El Ateneo: On being gorgeous and serving up an undesirable salad

6 January, 2009 - 20:16

This is one of the most spectacular, if not /the/ most spectacular, bookstores I've ever been into. It's called El Ateneo and is on Avenida Santa Fe in Buenos Aires' Barrio Norte. It is actually not a bookstore at all, but an over-the-top multi-level 1920s theatre. Cameras are flashing all around me - this is a place in tourists' guide books. It's that kind of a big deal.

I decided that it was time to get out of the apartment today and spend some time working in a fresh location. El Ateneo is only a few blocks from the apartment so I've come here to try out their lounge/stage/restaurant.

They should stick to books.

After waiting for about 20 minutes before being able to flag the attention of a waiter I was then able to communicate that I wanted something (a drink? a menu?!). I always begin by asking whether they speak any English, just incase, which this chap did not, and he looked more than a little befuddled when I tried to explain that I speak "Ingles. I speak Inglessss!!!". Nope. Nada. No intiendo. You'd think that, sitting down in a restaurant there would only be one of a few things that I might be asking for by vigourously gesturing and charading around with my hands as though I were reading something. After an awkward exchange and a further awkward silence he evaporated off into the back somewhere and eventually returned with a menu.

I ordered sparkling water, which is commonly served here, and a caesar salad. Those are safe enough, I thought, and this place looks nice enough... ? No...? No!! When he returned, he presented me with sparkling water and a salad (at least this mission was not a complete failure).

I've had worse salads than this, but not many.

The croutons.. I think if they were to have served me neat oil there would have been less oil than is on these croutons. As a special surprise, there was also chicken ("pollo") in the salad. And special chicken it was too - this chicken contained parts of a chicken that I don't believe any chicken actually has. And thanks to the oiliness of the croutons, it was sticking to both them as well as the cheese. I decided that it wasn't worth trying to explain to the waiter that the menu hadn't mentioned anything about pollo at all, and that the pollo that he had presenting me with was causing me to experience a mild gag reflex.

I don't expect to get anything out of writing about this, or turning anyone away from the place. I'm frustrated is all. If you happen to be in Buenos Aires at some point though, definitely go here for the books and the pizazz.

And right now I smell something burning, so I'm going to power down my notebook and leave.