Sunday, May 22, 2011

El Almacen (Brooklyn, New York)

Papardelle con Rabo

There are plenty of restaurants in Manhattan that rely on their good looks to get by, rather than good food or good service. I wasn't expecting to encounter one in Brooklyn, where one is more likely to find the most delicious version of X available on the East Coast being served in the most humble of mom & pop-operated establishments. But this, my friends, is the sad tale of good-looking El Almacen, a cozy, charmingly decorated Argentinian restaurant. It features lots of old wood, the sort of rough-hewn reclaimed lumber so common in Williamsburg, a feeling of dignified age and rusticity, and an absolutely mouthwatering-sounding menu. Sadly, the food and service completely failed to live up to the lovely decor.

On a recent evening, after a grape crushing session at the wonderful Brooklyn Winery, where Justin and I are enrolled in a winemaking class, we stopped by El Almacen with a group of friends for a bite to eat. Our Veruca-Salt-esque waitress came by about five times while we were still browsing the menu, to see if we were ready to order, yet. No we weren't. Would she mind waiting until a friend, who'd gotten up to use the in-house ATM (the restaurant is cash only), came back so we could all order at the same time? She was back approximately one minute later -- literally -- and again, scowling, as soon as the friend had returned to his seat, though he clearly hadn't had time to look at the menu at all. I thought her impatience was pretty obnoxious, especially since we didn't take an inordinately long time to order and the restaurant was nearly empty.

Worst of all, though, either as a result of a mix-up in the kitchen or a mistake when keying in the order, all of our dishes -- appetizers and mains -- arrived at the same time. Or, rather, some of the mains and appetizers arrived, including one we didn't order, and the remainder arrived five or ten minutes later.

I could go on -- our waitress also forgot to tell us the specials, some of which we would've liked to have ordered; she couldn't tell us which dishes were popular on the menu; and once the food was delivered, never came back to the table to check on us until we flagged her down for the check; etc... -- but you probably get the picture. 

We're willing to forgive a lot if the food is excellent, but alas, it was not. Justin and I started (or rather, "started", since the appetizers came at the same time as the mains) with the pulpo y rusa / grilled octopus, warm potato salad. The octopus was tender, but had a strangely sticky, off-putting fatty texture in parts and it was extremely oversalted, even for my salt-fiend tastes. The potato salad had the off odor of potato salad that has spent one or two days too many in the refrigerator. There was enough vinegar in the dish to mask the offensive smell and taste slightly, but not entirely. After a bite, we avoided it for fear of food poisoning. (Apologies for the blurry picture.) No one came by the table to ask how the food was, interestingly.

Pulpo y Rusa

I'd originally asked for the costilla de res / malbec braised shortrib, boniato puree, brussel sprouts as my main, which I understand is a restaurant specialty based on Yelp and Chowhound reviews, but about ten minutes after ordering (a strangely long time, I thought), our waitress came out to tell me they didn't have the costilla, today. They were also out of a friend's first choice of matambrito de pollo / chicken roulade filled with spinach regianito, prosciutto, truffle mashed potato. No biggie. We changed our orders, mine to the chuleta de cerdo / corn fed pork chop, caramelized apples, radicchio, vanilla glaze. This chuleta was a massively thick, 1.5 to 2 inch cut of pork chop that could have been a wonderful cut of meat. Sadly, it was overdone by a long shot and a bit tough. To their credit, however, the kitchen managed to keep the inside of the chop moist -- attributable to a good wet brine, probably -- and the outside had a nice sear. Caramelized apples and a genuinely beautiful grilled radicchio, were a nice match for the meat. The vanilla glaze was concentrated in flavor and overwhelming. A good cut of meat doesn't need this degree of obfuscation.

Chuleta de Cerdo

Justin's papardelle con rabo / homemade papardelle, coffee braised oxtail ragu (pictured at the top of this post) fared a bit better. He said he enjoyed the texture of the homeamde papardelle (another friend found it oddly grainy; I didn't taste it). The bite of ragu I tried was nicely flavored and tender, with a bit of the gelatinous, rich texture that oxtail lovers so prize.

A friend's paella with shrimp, calamari, clams, octopus, saffron rice, roasted garlic and chorizo espanol was nicely flavored, but clearly not cooked in the (tiny-for-the-price) miniature paella pan it was served in. It had no socarrat at all. But this is unfortunately a common sin all over New York City. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this paella did, indeed, include enough fragrant saffron to detect.


Despite a few things done right, food-wise, I'm really not moved to return to El Almacen anytime soon. The misses weren't just ordinary slip-ups; many were egregious. At this price point, the sorts of blunders that occurred were inexcusable. There are simply too many good restaurants in Williamsburg to waste one's time, energy or money on this one. 

557 Driggs Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211-2911
(718) 218-7284

1 comment:

  1. This place has been on my list, but I guess it is not worth venturing out of the city... The octopus does not even look good on the picture! It is such a simple and easy dish to cook, too!