“I sometimes like to tinker with poems that have failed, ones that I have sent aside. Even years afterward, I will revisit them if there is something about them that I cannot give up on.”
– John Barton, poet
Over the last five and a half years in BA, I’ve given some reviews, both positive and negative, to a few restaurant that garnered a lot of commentary or e-mail from folk who took the opposite position. It amazes me at sometimes how vituperous people can get for or against something as simple as someone else’s opinion on a meal. It’s as if, at times, they feel like my blog has been a personal attack on their own opinion. It’s not. Really. Often they quote other blogs, or professional restaurant reviewers, or other people in the food industry, who disagree with me, along with some sort of “See, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” As if there were only one opinion to have about a dining spot.
I’ve been accused of mental instability, moral corruption, being on the take from the restaurant, or its competitors, complete lack of (pick one or more): taste, food knowledge, ability to dine in public, palate, skill…. My favorite was someone who, after I criticized a single dish out of an otherwise delightful meal sent me a multi-paragraph e-mail detailing how this lack of recognition of one of the most brilliant presentations on a plate of all human history proved that I’d made up my blog completely, out of whole cloth, probably didn’t live in nor had ever been to Buenos Aires, and likely had never worked in the food industry, but was rather some lowly file clerk in an office basement with dreams of grandeur.
Here’s the scoop – I didn’t give any one of you a single thought when I made my comments (for the most part, I don’t even know who you are) – they were just opinions, based on my personal tastes and experiences. Nothing more, nothing less. Everyone has them. Clearly. Now, at the same time, I’m open to hearing about changes in a place, or, if enough people think I’m off-base, to the possibility that I had an experience that was out of the ordinary for the restaurant, or had an off-night myself. It happens. And so, I have at times gone back to re-review one place or another – sometimes to arrive at the same conclusion, and sometimes not. Here, I present a trio that I’ve gotten to recently….
Nearly four years ago I reviewed a place here in my ‘hood that had recently opened, Santé. I wasn’t excited by it. I didn’t like the ambiance and not particularly the food. The service was great. A recent couple of comments from a reader put it back on my radar – given that he was the only person who has ever commented to me in favor of the place, either on the blog, via e-mail or in person, I’d have likely ignored him, but I had a lunch free recently and thought I’d just go see if anything had changed. It has – the ambiance first of all has been redone – it’s a softer shade of off-white (perhaps just faded with four years under its belt), but at least it didn’t feel like an operating room, and they’ve added some little knickknacks and such around the room. Service is still friendly and helpful. The food… well, mixed. I only tried two dishes – a bruschetta topped with homemade paté which was actually quite good on the flavor side, though a very strange texture – the paté being the consistency of mayonnaise; and, the chicken mole. I have no idea what possessed me to order mole at a place that has nothing else remotely Mexican on the menu, and which I’d recalled wasn’t overly up on the spices – except that my enthusiastic waitress recommended it as the best thing on the menu. But, it was, like the curry on the first visit, anemic. The sauce had all the elements that might go into a classic mole negro, except the chilies – which my waitress reported from the kitchen, they just don’t have or use. So basically it was bittersweet chocolate, some pumpkin seeds, herbs, garlic and salt. It was sweet. And accompanied by overcooked chicken and the same corn chips (at least not stale this time) from the previous visit. At least the side salad of arugula, tomato and mushrooms was delicious and did give me something to eat. I’ll leave this place at just “Okay” in my assessment.
I wasn’t going to include Gôut in this series of revisits. No one protested at length or called my palate into question over my review trashing them 3½ years ago. I doubt I even got an e-mail about it. But, I have heard it mentioned by various neighbors, and customers here at Casa S, over that time. And everyone seemed to really like it. I was passing by and decided to give it another shot. The decor hasn’t really changed, though I think they’ve packed a few more tables into the tiny space. The sulky waitresses have been replaced by two charming, good looking guys, still dressed in black, but actually helpful and paying attention. And they know their audience, because it was, and I just know I’m going to regret saying this, all “women of a certain age” on the day I was there (and generally seems to be when I pass by). The place was near full, and with the exception of one adorable tourist sitting at a table next to me, every seat was occupied by local, Recoleta, “society” women out for a bite for lunch, and the two waiters were playing them like fine tuned violins. One of the women, clearly a regular, had just had her nails done and actually had them cutting up her food for her so that she didn’t have to risk a smudge – and she’d brought them christmas presents. They were all tucking into salads and sandwiches, and glasses of white wine with lots of ice cubes, and there’s a shrill chatter that pervades the room. Oh, the two unshaven mavens I referred to are still there. One stayed behind the counter doing whatever, the other entered at one point and starting beating pillows on the banquettes to remove the dust – in the room (okay, he was probably doing what he thought was plumping them, but it wasn’t working and was annoying) – I glared at him as flotsam floated through the air, he made strange huffing noises and stomped outside where he sat and chain smoked cigarettes and talked on his cell the rest of the time – the waiters rolled their eyes and went back to working the room. The food, I had a sandwich, it was actually quite a bit better than the one I’d written about last time, in fact rather good. Still has that artistic squiggle of balsamic and orange unflavored oil on the plate. I’ll upgrade this place from Not Recommended to Okay.
This one has been the source of much contention, particularly within the expat community. Piola, an outpost of a chain based in Italy with outlets in around a dozen countries now, is often touted as one of the few pizza places in town that turns out “real Italian style” pizza. I’m going to stick to my guns on this one. In form, yes, the pizzas are much more like Neapolitan style pizza than most porteña versions. But they’re missing any umph… i.e., the dough is still tasteless, the sauce as well, and still barely brushing the surface – the toppings are reasonably good, but just not quite right. I took my waitress’ suggestion of the Padana, topped with thin slices of potato, garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella – the potato was undercooked and still had a crunch to it, the garlic was overpowering; at least the mozzarella was pretty decent. And the whole thing needed some seasoning – salt and pepper at the very least, which I added. The room hasn’t really changed, other than the tablecloths are now white with grey scribbles all over them repeating “Love Amor Life” over and over again. The waitstaff, again, ignoring anyone in front and more or less waiting for the customers to come to them. And even though I arrived at 12:30, I was greeted with, “You know, we don’t open until noon” by one staff member passing by my table – I pointed out the time, at which point he went into apology and panic mode, apparently realizing that they weren’t yet setup for lunch and were instead standing around chatting – half an hour late. Prices have gone up, significantly for 3½ years – the small pies run in the high 30s to high 40s and the large from the high 50s to high 60s – so basically 3 times what they were [Edit: April 2014 – prices now running around 130-150 for a large pizza and right around 100 for a small, although obviously the peso has had a precipitous drop against the dollar and euro so for visitors it probably is a better value than it was four years ago.]. I leave this one at just Okay.
More to come….