“By not caring too much about what people think, I’m able to think for myself and propagate ideas which are very often unpopular. And I succeed.”
– Albert Ellis, Psychologist
Let the hate mail begin. Let’s just get it over with. The Office, Arévalo 3031, Las Cañitas, was insufferable. Right there. I just pissed off every expat who’s a member of Generation Y, the Peter Pan Generation, the Boomerang Generation, the Echo Boomers – all apparently terms for the current 20-something set, at least according to Wikipedia. Because they love it. All of them. I’m pretty sure of it. Because they were there. The exact same faces that populate Casabar, the Alamo, CBC and a few other hotspots of the same grouping. It was old home week. And they all look excited. Tucking into their food and drink. [This place has closed.]
And, I want(ed) to like the place. Although I don’t have any investment in supporting other expat businesses, there’s a certain automatic affinity, even if we’re separate by a couple of generations (I was a “bicentennial” – it never referred to our 20-something status, but to the year we graduated high school). I mean, come on, a couple of norteamericanos open up a hotspot in the heart (well, off to the side and on down an artery) of Las Cañitas serving up good ole norteamericano bar food – burgers, wings, onion rings, fries – cheese fries, by god, nachos…. They’ve got to do a better job than the locals, no? No. So why is it so popular? Is it just that affinity, that camaraderie? No. It’s not that either. It’s that… well, when you’re in your early twenties, and you’re hanging out with friends at a popular spot, tossing down brewskies (do guys still say that?), this kind of food is exactly what you’re looking for. It hits the spot. It nails it.
But not for us, not for me. Now, we didn’t check out the upstairs, we didn’t stay long enough… no wait, we stayed too long. After finding our way to this spot at the far end of the street, and entering into a bare bones room with a few Warhol soup can posters on the walls, we found ourselves surrounded by gaggles of folk, some sitting, many standing around drinking. Okay, it’s a hangout. Got it. But hey, I’m not your frat bud, I’m a… what do you call it… oh yeah, customer. Treat me like one – a menu, a welcome greeting, some service, if you’re the owner you don’t wander over and just grab a chair from my table, flip it around and sit talking to the table next to me, without asking if I mind. But okay, it’s not a restaurant, not really, it’s a hangout. Oh yeah, and it’s cold – there’s no heat and it’s the same 50 degrees that it is outside, inside. Everyone is wearing their coats, many hats – hell, the one owner we “met” is in a double sweatshirt and a knit wool winter cap.
So after about 10 minutes he wanders up and says something like, “whaddayawant?” Well, a menu for one, don’t know what you have. He apologizes, says they’re short-staffed, returns with a menu, and another 10 minutes goes by before a waitress, the only one it appears, arrives to take a drink order. The first couple of things I try to order are met with “no, we don’t have that”. I finally settle on a michelada, which takes a solid 10 minutes to arrive, and arrives wrong – it shows up as a bottle of Budweiser and what must be a quarter cup of worcestershire sauce in the bottom of a glass. Umm, no. Send it back, my dining companion arrives, she returns fairly swiftly this time, only 2-3 minutes, with a properly made drink (Corona, worcestershire, lemon, hot sauce, salt), and a Corona for him. We order some appetizers to start, figuring on deciding on some burgers afterwards. She tells us there are some half-price specials for the night – quesadillas and wings, we include the latter as we were planning to anyway.
We were so looking forward to another good spot for hot wings. On the menu they’re described as spicy, with a touch of honey and Asian barbecue… which sounds like strange mashup, but we’ll go for it. I don’t know about the Asian barbecue – they were treacly sweet with an overwhelming aroma of onion and ginger powders – that almost artificial smell. Spicy? Not even for a porteño. We ask for hot sauce which arrives in a small dish, no more than a couple of tablespoons of it, and it tastes like chili powder dissolved in oil. Looks it too. We eat a few of the wings and push them away.
A plate of nachos arrives. Okay, fine, typical supermarket bagged corn chips, we can deal with that. A nice big glob of fresh guacamole atop, fresh, yes, but completely unseasoned, just mashed avocado. The “sour cream” is not… it tastes and has the texture of what here is called casa ‘n crema – a sort of whipped cream cheese with a touch of sourness to it. But it’s the rest of the toppings where this plate really falls apart. The “meat”, and I call it that only out of politeness, is a reddish-orange, crusty paste of, well, I don’t know what – it might be some sort of canned sloppy joe mixture, or an attempt to reproduce it – it might just be canned dog food. A few bits of chopped onion and tomato, umm, no jalapeños (even the Argentine places that offer nachos give you chilies or at least a somewhat spicy salsa), and some torn up strips of bright orange American cheese sandwich slices. Not even melted, just tossed on top. We eat some of the chips and the guacamole but can’t deal with the rest.
