Description of a Struggle

2008.May.11 Sunday · 1 comment

in Restaurants

“To do justice to the figure of Kafka in its purity and its peculiar beauty one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of a failure.”

– Walter Benjamin, theologian, essayist

Buenos Aires – There’s no question that much of what Franz Kafka wrote had a major impact on the western literature that followed. He is best known, perhaps, for his works (many of which were published posthumously) that reflect the struggle of the ordinary man against a faceless, nameless, bureaucracy. No wonder his work is popular here in Argentina. Popular enough that someone recently decided to open and name a restaurant after him, Kafka en Praga, Paraguay 1846, in Recoleta. But as Dr. Benjamin notes in the quote above, it’s worth remembering that essentially what Kafka wrote about was a certain grace in the face of failure. That may end up applying to this restaurant. [Closed]

Kafka en Praga - salmon ravioliNow, that’s not to say that it’s horrible, or even bad. It’s not to say that I see the end in sight. The place has a lot of promise – some good ideas – I’d first heard about this from a couple of people who let me know that Kafka en Praga actually offers flights of wines on their menu, a chance to sample several similar wines to get a sense of a particular grape or style. Their food has the seeds of creativity in it. They’re clearly artistically minded – dishes are plated with a certain flair, the room is well decorated and comfortable. The two waiters on board the night we were there were both friendly, neither of them managing the usual complete avoidance of eye contact with guests when they needed something, so we, and the few others who were there, were well attended. And, the prices aren’t bad.

Kafka en Praga - salmon with ratatouilleBut the problems are there, though easily fixable. The wine flights do exist – or at least one – and it’s only a few average quality Malbecs – and that’s all they were offering by the glass. On the flip side, there were a variety of bottles around from their moderate wine list, and when I spotted one that I particularly like, the Bodega Lariviere-Yturbe Cuatro Estaciones, they were happy to open it and pour a glass for me. That earns them big points and says they’re on the right track. The food, as mentioned, is creative, and prettily presented. It’s even pretty well seasoned. It was also, at least on the night we were there, all overcooked. The kitchen is interminably slow – when we arrived there was one other person in the place, sitting at the bar and just finishing a snack and glass of wine. By the time we left, there were two couples at different tables. Yet, somehow, it took nearly forty minutes from the time we ordered until our food arrived on the table.

Kafka en Praga - bbq porkchops with sweet potatoesAnd we didn’t order anything particularly elaborate – which suggests, along with the overcooking, that either whoever was in the kitchen was out of their depth, or at least one component of one of the dishes simply hadn’t been prepared in advance and had to be started from scratch. Still, there was nothing that ought to have taken that long… ravioli (which on the menu were described as raviolones, or big ravioli, these weren’t, they were small, regular, roughly 1½” on a side versions) filled with salmon and topped with a tomato basil sauce; pan-seared salmon, suggested by the waiter to be medium rare, requested medium, and delivered far into well done territory, accompanied by a quite good ratatouille; and barbecued pork with sweet potatoes, likewise finished off to a leathery consistency. Our first comment was to note how small the portions were – but that just brings to mind the lines from Annie Hall…

…two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

I realize that on the face of it, it sounds like this place isn’t worth heading to. And that may turn out to be the case. But, we enjoyed the room and the service, and the food, was flavorful and creative – just not quite right… The question is, I suppose, whether they’re going to wake up and realize they need to fix a few pretty minor things – a more interesting selection of wines by the glass, or, just make the offer that anything on the wine list is available that way (which would require an investment in some sort of wine saver system); speed up the kitchen, and watch the overcooking. All easily correctable, and could be done overnight without problem. Let’s hope they get the message, because this place could be a great addition to the neighborhood.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ken Sternberg May 11, 2008 at 11:24

Maybe this restaurant will undergo a metamorphosis.

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