Miracles?

2010.Oct.18 Monday · 8 comments

in Restaurants

“It requires only two things to win credit for a miracle: a mountebank and a number of silly women.”

– Marquis de Sade

A bit over three years ago, I reviewed what was to become one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Almanza – I loved the food, the ambiance, the service, and enjoyed, over time, getting to know the chef, Martín Baquero, a bit. Until the point when it closed in early 2009, I made it a point to eat there once every few weeks. Then, it was gone. I heard rumors that he was going to be re-opening here in Recoleta, and, indeed, at some point last year, he did, opening the doors on El Almacén de los Milagros, at Av. Quintana 210, 4814-0533 in the space that had been La Despensa, another little gem that disappeared too quickly. [Closed]

I stopped by a few times, thinking about eating there, but Martín was never to be found, and at some point, one of his staff admitted to me that he simply isn’t – he moved to neighboring Uruguay, and spends his time there, occasionally checking in on the restaurant. Somehow, that left me less interested. But sooner or later I was bound to get around to the place, and recently did. It is, for me, a truism that an absentee chef generally leads to a lack of consistency and/or quality. Not always, sometimes the sous chef, or chef de cuisine, left in charge, shines and becomes known for their own creativity. But not often.

El Almacen de los Milagros - canneloni
My problem here is that I find myself in the position comparing and wanting to like the place as much as I liked Almanza, and I simply don’t. The ambiance is not near as nice, though it is still a pretty little place. The service is just as good, just as friendly, and just as efficient. The food, well, here’s where it gets hard. I didn’t really try much of it. In fact, all I had was his signature amuse bouche of rabbit pate, still delicious and a nice start, and one really, really, average pasta. It was bland – canneloni filled with a ricotta, walnut and herb stuffing, topped with melted cheese and mushrooms – and devoid of seasoning. Not at all the quality of the food that I used to dine on with delight at Almanza.

So why didn’t I try more? That’s easy. The place is expensive. I should make that EXPENSIVE. Appetizers run 40-50 pesos, main courses, like the pasta, run 60-80, and desserts run 30-40. That makes a three course meal, before the high prices of wine, bottled water, and a ridiculous 10 peso/person “cover charge”, 150 pesos – with those things thrown in, even just a glass of the house wine, it tops 200. And that’s for lunch. Bluntly, I didn’t have the money with me, and I’m not sure that I’m quite up for going back and giving it a shot at those prices. True, the one tasteless pasta could have been a fluke – I did ask for salt and pepper and received both, which helped, but interestingly, no one asked if I liked the dish, the one chink in the otherwise flawless service. It’s possible that once again this place could be one of my favorites in the city were I to have tried something else, or were I to in the future – the question is, at those prices, and with the chef whose name is on the door in absentia, even if he is a friend, will I?

(I would note, in my 2007 review linked above for La Despensa, that I commented on it getting pricey for the ‘hood, so perhaps this is just a trend for a neighborhood that is known for its wealth….)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael October 24, 2010 at 11:14

This is one of my favorite restaurants in BA…I am a little surprised by your critique. I mean, the prices of everything in that neighborhood are high compared with elsewhere in the city. My experience was that the food and service were excellent and the wine list one of the finest and extensive of any in BA. I would suggest you return (with more cash) and try it for dinner.

dan October 24, 2010 at 12:14

I was surprised as well, given how much I’ve liked Martín’s food at his previous location – and as noted, the service was indeed excellent. I also obviously only tried one dish, and it might, as I noted, not have been representative – but, it was served, and though it was acceptable, it wasn’t remotely a great dish, whereas at his previous spot, I never had anything I didn’t love – you can even look at my writeup of Almanza and see a marked difference in just basic presentation. I do think when a truly exceptional chef is no longer working in his kitchen it does have an effect – it may be that that particular day someone cut some corners, but the dish was the dish, and someone in the kitchen should have done something as simple as taste the sauce and filling to see if they had been seasoned properly – they hadn’t.

And yes, while that part of Recoleta is more expensive than other parts of the city, I’m sorry, 200+ pesos for a three-course lunch is out of line, even for there. Since I only had a glass of wine, I can’t speak to the wine list, it may or may not be an excellent one – however, given that I use the same wine I had in my own restaurant, and the per glass price was 30% more than the wholesale price of the entire bottle, I find that excessive. Still, when it comes down to it, this was simply my experience on a one time visit – it’s obviously not a full critique – the question again is whether or not I’d be willing to spring for more at those prices.

anne mac donald October 24, 2010 at 16:08

You obviously have more problems than with food in your life given your quote from Marquis De Sade at the outset of your review. Very telling. I had a delicious dinner at this restaurant. We had excellent service and the wine list was one of the best in the city. I have recommended it to all my friends who come to Buenos Aires and have had no complaints thus far. I hope anyone who reads your blog will rethink your reviews.

dan October 24, 2010 at 20:34

Anne, I think you’re reading far too much into a random quote about miracles that I found amusing the day I wrote this up. Look, I like the chef, I like the place (just not as much as his previous restaurant), I had one dish that I don’t think lived up to my past experiences with the chef, and I think it’s too expensive. I didn’t recommend against the place, in fact, I noted that given my past history with the chef that it might become one of my favorite places if I tried something else, and preferably if it was less expensive. That’s as far as it goes. That you have a disagreement with one writeup (and again, just about one plate of pasta) of the 500+ on this site over nearly 6 years, and that leads you to the conclusion that I can’t be trusted, is, as you put it, very telling.

As to those who use my reviews, not everyone agrees with everything I write, there are many restaurants that I’m in disagreement with many people about. I don’t hold myself out as a restaurant critic, nor offer some sort of definitive guide to BA restaurants – this is simply a blog that, amongst other things, includes my experiences when I eat out. Any assumption of some sort of weight beyond that is an inference that you’ve drawn, not one of my intent, something I’ve stated many times.

harold bourque October 26, 2010 at 23:03

Last year I visited Restaurant Moreno. We were 4 people full of
expectations due to the fact that the chef claimed to have
worked at El Bulli, We reserved monthes in advance. Our dreams
were soon crushed. The service was sub-level, unprofessional
and indifferent. The young woman who took our order for
drinks have no idea about the wines in the list, brought double
of what we ordered and refuseed to take it back, From there every
thing went downhill, the place was empty.Question, have you
eaten there? and if so, what is your opinion? Is the restaurant still in business? Love to hear from you
sincerely Harold Bourque

dan October 27, 2010 at 13:17

Harold, yes, I’ve been there and reviewed it and had similar thoughts about the service – http://www.saltshaker.net/20091205/feel-the-machine-love

The whole “the chef worked at El Bulli” thing is a bit silly in the culinary world. El Bulli is famous for having vast numbers of what are called stages, i.e., cooks who want to hang out and learn for a couple of weeks to a month, for free, in their kitchen. None of these people likely really ever worked there as employees, they simply went and hung out for a short time – the chef at Moreno and at La Vineria de Gaulterio Bolivar – both of whom lay claim to having worked there, as I understand it, among them. (It doesn’t take much consideration to these claims to realize how hollow they are – it’s near impossible for a non-EU citizen to be hired to work in an EU based restaurant, it’s not like the good old days when you could simply fly off to Europe and find work as a cook.)

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