Look at those. Beautiful, plump, glowing onion rings, and a big basket of them. But then note that strange translucency… that’s the oil. Because these were cooked at wayyyy too low of a fryer temperature, they’ve absorbed so much oil that when we bite into them, the oil just drizzles out of the insides. Oh yes, there are big pieces of juicy, sweet onion inside, but that doughy, oil-soaked and actually on the inside still partially raw crust creates nothing but queasiness. We manage to make our way through one apiece and then just push all the food away. Our waitress returns to get our burger order… we glance at each other and ask for the check. She looks at the food, asks if we want it wrapped up to go – we decline, shell out a bit over 100 pesos for not having taken more than a few bites and try not to think about it as we walk away. Who knows? Maybe the burgers are amazing. But we can’t see ourselves going back to find out. At the same time, we both agree, that it’s the kind of place we used to frequent when we were in college – big pitchers of beer (hard to believe they don’t offer them) and gut-bombing greasy “food”.
We left disappointed. As I said, let the hate mail begin. [See my comment below for July 22, 2011.]
So we take a walk a couple of blocks figuring we’ll try this Mexican spot that we’ve passed a few times when we’ve been to Novecento for brunch. Lupita, Baéz 227 is a high-ceilinged shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe (I like their founding date of 1531… cute). It’s got a strange gothic look to it with heavy iron candle holders on the tables, lots of wrought iron everywhere, and skeletons, skulls and death masks as a decor motif. Not exactly my first choice for a look, but I suppose it somehow fits with the theme. Somehow. We take a table at the window and peruse the lengthy menu. Our waitress is friendly and cute. In fact, most of the staff seem to be both. And there’s more of them than there are customers… perhaps The Office could borrow a couple.
Now, you know how much we like our jalapeño poppers. And they’re the first thing on the menu. We order a plate. They arrive in no more than 5 minutes, looking plump, coated with sesame seed batter, a tangled looking salad of greens and red onions on the side. There are four of them on the plate. Four. I think the plate runs something like 25 pesos. But, okay… we pick them up. They’re not much warmer than room temperature. We bite in and they’re ice cold… in fact, they’re frozen in the center. Actually frozen. We flag down the waitress who says “They’re still frozen? Oh, they didn’t cook them long enough, I’ll get you another plate.” We glance uneasily at each other. Fifteen minutes go by and she returns with a plate, this time with five poppers on the plate. We try them – they’re hot, piping hot. They’re also flavorless and mushy – no heat from the jalapeños whatsoever. The “Philadelphia” insides are watery and unseasoned. Only the crust provides any remote interest or flavor. Even the salad is insipid – nothing more than some torn lettuce leaves with raw red onion. Here’s my bet – they slit open and boiled the chilies to make them easy to work with and to take out some of the heat. Then they opened them up, scooped out the seeds and veins, filled them with cream cheese (probably not actually Philadelphia), battered them, and stuck them in the freezer, to be pulled out and deep-fried to order. These should not be frozen. Ever.
It is too late to cancel our tacos, though we’re sorely tempted as we’ve lost all hope. They arrive, two to a plate. Heaped with meat and salad. We get two types, the pork and the hanger steak. See how those tortillas glisten. That’s the oil, the grease. when you pick these up it’s like a little waterfall… or oilfall… that just gushes onto the plate. And, there’s no seasoning, no flavor, the meat tough and chewy. The salad so soaked in oil you could probably read through the lettuce leaves. The sauces on the side? A couple of spoonfuls each in little bowls of sour cream (maybe), pico de gallo (not really – it’s tomatoes, onions and green peppers with no cilantro and no seasoning, just chopped together), and “jalapeño puree” – which was likely made from those same boiled chilies as above, flavorless, picante-less, and an unappetizing shade of Army green that might indicate it’s been around awhile. We don’t quite manage a taco apiece and then give up. Check please. Another 100 plus shelled out for little to no edible food.
We give it up as a night to forget, only the queasy rumblings of our stomachs just won’t let us. I can’t remember the last time I’ve just simply pushed food away as inedible… and worse, at two spots in a row.