“The… difference is that of attitude. But that difference determines who gets ideas and who does not. An apathetic or hostile attitude is the enemy of creative thought. Ideas, like people, flourish when they are welcomed and embraced.”
– Barbara J. Winter, Teacher, Author
Buenos Aires – I arrived about ten to fifteen minutes before the first of my friends. The third was to arrive later. No one else was in the restaurant, and the waiter cheerfully presented me with the winelist, and without waiting a heartbeat asked what I’d like to drink. I asked for a bottle of water. He gave me a look like cold, hard stare, a sneer if I ever saw one, and immediately collected my wine glass and started to take the winelist away. I asked for him to leave it, and he softened – “Oh, maybe one of your friends will have some wine…”. Excuse me, but I didn’t say I wasn’t having any, I haven’t even had a chance to look at the list, I just wanted some water. He didn’t return my wine glass.
Skip forward fifteen minutes… no, make that twenty… twenty-five… thirty… My first friend had arrived and we’d been chatting. And waiting. No one had come back to the table. There was only one other party in the room. The owner of the restaurant had arrived, with an unruly tyke in tow, the former snapping orders as she walked through the small room, and then seating herself at a small bar that fronts the open kitchen – the latter running around the room being… an unruly tyke. The waiter has paid no attention to us now, since bringing my water nearly half an hour earlier. He is now busily showing a chalkboard menu to the other party in the room. I catch the eye of the owner as she surveys the room, and she snaps, “What?” I ask for the menu, she hurls back, “Do I look like a fucking waiter, there’s one in the room, ask him.”
I turn to my friend, who has been to this place several times. He says, “She’s always like that, it’s why we rarely come here, even though we like the food…”. The waiter finishes with the other table, we catch his eye, and he approaches with two chalkboards – on one is the appetizers, on the other the main courses. They’re too big to display on the table side by side, and with deep sighs he switches back and forth between them. Look, I get the whole chalkboard equals today’s market fresh options mystique, but come up with a way that the waiter doesn’t have to stand there while you think about what you want – which just puts pressure on the customer to make a quick decision, and ties up his time that could be better served helping more customers, who by this point were wandering in, and also looking for attention. When we just order main courses, he makes his displeasure clear, “Oh, just that? No appetizers?” and another sneer.
The food was interesting. Not exceptional, not great, interesting… And I mean that in the whole blind date scenario “he/she’s got a nice personality” kind of interesting – well, hmm, no, it’s really the reverse – the food was pretty, it just wasn’t “all that”… A bondiola with caramelized potatoes was tasty, well, actually, the potatoes were – the bondiola (pork shoulder/neck roast) was so dried out it may as well have been packed for an expedition to parts unknown. A piece of grilled salmon smothered in a mountain of salad was at that “squeaky” well done point – you know what I mean. A “black pasta” was more grey, though in some ways that made it more intriguing visually, and was in a watery cream of leek sauce that offered up little in the way of seasoning – a good dose of salt helped.
I find myself wondering why my friends have been recommending this place. Are they (the restaurant, not my friends) having an off day? Is the owner’s attitude just a result of hormones from her pregnancy (oh wait, my friends assert that she’s always been like this). I’m perplexed. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about this place – high marks for food and service – today is the first time I’ve been and the first time someone has mentioned the attitude problem. I don’t know now whether to go back and give this spot another chance… truly, I’ve heard so many good things about it, I love the room, I love the ideas behind the menu items if not the execution that we’ve experienced this day, the owner is a fellow expat making a go of living here in BsAs and apparently being successful. Is this just an emperor’s new clothes syndrome for one of the first spots in San Telmo, for that’s where we are, to give a shot at creative higher end cuisine – or did I miss something?
You might have noted I haven’t said where we were having lunch… I actually debated as I started this post not revealing it, figuring that I’m providing enough info that it’ll be recognizable to some, and, I’m guessing that the owner may read this blog… but in the end, I think I have to say where, and just offer up my unsolicited advice – watch the overcooking, check the seasoning before you send stuff out of the kitchen, and, more than anything else – drop the ‘tude. The spot – Café San Juan, Av. San Juan 450, San Telmo, 4300-1112.
So, do I give it another shot, or not?