I have eaten brunch at the much touted Olsen, Gorriti 5870, Palermo, 4776-7677, three times over the years I’ve been here. The first time was not a memorable experience – while we ate perfectly acceptable food -we’d ordered pretty basically – coffee, toast, juice kind of stuff. But we had repeated problems with a waitress who saw in us an opportunity to stick it to some tourists, which we weren’t. The next time I went back was to meet up with friend Andres, a fellow sommelier, and a couple of guys from Wine Spectator who were working on a supplement about the Argentine wine scene. That time, Andres had arranged for an array of dishes spread across the table, and while I don’t recall specifically what we ate, I recall it being pretty good.
But that first time lingered in the back of my mind, as well as that while on entering the premises, behind a high wooden fence, while you pass through a beautiful garden with a few tables available, most of the seating is inside the glass walled dining room, and pretty much looks like, as I mentioned that first time, an IKEA showroom. The crowd, once again, mostly tourists, though some folk from the ‘hood, lots of strollers shoved in close to tables, and quite a few small children, mostly being children, i.e., running around and being loud. On arrival we stood at the hostess’ podium for going on ten minutes before she showed up – a couple of waiters told us, at one point or another, that she was seating someone and would be right back – turned out not to be true, as she and another woman wandered in through the gate from the street after apparently having gone for a walk. No apology, and then she made us wait another five minutes for a table, despite half the room being empty – and then didn’t even seat us herself, but passed us off to a waitress to take us to our table. Not an auspicious beginning.
And, although we had a cute young man for our server, service never got much better. Oh, he was enthusiastic, and even occasionally available to be waved down. But food arrived seemingly randomly – one of the three of us just wanted coffee, juice and toast, and all of that arrived before the other two of us had gotten our juice and bloody mary, the former tasting like cheap boxed juice, definitely not the fresh squeezed promised, the latter actually pretty decent. The menu is a bit confusing – there are several options that each include choices – the sort of “pick one from column A, one from B”, etc. approach, with different prices depending on which columns you picked things from.
There are also a couple of a la carte items, and we decided to order the little array of open faced sandwiches, which I’d recalled being a nice selection of canapes on a variety of Scandinavian style breads. All served on one of two types of plain, tasteless white bread, all unseasoned, all uninteresting – what happened to the “open faced homemade rye sandwiches”? No rye, no brown or black bread, no flavor, almost seemed an after-thought – a complete disappointment. I should point out there in the background, that our friend had only nibbled on his first slice (of four, and very nicely, four different kinds of bread, all quite good), juice and coffee. And then we helped him finish his toast, as we waited. And waited. And waited some more. A solid 30 minutes passed after the sandwich board was cleared before the rest of our meal showed up.
Oh but wait, some more, because it wasn’t the rest of the meal, it was the complimentary bagels that showed up at this point. Unfortunately, a trio of soft bread rolls with holes poked through the middle. Not bagels. Not by a long shot. No chew, barely a crust, no flavor. And we waited. Maybe another 5-10 minutes…
…and finally flagged down waiter-boy, who rushed off to the kitchen and returned triumphantly with our two plates, served kind of like a first class tray on an airline, and looking about as appetizing. And, you know what? It was, just about as appetizing. My three strips of fairly dried out smoked salmon (my “column A”) were accompanied by what purported to be an omelette, but would send any French chef into a stroke induced coma. It was far over-cooked, contained a little bit of cheese and nothing else inside (the ham? the vegetables?), was unseasoned, and unfinishable. Henry’s column A was a chicken breast, so dry he only ate it because at this point we were famished. His scrambled eggs were, I can only say, better than my omelette. The only thing good on these plates was the crushed potatoes. Had we not waited so long we’d have probably sent this all back to be re-cooked.
I can only say that the food is not what I recall from the first two visits, and looking at our friend Adam’s blog, it’s certainly not presented as prettily – compare, for example, his picture of the sandwiches, which although he wasn’t impressed with, at least were served on a variety of good breads. However, reading through his description of the meal, it seems he was just as disappointed in the quality of the food. And this is keeping in mind that back then, five years ago, the chef was still actively working in the kitchen (he’s also the chef at Casa Cruz and Tegui, the latter being where he spends his time now, at least cooking). Hostess useless and not particularly friendly, waiter friendly but disorganized – as is apparently the kitchen, given the timing on sending things out (the place was never full while we were there, so they weren’t overly taxed with orders). At least for brunch, for me, Olsen is not recommended.