though with good flavor. Overall, this was an okay experience, with food that was of catering hall quality, though far better service. We shall see, one day, what Villa Crespo holds…