“All discarded lovers should be given a second chance. But, with someone else.”
– Mae West
Buenos Aires – …Especially when people keep telling you you’re wrong, wrong, wrong… I mean, I could dig in my heels and refuse, but that’s silly. What is he going on about…? Almost a year ago, I critiqued my lunch with a local friend at a small venue, Restó, Montevideo 938. I gave it an “okay” rating, sort of the equivalent of a thumb’s up, without the thumb. I thought it was overpriced, the portions small, and that it was creative, but that given the hype surrounding the place (which I suppose isn’t their fault), lacking in creativity. I can’t say I’ve been deluged with letters in support of the chef, María Barrutia, but I have heard over the last year, from maybe a dozen people, and been told by more than one of them that not only am I simply wrong, but that it’s their favorite restaurant in the city. So, I’ve now been back to check it out this last week, with a new friend, an Argentine living abroad in Spain, who was back visiting his family and proposed meeting up there. He’d been there twice before, and was waffling on his experience of the place. Foodies, if I can use that term, are like that.
So, we met up at Restó. We had the same waitress that I had the last time, charming, efficient, friendly – in fact, that describes all the staff, Buenos Aires could use many more like them. And we had, well, the same experience that I’ve had each time, actually possibly a slight downhill from the other two. The food, simply put, is pretty to look at, easy on the eye, attractive. But for me, it’s like using those descriptors when being told about a person you’re about to be sent on a blind date with. You just know that he or she is going to be completely lacking in personality, energy, excitement. And honestly, it’s the same for me with the food at this spot. It’s all very well and good to sit pretty on the plate and call out to be eaten, but I want that siren call to continue on with some substance, some flavor, some… thing, that just isn’t there in the offerings of this restaurant. I mean, just look at them…
…and that turns out to be where my interest stops, and I will leave Restó to those who seem to appreciate it.
The salad was, well, a salad – sweet, but tasteless cherry tomatoes, with two small cubes of watermelon, out of season and tasteless, a slice of nicely cured ham, some okay cheese, and some sprouts, all in a very basic, but too acidic vinaigrette. The duck terrine, lacking in salt, pepper, any condiment whatsoever, topped with pickled figs that were at least interesting. The lamb quite good in and of itself, but served with what had to be the most tasteless mash of eggplant blended with cheap olive oil imagineable, no seasoning, and coated with the same, or so it seemed to both of us, vinaigrette. The quail, virtually the same dish as I’d had on my first visit, lacking in harmony, unseasoned – this is the downhill I mentioned above – the first time, at least, everything was reasonably well seasoned, this time, it was as if the kitchen has simply stopped using salt and pepper when they cook – perhaps leaving it to, yet again, seemingly the same vinaigrette drizzled on it.
I barely want to consider the ill-conceived dessert, a lemon and olive oil crema in a cylindrical cookie. Actually that’s not fair – the conception was fine – the execution was inedible. The olive oil in the crema was either very cheap, or very old, and way too overpowering, the lemon flavor bitter, as if they’d use the pith and peel rather than the juice, the whole thing out of balance, and not a crema at all, but a gelled mass that was, to be kind, rubbery. We did get a moment’s chuckle out of the translation of caqui on the menu into khaki, which, while part of the scientific name of the accompanying fruit, Diospyros khaki L., the English name is persimmon – khaki is the color of a military uniform. There was also a completely forgetable five selection cheese plate – there are too many good, artesanal, Argentine cheeses around to excuse serving five equally flavorless, refrigerator cold, bits of supermarket queso.
I stand by my original thoughts on the place – it’s expensive, for small portions, with creative ideas, but merely repeat my closing thought – Restó, for me, falls short in the execution of a very good idea.