Lost Opportunity…

2009.Mar.15 Sunday · 12 comments

in Restaurants

“Man finds nothing so intolerable as to be in a state of complete rest, without passions, without occupation, without diversion, without effort. Then he feels his nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness.”

– Blaise Pascal, mathematician, philosopher, physicist

PozoSanto - room

Buenos Aires – There was simply no reason for the place to be empty. Not the night I was there with friend Sandra of the Lonely Planet guides, nor the night that a couple of friends had popped in earlier in the week. True, the place is brand new – a mere five weeks old that evening. The space is simply beautiful, well-appointed with Peruvian artifacts and style – perhaps a trifle religious in nature – but then, PozoSanto, El Salvador 4968, Palermo, 4833-1611, is named after a pilgrimage shrine in Ica, southern Peru. The owners also own a well-known spot in Lima, La Carreta. Regular readers Ruben and Jamais clued me into this spot a couple of weeks back and it sounded delightful, so onto the list it went. And, delightful it was, with the exception of being empty. Oh, during the evening, probably a dozen people entered the room… to look around, get a little explanation from the maitre d’, and then, depart… a shame, because they missed out. [Unfortunately this place has closed.]

Service, impeccable. Perhaps a shade “too correct” – the maitre d’ came over, introduced himself and did a little speech at our table offering his services for any possible need, or mishap. Our waiter did much the same. A touch much, but charming in its own way. The menu, a fascinating fusion of Peruvian flavors married into classic Mediterranean dishes – we’re used to seeing various Peruvian-Asian mashups, so it was exciting to see someone taking a different tack. It is a bit pricey – not over the top pricey, but definitely a splurge sort of place – certainly no more so than many of the higher end restaurants’ prices have reached this year. On to the food.

PozoSanto - Causa San Martin

While we perused the menu, bread was served – a selection of quite good ones, along with both an herbed butter and a spicy cream cheese, and an herbed olive oil – I liked having the options! Sandra wasn’t feeling overly hungry, so just ordered an entree. I decided to give a shot to my favorite Peruvian appetizer, the causa. I have to say, the Causa San Martín, as they termed it, was easily one of the best I’ve ever had – the balance on the chili peppers, lemon, salt was perfect in the potato, I loved that the interior layer was smoothed out by the addition of whipped cream cheese with the avocado and cilantro, rather than mayo, the olive crumble with a couple of slices of chili on the side were a nice visual touch. I didn’t quite get the addition of the three little fish sticks, or, if we’re going to stick with the high end theme, the gougeres – a nice Mediterranean touch, which I’m sure is why they were there, but somehow they seemed like a separate dish – they were delicious – perfectly breaded and seasoned – but there was a sense of disjointedness to it. Still, the causa, amazingly good.

PozoSanto - Salmon with prawn

On to the main courses. Sandra opted for the salmon. I have to admit, I’m not generally a big salmon fan here – it’s all farm-raised by a Canadian company in Chile, and for both flavor (very important, obviously) and ethical reasons (I’m not a big aquaculture fan, especially when it endangers wild stocks), the salmon here just isn’t my first choice. Still, this was cooked well, a touch past the medium requested, but still juicy, and served with a mix of white and black rice, a fried prawn, and a topping of a little Nicoise style onion and olive mix, and a watercress puree underneath. Good. Not exciting, but good – it could use a little tweaking, perhaps a bit more seasoning, or better yet a local fish, but I liked the direction that it was going.

PozoSanto - Aji de Gallina Lasagna

I have mixed feelings about my entree. It was an Ají de Gallina Lasagna, a brilliant sounding combination. First, the chicken dish is a favorite – shreds of chicken stewed in a spicy yellow pepper, cream, and cheese sauce. And layering that into a lasagna in place of bechamel and red meat… sounds like a match made in heaven to me (and look for my version of it coming up one of these days, the idea is inspiring). However, the execution fell just a bit short – not surprisingly, the spice was toned way down for local palates – the ají amarillo barely perceptable. And the chicken, rather than being shreded, was in large chunks – which not only doesn’t quite fit the traditional dish, but made the lasagna a little weird to eat… and lumpy, you know? Still, it’s minor tweaking of a good idea – shred the chicken, add a little more chili, and we’re home free. And, I didn’t leave a crumb on my plate, so it’s not like I was just pushing it around wishfully.

So, overall – top points for the room and service. Bread and the one appetizer we tried, likewise – delicious! Main courses – great ideas, a little short on execution, though mostly, simply in the toned down spices – which likely means someone told them Argentines won’t go for it if the dishes are spicy – still, a balance needs to be found – they could easily ratchet them up a bit and not be overboard for the porteño set, and have enough for those who like the traditional style. Price – expensive – the appetizer was 45 pesos, the entrees were 75 and 65 respectively, a glass of Escorihuela Gascon Viognier, 20 pesos, bottled water 6 each, and the one real negative on the pricing, an 8 peso apiece cubierto charge – at these prices they shouldn’t be tacking one on at all. So, a splurge night – and ask ’em to spice things up a bit, something I’ll do next time I go…. Now, if they could only get some people, some of you perhaps, in there long enough to stay in business, they may just have time to get it all right.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Conor March 16, 2009 at 03:25

Sounds lovely and surprised at it being empty so much. Could the prices be a deterrence. Just out of curiosity, how is the current economic climate hitting the restaurant business in BA. Have you noticed any change in the amount of people going out? If so do you think this might result in lower prices?

dan March 16, 2009 at 08:45

I’m sure there are multiple factors at work, including the price – though, quite a few restaurants with the same or higher prices seem to be steadily busy. I imagine “Peruvian-Mediterranean fusion” isn’t the first thing that leaps to people’s minds when they think of going out. What was surprising was the people who walked in, looked around, looked at a menu and then left – everything about it would have seemed to appeal to someone looking for a nice dinner out, and many of them looked “well-heeled”, so it’s hard to say.

