The good thing is, as I’m doing this marathon of checking out restaurants for the guide, I’m finding some surprisingly interesting food here and there. The bad thing is, there’s also some pretty mediocre food out there. I was having a conversation with a friend about it and her response was, “How is it that the guidebook can have such bad places in it? Didn’t the person before you have any taste?” Now, I know my predecessor, and my guess is he has pretty good taste in food, though we’ve never dined out together. But he also had a predecessor, who had their tastes. And restaurants change. And there’s a different selection available (3-4 editions ago there wasn’t much of a choice in town besides steakhouses, hotel restaurants, and some Spanish and Italian spots), and the editors change as well, and they have different criteria.
When I did this for the last edition, there were roughly a hundred restaurants in the guide, and my instructions were to re-review the one third of them that it had been the longest since they’d been reviewed, not to remove any from the listing unless I had a compelling reason to do so and for that I had to get approval of the editor, and for the remaining two-thirds to just confirm that each was still in existence, that the address and phone number was correct, and give an estimate of their current price range, other than that I wasn’t to touch them. And I could only add new places in place of ones removed, either because something had closed or because I’d gotten approval to take something out – they wanted the number of places to stay the same. Partially I imagine that it was because it was a trial run – it was the first time I’d worked for them and they didn’t want me mucking the whole thing up.
This time, a new editor, and the instructions are pretty much, “fix it”. The choice of which places needed re-reviewing has been left up to me, as many or as few as I feel necessary, remove ones that don’t make sense, put in new ones that do, basically, bring it up to date. It’s a lot more work (and a shorter timeframe than I had last time, hence the marathon eating), but it should both end up with a guide that’s not so outdated in terms of choices as well as, on a personal level, be a selection that I can be proud to have delivered. It won’t be 100% “my tastes” as I have to take into account that the book needs to appeal to and serve a wide range of types of tourists, so I have to set aside certain prejudices and accept that there will be some places in there that I can see the draw for, but wouldn’t personally go to (as you’ll see down below).
On to the next round of four….
You can go back and read my long-winded writeup on Club Eros, Uriarte 1609 in Palermo to get the full flavor of the place. Not a thing has changed, not the menu, the waiters, the setting, I doubt, other than passing a wet cloth over the tables and mopping once a day that the place has been cleaned any more than that. But it’s still a draw for cheap eats in the ‘hood. I’d mentioned the last time that the menu selection is short and that as they run out of the few items they have one by one, they simply tell you that they don’t have them. I hadn’t experienced that time the other end, which, arriving with a friend basically at the moment they opened, they hadn’t gotten around to preparing some things yet – so the only thing on the parrilla were a few chicken legs that had been cooked, and only one of the pastas was available. We both went with the chicken legs, and ordered salads as the side dish (a slaw of carrots and cabbage), but we got one with that and one with potatoes and eggs – according to the waiter, there is no choice, they simply alternate side dishes between the two and that’s the way it is. Pricing has changed – no longer are main courses a mere 6-7 pesos plus a peso or two for a side dish, they now run about 45-50 apiece and 5 for a side dish. Still, all told, with two plates of perfectly acceptable grilled chicken and a couple of bottles of water, and tip, we left for 70 pesos apiece.
That evening, despite it not having been a long, filling lunch, I just couldn’t face going out. And then it occurred to me, one of the places I needed to check out was Sushi Club. It’s a chain with multiple branches, most of which are takeout and delivery only, so it’s perhaps a bit of a cheat to not go and visit one of those and see how service is, but at the same time, I’d never heard anything good about the chain except, “it’s cheap”, so I figured, I’ll start with the food and if it turns out to be at least reasonably good sushi, I’ll go by the flagship of the chain and order a maki roll while I check out service and the room. Let’s say, that that won’t be necessary. First off, it’s not cheap, it’s actually pretty pricey. And, taking into account that it’s fairly small portions and mediocre food, that’s not a value.
Five chewy, flavorless gyoza; two uninspired, loosely rolled so they were falling apart maki rolls; and a few pieces of at least acceptable sashimi ran to 322 pesos. They threw in a free dessert, a passionfruit flan, which was the best thing in the delivery bag. I could have ordered more or less the same four items from Dashi, one of two other major chains here (Itamae being the third, which I don’t seem to have ever reviewed, though my one experience with the one near home was pretty awful), gotten far better quality, faster delivery (Sushi Club called me to say that the delivery time I asked for wasn’t available even if it said so on the website, and my order would come 45 minutes later than that – about an hour and a half after I ordered), all for about 50 pesos less. So, had it indeed been the touted cheap place for sushi, I might leave it in the book, but given this, it’s coming out. And thinking about it anyway, do tourists really come here to eat sushi? If they do – I’d recommend they go somewhere great, like Yuki that I reviewed yesterday.
