Just Don’t Lie to Me…

2012.Mar.08 Thursday · 4 comments

in Restaurants

…and give me decent service… and good food… and perhaps a nice glass of wine. Really, my demands on life are pretty simple. They may not always be easy to fulfill, but they’re not complicated.

I can’t say that the place I’m about to review has been “on my list” to get to. I’ve heard it mentioned now and again by local friends as a good place to go for seafood. No one ever raved about it, but no one ever disparaged it either. That’s the kind of place that, unless someone says “hey let’s meet at…”, I generally don’t bother with simply because if a restaurant, a menu, a wine list, a chef, don’t provoke some kind of enthusiastic response one direction of the other, it’s likely to be just as “meh” as the talk about it is. But I was in the mood for fish one day last week and the spot popped up on a quick perusal of ideas for where to go, it’s convenient to home, and I remembered that those friends had said it was good. So, off I went to Cuisine du Park in the Feir’s Park Hotel (hmm… I’m usually not fond of hotel restaurants, but, here in BA, often I’ve found they’re far better than hotel restaurants in other major cities), Esmeralda 1366 in Retiro, 4131-1900 x385. [This place closed shortly after this review. Was it me? Probably not, it was just bad.]

Cuisine du Park

Now the chef, Ramiro Rodriguez Pardo, is well known in culinary circles here. His name comes up as one of the godfathers of haute cuisine in the city, along with Gato Dumas. He’s been involved in some way, over a long career, in opening 27 restaurants. He’s acknowledged as one of the country’s leading experts on both Spanish cuisine (wrote the book here) and seafood. He’s won awards. I don’t know that he’s actively involved in the kitchen at the hotel, but it operates under his guidance. So I had high hopes. Off the bat, however, I hated the room. Located right off the hotel lobby, what isn’t made clear on the hotel’s website is that their three restaurants listed – the pub, the breakfast buffet and the high end dining room, are all the same room. People wander in and out with their luggage, guys in the pub are chatting away on their cellphones or using laptops spread out on tables, the buffet, while long cleared, dominates one end of the room with steam trays. It’s carpeted (ugly carpet I might venture to assert), and the waitstaff are dressed up like they’re at one of the most chi-chi places imaginable. In short, it screams stuffy and pretentious. I hesitate, but hey, I’m here for the food and just because they’re overdressed doesn’t mean they won’t provide good service.

Cuisine du Park - partridge terrine

The menu strikes me as reasonably creative. Old school, but with some tasty sounding dishes. A duck and partridge terrine with chestnuts and a cherry-apple chutney sounds like a nice way to start. Of course, those are walnuts on the plate, not chestnuts, and sweet currant preserves are filling in for that chutney. The terrine is completely unseasoned and a bit dry. I’ve also ordered a glass of wine – the wine list is, as best I can tell, non-existent – I ask for it and the waiter says “we have Trapiche, your choice, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec or Cabernet sauvignon”. No, I didn’t mean what do you have by the glass, but could I see the wine list?… he repeats himself. Oh. A glass of the chardonnay will do with what I’m having. He asks for my room number when I order, I tell him I’m not staying in the hotel and he gives me a strange look, as if to say, “why are you here then?”

Cuisine du Park - ravioli

Having recently tried those delicious spider crab ravioli at Lola, I decide to go for an order of Tierra del Fuego spider crab “large” ravioli in a crab coral, cilantro cream sauce. Sounds delicious! And the pasta is delicate and beautifully formed, if not particularly large. But it’s dressed in butter, chives and shrimp. And when I cut into the ravioli, it’s filled with chunks of what appears to be canned tuna. It’s not that it’s not reasonably good, it’s just not at all what I expected given the menu description. My waiter has disappeared, I flag down another one and ask her if perhaps I’ve gotten the wrong pasta dish, showing her what I have. She blanches, says “I’m sure there must be some crab in there if it says so on the menu”. I demur, she asks what I want to do – I tell her I’d like to try the crab ravioli in the coral and cilantro sauce that’s on the menu. She takes the plate and heads back to the kitchen. A few minutes go by and the tuxedo-clad maitre d’ comes up to the table and tells me that he doesn’t want me to be angry, and he’s come to make peace. Who was angry? He tells me that the kitchen assures him that the ravioli are filled with crab. I tell him that I’m a chef and I’ve worked in restaurants for a long time, and that wasn’t crab, it was fish, and looked and tasted like canned tuna. He tells me that in that case the kitchen assures him that the ravioli are filled with salmon, and “a bit” of shredded crabmeat. I point out that salmon is typically orange, not grey-brown, and while he agrees, he again says that the kitchen assures him… yeah, yeah enough already. He walks away.

Cuisine du Park - octopus

I’m about to flag down one of the waiters again and just say the hell with it, cancel the order, when maitre d’ returns bearing a bowl, not a minute has gone by since he left the table. I’m thinking he’s brought back the ravioli to prove to me his point, or perhaps, though not likely, brought me the correct ones. But no, it’s my main course, the braised octopus. He says nothing, just sticks it on the table and turns his back again as he walks off. I sigh, but dig in. The octopus is perfectly tender, perfectly cooked, the potatoes as well. The sauce tastes of, well, I’m not sure, because it’s so loaded with salt that it makes my eyes cross. I truly can’t taste any other flavors – I can see that there’s olive oil and paprika and more chopped chives, but on the tongue, nothing but salt. I nibble at it a bit, eat the potatoes, and try to eat some of the octopus with as little of the sauce as possible. I give up, push it away, my waiter returns near instantly, and without a word, picks up the dish, goes back to the kitchen, and returns with my check, again, not a word.

I pay, a ludicrous 238 pesos given the quality – at least they didn’t try to charge me for the pasta, and the bulk of that – 140 pesos, is the octopus, which is always really pricey here. And perhaps 63 pesos for that terrine wouldn’t have been off the mark had it had any flavor and been presented with anything remotely resembling finesse. No one says thank you or goodbye on my way out, I’m sure they’re happy to see me go, after all, who would question their kitchen’s assurances? and I’m not sorry to see me go either.

So, overall, let’s see, what were those criteria? Don’t lie to me. Oops. Give me decent service. Oops. Good food. Oops. A nice glass of wine. Okay, nothing wrong with Trapiche’s basic Chardonnay, even at 20 pesos a glass, but if those four wines are all that’s available, what a dismal excuse for a fine dining and wining experience. Not recommended.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan March 8, 2012 at 14:00

Needs a new rating: Not recommended/Fuck’em.

dan March 8, 2012 at 17:20

Just you wait for the next review coming up….

Frank Almeida March 28, 2012 at 13:15

I went to a wine tasting event there once several years ago and it was all about Trapiche. They must be terribly consistent!

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