A Night to Forget

2011.May.26 Thursday · 13 comments

in Restaurants

“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.

The Office - michelada

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.

The Office - wings

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.

The Office - nachos

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.

The Office - onion rings

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.

Lupita - jalapeno poppers

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.

Lupita - tacos

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.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Luke May 26, 2011 at 10:58

Oh Dan, I read through thinking this can’t get any worse. What a night. Simply shocking. You may want to forget it, but I can’t see how you will. Chin up anyway.

dan May 26, 2011 at 14:02

It was just so damned disappointing after all the rumblings I’ve been hearing about how good The Office is. Part of me wants to chalk it up to the whole “we’re short staffed” thing – but that seemed to apply just to the dining room – there were two or three guys in the kitchen cooking. And some of it was just so basic, like ingredient quality and the choice of sandwich slices of cheap cheese and lack of chilies on the nachos, not having things in stock and not knowing how to make your own specialty drinks that I just can’t buy that it was a one night only problem.

Allan May 26, 2011 at 15:42

The Office is what it is, a hang-out for college kids to drink and, well, hang-out. The real disappointment is Lupita, an actual restaurant. Even if they are unable to approximate Mexican flavors, there is no reason for their product to have been as terribly prepared as we experienced. I’m just happy my experience ended when we walked out.

Ken Sternberg May 28, 2011 at 22:53

This place sounds dreadful, and looks it. Those onion rings look more like fried doughnuts. Just because a place is a hang out doesn’t mean its food has to suck. You have to start wondering why the place is so short-staffed. Maybe no one wants to work there.

dan May 29, 2011 at 01:06

The bizarre thing is how much other folk seem to like the place, which has me wondering if they were just having a really off night. The same day I wrote this screed, this came out in the local expat paper – which is about as opposite a point of view as it could be… then again, the writer thinks ranch dressing is the same thing as garlic mayonnaise…. And some of the other info in the piece is just plain wrong: a) Sette Bacco’s been open for lunch for years, I go there regularly; b) CBC puts the condiments on the items for you, you don’t even have access to them as they’re behind glass on a steam line – and a few other things… but, never mind, this isn’t about that article.

I have decided that if they’ll not shoot me on entry, I’ll go back at some point and try one of the burgers, since that seems to be the raison d’etre of the place, and add it to my hamburger spot listing.

Kevin June 1, 2011 at 00:23

That’s hilarious… you just brought me right back to Buenos Aires…

dan June 1, 2011 at 01:57

We’ve been trying to get you back here for the last year!

Angela June 29, 2011 at 18:28

I went to The Office for the same reasons, all the raving from the expat community. Be glad you didn’t get the burgers. We ordered four. Our two Argentine buddies loved theirs because they liked the flavorless guacamole and the sugary BBQ sauce. The two norteamericanos did not. We found them overcooked, bland, and served on stale bread. Major disappointment overall, but I am also not in my twenties. But … on the positive side. Our waitress was lovely and the upstairs area is a great hang out spot.

Oh, and Lupita. Ugh. I went there a few years back when they first opened. The decor is cool. The food is what Argentines put on pizzas served over tortillas that they don’t know how to prepare.

I lived in Las Cañitas for 2 years. I never found a restaurant I wanted to return to other than Las Cholas (cheap, fast, reliable, mostly good) and Francesca, which only stayed open for about a year… too expensive and sophisticated for the barrio.

So, you are not the only expat in town who doesn’t get the hype. Let the hate mail begin here, too. Or better, let them read this and get better. The place has potential for the right crowd and they are in the right area for that crowd. Why not knock the pants off their customers?

dan June 30, 2011 at 08:46

Angela, actually, the interesting thing is that not only has there not been any hate mail, but every single e-mail I’ve gotten about this post has been in agreement – and all pretty much with the same “I’m not in my 20s anymore…”. It really is the kind of place I probably would have loved when I was in college or just after, hanging out with friends for a pitcher of beer and some food that in any other setting we probably wouldn’t have eaten. I do plan to slip back there once just to try a burger to add that to the list of hamburguesa spots. Now, on to today’s review with some norteamericano food that’s well worth making a trip for….

dan July 22, 2011 at 16:15

I’m going to get to this in detail in an upcoming post on some of the latest hamburger tastings around town, but, I did stop back in at The Office to check the burger out for the round-up. The “classic” is actually pretty darned good – nice and juicy even though cooked a little past my requested medium-rare, well seasoned, lots of fresh condiments – not the best I’ve had in town, but certainly up there in the better ones. And, easily the best fries I can remember having here. I ended up chatting with the owner I’d met before, who was friendly, and, it turned out had read the review. He either wasn’t pissed off or had gotten over it and we ended up having quite a good talk about the place and the food. To be fair, he was severely understaffed that night and was upfront about some of the menu items being off.

They’ve also started making changes to better the food – making their own hamburger buns, getting in spicier condiments (the wings, which I didn’t retry, say they’re made with honey, ginger, Asian barbecue sauce and sriracha – not exactly buffallo wing style, but if there’s a good balance and enough sriracha, could be quite tasty), specialty coffee, and, replacing some of the staff who just weren’t doing things the way the owners wanted. I did try their chili at the big BA Chili Cookoff, and while it wasn’t a spicy, Texas style kind of chili, reminding me more of a Sloppy Joe, I’m actually pretty of fond of those.

They’re also now open at lunchtime, which gets around that whole frat party evening atmosphere, and the place was actually pretty pleasant, with some locals in checking out the menu as well. Keeping my fingers crossed that they really do get it all whipped into shape and I can write-up a new review with far better things to say.

dan March 19, 2012 at 09:38

The last hope never came to pass as, within a couple of months they simply closed up shop. I know the owners are still around as I see them at expat events now and again, but haven’t asked them as to details.

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