Argentinians do not eat fish.
After a diet of nothing but red meat for ten days, to say nothing of two hours with the Ambassador, we are desperate for something a little more healthy.
We have scoured the internet for fish restaurants in Buenos Aires and come up with a number that you can count on one hand, a fact that defies imagination when one considers the city is actually on the ocean.
One of the very few restaurants offering fish happens to be within walking distance of our apartment, gets good reviews and is owned by two gay men. Perfect. Or so we think.
The restaurant has a great look, elegant, veering towards formal. It is tastefully decorated, which is not entirely unexpected considering the owners. But it has rather too many oversized chandeliers, again not entirely unexpected. The waiters are young, handsome and smartly dressed in white shirts, vests (waistcoats) and bow ties. The Maitre D is also very elegant. He is tall and slim, with jet black hair carefully slicked back and held in place with the contents of at least one jar of Brylcreem. He is blessed with aquiline features, deep set eyes, a thin mouth and a large nose, which at this point is held rather high in the air as if a bad smell has just walked in the room. Could that possibly be us? He asks if we have a reservation. When we say no, the nose inches higher and a sniff of disapproval is expelled through the oversized nostrils. He leads us through a rather circuitous route around the restaurant as if deciding which badly placed table to deposit us at.
We are pleasantly surprised when he offers us a nice table by the window, albeit it as far away from the front door as possible.
Within moments one of the young waiters appears at our table. He does not introduce himself or tell us that he will be our wait person for the evening – one of the advantages of dining outside of the United States.
He is however quite young, and very nervous. There are three reasons that may account for his nervousness. The first is that he may be new to the job, the second that he is confronted with two English speaking customers with whom he can’t communicate, and the third is that he should never have asked his hairdresser for a really tight perm that makes him look like a poodle on two legs. We like to think that the third reason accounts for his nervousness, but suspect that it may be the first two
We order a nice bottle of wine and our food. Nervous Nelli delivers our bottle of wine and pours a little for us to taste. He anxiously twists a curl around his finger transforming him from a poodle to Shirley Temple, which may or may not be an improvement, depending on your feelings for poodles. He looks as if he is about to burst into tears or into a fit of giggles. It is hard to tell which.
He leaves us to enjoy our wine.
A little later he returns to remove our decorative plates and place fish knives in their proper position. As he reaches across in front of Gordon he somehow manages to connect with his wine glass and his water glass and sends the full contents of both across the table cloth and down the front of Gordon’s shirt and trousers. The waiter no longer looks like he might suffer an attack of the giggles. He is in fact struck dumb, unable to communicate in any language. Gordon does not have that problem, and is communicating his thoughts quite well. However it is wasted on our waiter who does not understand a word, and appears unable to move.
The people at the next table come to our rescue, offering Gordon several napkins to help dry him off.
That seems to urge our waiter into action and he mumbles something which we sincerely hope is an apology and disappears into the kitchen. Several minutes later he returns with a pile of beautifully folded napkins placed carefully on a platter and offers them to Gordon. This has two effects on Gordon. It makes him go red with rage, and turns him speechless, something that I have never been able to do in all our years together. Well the first I have managed on several occasions, it is the second I have never achieved.
Gordon retires to the restroom. He emerges looking as if he has had a terrible accident. His shirt clings to his body and a huge wet patch stretches across his trousers. It’s not his best look. He sits down only to find that the table cloth hanging over the table and touching his legs is dripping wet.
The waiter is nowhere to be seen. Gordon takes the table cloth and carefully folds it back onto the table, where it creates a large puddle.
Meanwhile our waiter in a show of unexpected initiative, has swapped stations with another young man and is now serving tables at the other side of the restaurant as far away from us as possible. He spends the rest of the evening refusing to look in our direction. Our new waiter is clearly unaware of the situation and has been waiting for Gordon to return from the restroom, as has our food. He immediately brings our order, pauses to look at the soggy folded back tablecloth in front of Gordon and carefully places his plate on top of it.
It is our turn to both be speechless.
We are however down one glass of wine which by now is seriously needed. The Maitre D is standing at the bar enjoying a drink. Gordon goes over to him to try and get some satisfaction. The nose inches higher which must really hurt his neck. He chooses not to understand English and just shrugs his shoulders.
Gordon returns to the table and rather uncharacteristically we decide to give them the benefit of the doubt. The problem must lie in the fact that nobody speaks or understands English. There is no way that a restaurant of this caliber would not know how to handle a situation like this. So we continue with the meal, trying not to let it spoil our evening. However the food does that for us. I had ordered sole, thinking of the fish. The kitchen had prepared it thinking of the bottom of a shoe.
We ask for the check, assuming that this is where we will be taken care of. We decide that at the very least we should be comped a bottle of wine. The new young waiter brings us the check which we are shocked to see is for the full amount, and if that wasn’t enough, they have had the nerve to add a 10% service charge. Presumably if they hadn’t thrown the wine over Gordon the service charge would have been 15%
We have remained calm for too long. But we are calm no longer.
Gordon, with steam coming out of his ears and feet barely touching the ground, crosses the restaurant, grabs Nervous Nelli by the arm, and drags him back to our table. Nervous Nelli is now physically shaking. He somehow extracts himself from Gordon’s grip, runs to the bar and returns holding a small glass of red wine which he offers to Gordon. If he thought this was going to work as a peace offering he is very much mistaken. It has quite the opposite effect. Gordon rises to his full height of five foot six and a half and demands to speak to the manager.
We are not sure if the waiter understands the demand, but the message is clear. Still shaking he hurries across the room to the Maitre D. Gordon sensing the time has come for action follows behind. The Maitre D seeing this, disappears up a flight of stairs taking Nervous Nelli with him. Gordon now has a full head of steam going and is not going to be put off. He follows them up the stairs.
At this point I lose all visual contact. But suffice it to say that I am still in audio contact, as is the entire restaurant. Gordon’s voice can clearly be heard for several blocks. He starts in Spanish, but as the words don’t come fast enough he changes to English. The words then flow nicely.
The scene only lasts a few moments but the result is entirely satisfying. The eye of the storm passes as quickly as it came. Everything goes strangely quiet. Gordon calmly and elegantly walks back down the stairs, the scene somewhat spoiled by the stain on the front of his clothes. He tells me with a hint of a smile that the nice manager has taken care of our check, and there is nothing to pay. We walk out of the restaurant leaving behind the remnants of the storm, as the manager can be heard yelling at Nervous Nelli.
What a disastrous evening. I am too much of a gentleman to tell you the name of the restaurant. But Gordon is not. He wants you to know it was Oviedo.
Do not go there.
Or if you do, wear waterproof clothing.