Already a huge fan/advocate (fanvocate?) of Bodega, I was pretty psyched when they opened Porteno, an Argentinean grillhouse/meat temple with a menu that looked pretty much awesome.
It’s the sort of thing that couldn’t go wrong.
But then... it kind of did.
We rocked up around 6.30 midweek to find the place nearly full, which was to be expected. A lot of the people that have given the place a negative review just haven’t understood how a no-bookings place works if it’s popular. PEOPLE TEND TO GO THERE. But, success, there was a table free.
After putting in our order we waited for the food to come. And waited. We got the bread pretty quick and that was fine, with a nice pate to go with. The smoked mackerel with palm hearts and avocado was also fantastic. As was the wine, which came of a wine list that was similarly excellent to that at Bodega.
But then, where was everything else? Were they cooking the 8 hour pork to order?
The wine was diminishing quickly and the water was barely getting ever getting topped up. The table next to us, who got their first dish around the same time as we did, finished their entire meal (with dessert) while we waited. We asked the waitress what was going on and only got “yeah, it’s coming” as a response. Oh, phew, because for a second there I was worried that it wasn’t.
So while we waited for an eternity for the rest of the food, we tried to ignore the fact that we were being ignored and do as most people do: talk. But this too was difficult with the noise in the place. I think it was just where our table was positioned, but fuck me it was hard to talk. It’s noisy at Bodega too, but I don’t really mind. Maybe it’s because it’s a small place (and I usually have food in front of me)? Like, maybe the smallness makes the diner think that they’re in the middle of an intimate party or something stupid like that? But at Porteno, it’s more like being part of a huge migration of cattle?
The food finally came (all at once) (after another group had been seated next to us and received their first course) and it was damn good, as expected. Veal sweetbreads melted in the mouth; the morcilla was packed with flavour, beautifully soft and paired well with roasted capsicum; and the suckling pig was salty, sweet, crunchy and tender all at once. It managed to go nicely with the half of glass of wine I’d rationed off.
I think I ordered the polenta too, but that never arrived. Forgot to check the bill at the end to see if we’d been charged.
Still a little hungry, we went for dessert. The Argentinean pavlova was a nice mix of texture and flavour. The burnt milk custard or whatever it was definitely tasted good, but struck me as the poor-man’s version of the banana split at Bodega. The custard was collapsing slightly, and the pieces of popcorn added the right flavour, but the texture was a bit strange. Still, a top dessert though.
I left, wondering what happened.
That “dining experience” (TM) was heavily influenced by the average service and the ridiculous wait between courses. But what caused it?
I wanted an excuse I could use to forgive everything.
Opening jitters? Not really, it’s been open a while and thousands of people have poured through the door already so they should be with it by now. Maybe that waitress was new, or she just wasn’t getting it?
Maybe the kitchen had an off day? By arrive at 6.30 we would have been among the last tables to put in our orders from the first sitting. Did they hit the wall? Was it just a once off?
Maybe it was only our table that copped all of the noise in the place?
But try as I might, I just couldn’t find an excuse for them. My meal at Porteno was average. The service was either forgettable or in line with a place that seats around 3 million people; the acoustics of the place meant that the noise was too much; the wait between the mackerel and the rest was just ridiculous; and I’m almost certain I ordered the polenta, yet it never arrived.
While the food was undeniably great, I’m hesitant to go back. Maybe I’ll go back again, once, if only to try the lamb. But if the service is average and there’s another huge wait for the food then I don’t see any point in returning. And I think the pretty young things in their “dresses” and “shoes” will agree with me. Right now it’s buzzing on hype, but that only lasts for so long. Surely it can't always be like this? I want this place to be so good. So much.