The area of Bajo Belgrano has become a little hotbed of restaurants. I’m going to have to spend some more time out there checking out some of the offerings. Previously, the only place I’d been to was Sucre a few times. I’d noticed Bruni, Castañeda 1899 at the corner of Sucre, but not been there. The place was originally started in 2008 by a trio of folk – well known local El Gourmet channel star Donato DeSantis, and Fernando Brucco, also owner of Happening in Puerto Madero and restaurants in Santiago, Chile, and local rocker Fabián “Zorrito” Quintiero (keyboardist for the legendary Charly Garcia), who also owns Soul Café. Donato left a couple of years ago, but the lessons he taught seem to have stuck. The food is really pretty impressive, at least based on the two dishes tried. Some of the best, and biggest, garlic and chili prawns I’ve had in any restaurant here, Italian or Spanish, and a really delicious “Unico”, a huge raviolo (5-6″ on a side) filled with chard and mushrooms in a cream sauce flavored with a hint of truffle oil, herbs, and notes of citrus. Good wine selection. Service was friendly though a bit slow – and for some reason my waiter couldn’t seem to understand that I wanted my glass of wine from the start, not just with the main course, even though I asked him three times for it, he brought it when he served the main. Still, overall, just for the food I’d recommend the spot. I’ll definitely go back and try it again.
This is one I don’t even know where to go with. Upfront, I didn’t like the space, the service, or the food. But I’m leaving it in the book because it has an appeal for a certain demographic, that was obvious from looking around the room – around half of the 70 or so seats in the place were occupied by tourists, and the other half by locals. The place, which has been a question mark in my mind for years on whether to check it out, Te Mataré Ramirez (“I’m going to kill you Ramirez), Gorriti 5054 in Palermo, is famous for its erotic bent – with cabaret and erotic puppet shows and a menu with fanciful names that are meant to sound, well, sexy, somehow. I’ve walked by the place and nothing ever drew me in. I was originally going to go with my friend Raquel who joined me at Bardot this week, but going out with another friend who wanted to try the place, we ended up going on Friday, and Raquel and I are going elsewhere on Monday. [Closed in mid 2015]
So, the entryway is lined with heavy, dark red, velvet brocade curtains – you can’t really see inside. Inside is pretty dimly lit and all in more dark red, it’s so dim we couldn’t read the menu without holding the candle on the table over it, and there was no way photos were going to come out without flash. And it gets darker later on during the show, not surprisingly, when they basically turn the lights off except the stage lights. The food, indeed, has bizarre names, which presumably in some twisted logic make sense to the owner and/or chef. But you end up ordering by what they are, not by the odd names, so it’s just a gimmick. We had prawns in sort of sickly sweet sauce – like a Thai dish without the salt, sour or spice. Well cooked sweetbreads, but unseasoned and accompanied by a refrigerator cold slab of brie. Dried out chicken breast glazed in sherry, ginger and grapefruit, not that you could taste any of those, and stuffed with some sort of fruit compote and accompanied by two sides – a watery, tasteless squash puree, and a reasonably good saute of vegetables “chop suey” style (maybe the name of the dish, “With Two Women” is a reference to the side dishes). And squid ink capelleti filled with mushy braised and unseasoned lamb (claiming to be with raspberry, we couldn’t taste any, and they’re not in season right now, maybe a splash of liqueur or something was in the braise), in a mushroom cream sauce with watercress foam (“Impudent and Volcanic Conquered Me with Obscene Words”, no idea). The food, not that we could really see it except with flash photos, while not bad per se, was just bland and uninteresting.
Service was pushy and not particularly friendly, in fact a bit grim, they seemed more interested in just getting everyone’s orders and serving the food before the show started, at which point they just disappeared. The show, that night, a 15 minute cabaret act that was two fairly good looking guys in open vests and tight pants doing a synchronized dance around the stage while a young woman did sleight of hand card tricks and gradually stripped down to a sheer bodysuit and pasties. Yawn. I might have been more intrigued by an erotic puppet show on another night, or maybe if the guys had taken something off. Apparently there was a second act of another 15 minutes coming up later, we decided not to stay, paid our check, and left. Outrageously pricey – with appetizers running around 120 pesos, main courses, 140, and, to top it off, 35 peso per person cubierto charge and a 50 peso per person show charge, neither of which was told to us upfront, nor were they on the menu that we could see, but then, we couldn’t really see, so maybe it was there in small print somewhere. Price tag for two, 854 pesos (with wine and water too), though because we’d made the reservation online there was a 35% discount on the food only, bringing it down to 680 pesos. Even 35% on the whole bill wouldn’t have made it worthwhile.
But, the thing is, looking around everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Neighbors at the tables on either side of us seemed to be swooning over their food, and actually my dining companion liked it a bit more than I did. People were clapping and cheering the show. But let’s just say that most of the folk there, based purely on casual observation, were “lacking a certain sophistication”, and leave it at that.
We went next door to La Fabrica de Taco and had a couple of decent tacos al pastor and mojitos and brightened up the evening considerably.