“Our act started at the bottom and went downhill.”
– Allan Sherman, comedic musician
I should just send you back to the original review, because on the whole, little has changed at Sifones y Dragones, Ciudad de la Paz 174, Palermo, 15-4413-9871. Well, four things have as best I can tell. The couple that ran the place, Flavio La Vitola and Mariana de Rosa, when we first visited 4½ years ago, have split up – apparently he simply took off, left wife and now 5-year old daughter to fend for themselves and hasn’t been heard from since, or so the waiter who greeted us relates the story. The phone number has changed, it’s now the chef/owner’s cell phone. The place is getting worn down, physically. And the food, if it’s possible, has gone downhill as well. Should I just stop there or beat a dead horse into complete submission? [This place has closed. R.I.P. Please.]
We were there continuing on the guidebook project – the place still gets occasional great writeups and even a claim out there that it’s one of designer Philippe Starck’s fave spots when he’s in town. Truly, maybe we just had an off night that one time, right? It’s one of the risks of blogging without multiple visits. But, the wrong-ness began from moment one. I called one afternoon to make a reservation for the evening only to be informed by Ms. de Rosa that she didn’t feel like opening that night so no, we couldn’t come. A few days later tried again and sounding a bit begrudging, she allowed as that although she was opening at 8:30, she couldn’t fit us in until 9… hmm… When we arrived at a couple of minutes before 9, the place was locked up tighter than a drum. A few minutes later the waiter arrived (same guy who was there that first time, way back), and proceeded to open the front garage door (I hadn’t noted that it’s not in a house, but a garage, that first time).
He was welcoming, we chatted a bit, he told the story I mentioned above, he told us that he didn’t really know when the chef was arriving, she’d called and told him to come in around 9. He brought us some water. A couple of other people came in and got the same. We sat. Around 9:15 she rolled in, with daughter in tow. We were already feeling that the whole thing was a bit sketchy – the place really is a garage, and it’s grimy as can be – I can’t imagine any wall surface, nor much of the floor, has been cleaned in those ensuing years since we were there. A spider wandered up one wall, a roach perched itself on a chair at our table. Without the impetus of this project I think I would have walked at this point.
The menu is a handwritten scrawl of felt tip marker on food stained scraps of paper folded up inside black envelopes on each table. Like the last time, there were four appetizers, though this time there were six main courses. Crossing our fingers, we waited for the chef, who actually attends to the tables, to come to ours and take our order – somewhere around 9:30. And then she headed back to the kitchen to start prepping – not cooking the dishes directly, but prepping, as she hadn’t yet been in for the day. The food, purported as Asian influenced, is only so in the sense that recipes from Lady’s Home Journal, Redbook, or Better Homes and Gardens were Asian influenced in the 1960s – meaning they sent you to the McCormack’s spice rack for a bottle of curry blend or ginger in powder form. Muy exotica!
We ordered two appetizers. She informed us that she needed 15 minutes to cook one, so she’d bring out one for us to share in a few minutes and the other shortly behind it. We started with the empanaditas thai as they were termed – basically chicken stuffed wontons, crisp fried, glazed in dripping honey, and served up with what seemed to be a mix of more honey, some fish sauce, and a little chili. Not bad, but not exciting. We polished them off in a minute or so. And waited….
…and waited. And a bit more. Somewhere around a half hour after the first dish hit the table, at the point where we were already joking about it, this abomination hit the table. It was an “oyster souffle”. As a guess, it was a mix of flour, sugar (yes, sugar – perhaps she doesn’t know you don’t have to include the sugar in a savory souffle?), eggs, milk, cheese and oysters, all pureed together to an unappetizing shade of ecru and served up looking like it had vomited all over the plate. Which is pretty much what we felt like doing after looking at it and tasting it.
While we were waiting for the above, I saw her head upstairs to that little balcony you can see in the first photo. There, she literally dove into a chest-type deep freeze, coming up with plastic wrapped, styrofoam based, supermarket packages of chicken breasts and of pasta. She must have a microwave or something back there as it was about ten minutes later I saw her using a chef’s knife to pry apart the now semi-thawed chicken breasts. The frozen pasta just got dumped into boiling water, directly. It was overcooked, wet tissue paper falling apart, filled with a now watery mix of goat cheese, ricotta and basil, drowned in what at least was a fresh, if unseasoned, though sugar sweetened, chopped tomato sauce.
And then the travesty of the chicken dish arrived. The recently frozen block of breast now sliced into chunks, cooked to a completely dried out state, and glazed in what can only charitably be called burnt grapefruit caramel. It was disgusting to look at (well, maybe not as much as the souffle), and even worse to bite into with sickly sweetness and burnt flavors. We took no more than a few bites of each dish, pushed them away. She came to the table a few minutes later and asked if we were enjoying ourselves – I rarely, like most people, will say no, but this time, with the plates virtually untouched, I did, though soft selling it, just telling her that the food was all way too sweet for us. She didn’t really respond, just asked if we wanted dessert – yeah, really, bring us more sugar. We declined, she picked up the plates and walked away, returning shortly with the bill – all items, not surprisingly I guess, still on it – a whopping 245 pesos for two apps, two mains, 1 beer, 2 waters – and all pretty much inedible. We paid, she opened the door and said goodnight. We headed out.
I wouldn’t give this place another go if you paid me to return, and I WAS paid. The food is worse than the first time, the place is disgustingly dirty. It makes most holes in the wall look like gems. Oh yeah, I suppose there’s a fifth change. I’m downgrading it to not recommended.