Review: El Almacén de los Milagros

Le sigh. I hate to tell myself “I told you so,” but I kind of have to in this case. I wanted to start 2012 with a bang, trying the restaurants I’ve heard so much about but had yet to visit on my own. Break out of my routine. Be bold. Give it a whirl. Unfortunately, I wish I had skipped my dinner at El Almacén de los Milagros and just ordered in.

So my opening was totally Debbie Downer, but it’s just because I was so hoping for the outcome to be different. I had read favorable reviews (from The Lost Asian and from Guía Oleo) and since I love the area – Montevideo & Quintana, right in Recoleta – I thought it would be a perfect Friday night dinner with our friends.

The restaurant itself is tiny, but welcoming, with family photos on the walls and chalkboards posted near the kitchen (apparently this is a prerequisite in any restaurant these days?). We arrived around 10:30 and it was full without being packed, mostly older people but some young couples and families mixed in there.

I’ll cut to the chase about why I left with a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re going to pay AR$240/person for a “gourmet” dinner in Recoleta, you would expect that the service be commensurate, yes? You would hope that the waiter might be able to say at least a few words to you during your meal? Ask how things are doing? At least say “Hello” when you sit down, right? People go out to dinner at nice restaurants not just for the food, but for the whole experience. To feel like you’re (literally) being waited on in a place that is supposed to cater to a discerning palate. Before I just drop a serious chunk of change on a meal I want to at least feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.

And the food? It was good, but not great. (I also think it’s a bit ridiculous to charge AR$90 for a pasta dish that doesn’t even have seafood or meat in it.) The desserts stood out and I actually loved the amuse bouche pate that we were served before our meal and one of the appetizers was really well done.

For our first course, we split a take on a Peruvian “causa” with grilled prawns. The seafood was fresh and well-cooked, and while I liked the potato & avocado tower, it was a little too cold for my liking (like, fresh out of the fridge cold) and lacked complexity.

Our friend ordered the poached egg in potato foam with mirepoix mushrooms and while the photo isn’t so enticing, it was really good. The mushrooms were really earthy and the egg was cooked to perfection.

So far, so good you might think? Yes, if we talk about the food and nothing else, the first courses were quite good (if you don’t think about the prices). What really bugged me was the apathetic attitude of the waitstaff and their inability to reflect the atmosphere of the place. Maybe if you’re a regular they’ll chat you up, but it was almost as if we were invisible.

The fish was just ok, not too flavorful but at least it was cooked right. The crab ravioli didn’t seem to have much crab going on, so that was a disappointment.

My dish – orecchiette with “spring vegetables,” panceta and an egg on top (photo is post-yolk mashing). The menu promised broccoli and green beans, but all I could see were peas and some green bits mixed in there. The panceta didn’t seem to be of any particular quality, just like what I could pick up at my corner market. I liked the egg on top, since the yolk added some depth of flavor and body to the dish. Otherwise, it was so-so – I finished almost the entire thing but I definitely wasn’t asking for seconds.

Dessert. Presentation was impeccable on this one, and the cinnamon ice cream was yum city. Of all the dishes we ordered, this seemed most in line with what the restaurant attempts to project (gourmet, refined, delicate in a way)

When the dishes were cleared and the coffee finished, the 6 of us kind of looked around like “well .. huh.” We weren’t raving about what we had just eaten, but we weren’t complaining to the chef either. It was this bizarre middle of the road feeling where I think the collective response was “mediocre meal, won’t be coming back because our waiter was non-existent and we’re about to pay through the nose when the bill comes.”

I like to think that I’m pretty easy to please. I want to like a restaurant when I visit for the first time (otherwise, why would I waste my time and money going?) But to me, El Almacén de los Milagros was all talk and not enough action (and I need action). Sure, it’s a charming little spot in Recoleta, and the menu paints a lovely picture of what you think you will be eating … but that’s pretty much it. (*Side note: women receive menus that don’t have prices on them. Back in the day this might have been seen as some kind of nice touch or chivalrous gesture, but I was put off by this. I like to know how much something costs before I buy or order it. But maybe that’s just me?)

So … should you drop what you’re doing and make a res at El Almacén de los Milagros? Probably not. Maybe it’s a spot best suited to a light lunch or an afternoon cup of tea with a friend if you happen to be in the neighborhood. I really wanted to have a great experience but it just fell flat.

Have you eaten at El Almacén de los Milagros? Do you think I am on crack? Let me know.

El Almacén de los Milagros
Quintana 210 – Recoleta
Open Monday – Saturday from 8 am to Midnight


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