Interestingly, I think the economic climate is causing a weird dichotomy in Buenos Aires – tourism is way off in numbers, but, those who are coming seem to be far wealthier than in the past – I’d guess that BA has become one alternative to exorbitant vacations in Europe and Asia (according to a WSJ article a week or so ago, this is the new spot for newly unemployed investment bankers – so if you want to know where your money disappeared to…). The “backpacker set” has near vanished, while just a year ago they were the most prevalent. The students on overseas study programs are still coming. So, the much cheaper restaurants are thriving, and tend to be filled with locals trying to cut back on spending and visiting students, while high end restaurants seem to be springing up left and right to serve those with lots of spendable cash. And the restaurants in the middle, those that were traditionally the spots that both visitors and locals went are starting to close. The same is noticeable in hotels – the hostels are filled, mostly with students, and the 4 and 5 star hotels are as well. Meanwhile the B&Bs and less expensive hotels have rooms empty.

Conor March 17, 2009 at 17:42

Interesting. Possibly its the fusion idea that may have put people off. If it is too expensive you shy away in case you dont like it and you dont want to take that plunge.

dan March 26, 2009 at 11:47

A nice writeup by friend Pericles on the BA Expats forum on this dinner as well – and I just received a note that they’re holding their April 1st dinner at this place, which I’m glad to hear!

dan March 3, 2010 at 18:42

Revisited Pozo Santo last evening. Pluses and minuses, well, really only one of the latter – they’ve reworded the menu with fanciful names of the dishes on both the Spanish and English editions – most of the names and descriptions tell you little, if anything, about what the dishes are, unless you’re already very familiar with Peruvian food and can make a guess at it. Some of the dishes we simply had to ask. On the plus side, several things – service is still attentive, perhaps even more so, and at the same time, less stiff than it was on that first visit. The food, amazingly good and even a step-up from our first visit – one item after another absolutely spot-on delicious – we tried ceviche, causa, papas a la huancaina, langostinos al ajillo for our starters, all superb, and all good-sized portions. For our main courses, a delicious seco de cordero with a spectacular potato cake aside, an excellent ají de gallina, and two of us each ordered the “Santa Maria”, which told us nothing about the dish, though the waiter aptly described it, and we both were completely enchanted by a delicate baked pasta dish with fresh scallops and an orange cream sauce.

The room, still pretty empty – around a dozen people the entire evening – though it was a Tuesday at the end of February vacation time. Chatted a little with the chef, who popped out to chat, and he says they’re packed on Fridays and Saturdays, but still very slow the rest of the week. Personally, I still think that’s a shame – this is, as far as I’m concerned, the best high-end Peruvian restaurant in the city – both food and ambiance better than Astrid & Gastón, Francesco, Libellula or Sipán.

TMI June 12, 2011 at 14:36

My wife and I dined at PozoSanto on Friday, June 10. Overall, the space is one of the nicest and most comfortable we visited in the city- not too hot or cold, good noise level, spacious while still feeling intimate and with beautiful rustic-modern decor. The service was also very good and waiters very knowledgeable.

Overall, the food was a tad disappointing. It wasn’t because it didn’t taste good- it was just a bit boring. After eating at Bardot a few days earlier, where the food was fantastic and creative, this seemed sort of uninspired. PozoSanto’s best dishes were the Peruvian ones. The ceviche was very nice and balanced and made picante as we requested. We love spicy food and were glad the kitchen responded to our wishes. The main of lechal cordeiro was not as tender as I would have expected and the sauce was rather one-dimensional. The seafood paella-like dish my wife ordered was tasty but also uninspired. The dessert we ordered- some sort of chocolate mousse with another fruit mousse tasted like a a good chocolate pudding- nothing more.

Overall, we enjoyed the experience more for the ambiance than the food. This is an expensive restaurant for BA with drinks costing $40, dessert $40+, cubierto, etc. I do not feel the Mediterranean twist makes this place interesting- perhaps because I lived in Barcelona and Bilbao for three years and have become pretty demanding with this type of cuisine. The Peruvian food is quite good but not at the level of Bardot. The only problem with Bardot in my opinion is the atmosphere- too bar-like and not very comfortable. If I could get Bardot’s food in the PozoSanto space, that would be perfect!

dan June 12, 2011 at 14:49

I’d agree – we hadn’t yet been to Bardot when we discovered PozoSanto, actually, I don’t think it was yet open under the current chef. Although clearly different, Bardot’s food is certainly more creative and still has some touches of Mediterranean influence in it. But the room – PozoSanto really is one of the most handsome rooms in the city, while Bardot, despite not being as loungy as some places around, generally leaves me feeling a little like I should step outside, have a cigarette, and then go home and shower. In a good way.

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