The Never Ending Dinner

For Erin’s birthday we treated ourselves to a sumptuous meal at Sette Bacco Italian restaurant in Recoleta, Buenos Aires. As soon as we stepped in the door, I felt my wallet lighten considerably. This place was classy.

I was wearing hiking shoes.

Despite that, the Maître d’ was warm and welcoming and seated us in a lovely spot on the roof terrace, perfumed delicately by the rosemary plants dotted about. There were candles everywhere and my napkin was bigger and thicker than my travel towel. Feeling that this place might be very, very expensive (as opposed to just very expensive), I had a surreptitious check of our cash situation.

Not good. Less than A$200.

Wine Wars

Our waiter brought us the menus and the wine list. He was obviously eager to impart some of his great wine learnin’ so he asked us if we wanted any recommendations. Seeing his enthusiasm we were all sure, what the hell. Something cheap and smooth, please.

He started pointing at wines that were way above my pay grade. He recommended three or four then left us to ruminate. Didn’t take long. With mains at around A$40 a hit, that didn’t leave much for wine. His least expensive suggestion started at A$60.

Crap, we thought. After asking for advice, we’re going to have to ignore every one of his suggestions and go for the cheapest bottle (which was weirdly still cheaper than ordering just two glasses).

How to make friends with a waiter, step one: snub his obviously superior palette.

We sheepishly ordered and looked for signs of disgust but this guy was a pro and he swallowed our rudeness graciously. I felt a little better when I saw that the table next to us had ordered the same bottle. Still, they had the sense not to pretend that they were richer than they were and had refused counsel.

Our man sent out an underling with the cheap plonk and the starter (which we were now sharing to make the dollars go further). We’re not sure if it was because he refused to pour such a shoddy wine himself, or because he had a specific Wine Guy who did the whole cutting, cork-pulling, tasting, pouring bit. I hoped it was the latter, but feared it was the former.

All this drama had given me an appetite. Thankfully, the food was amazing. We split a Melanzana Parmigiana and the aubergines were cooked just right (I hate rubbery aubergines) in a rich tomato sauce. I followed it up with the gnocchi, unusually flattened and lightly fried on one side giving them a crispy melty texture that was full of deliciousness. Erin´s pumpkin ravioli was equally wonderful.

We don’t drink that much so originally we had planned on drinking half the bottle and taking the rest home, but our man was ever attentive and kept topping our glasses up when we weren’t looking. By the end of the meal the bottle was empty and we were both rather tipsy which made what happened next even more confusing.

The Beginning of the Never Ending

We asked for the bill and were promptly served two glasses of champagne. Surely our Spanish hadn’t got so bad that ‘la cuenta’ had sounded like ‘dos copas de champagne’? By that point, it was entirely possible.

We did the only prudent thing when two glasses of champagne are set in front of you. We drank them.

‘Ahm reeledrun. Weesha geh goan.’ I said.

Erin tried to ask for the bill again. This time, our waiter brought out two glasses of red wine.

Seriously, now.

I think he said something about letting us try one of the wine’s that he recommended just so that we could see the difference.

OK, OK. I’ll drink it. But then we really have to go.

Boy, was there a difference. This wine really was smooooooth, with a strong fruity texture and a delicate vanilla finish.

Possibly.

I know nothing about wine other than this glass was very tasty and went down easy. All money concerns now forgotten, I wished out loud that we had gone for this bottle from the start.

We had now been at the restaurant for four hours and it was 1am. Interestingly, people were still being seated for dinner. Such is the Argentine way, but we English were more than ready to leave.

This time, when we asked, we were brought the bill.

To our utter astonishment, we had not been charged for either the champagne or the extra glass of red wine. Given the moths in my pocket, it was just as well, but we were very touched by our waiter’s generosity.

We left an equally generous tip, shook his hand and thanked him probably a little too profusely for a wonderful night. Instead of feeling snubbed, it seems that he had developed a fondness for these foreigners who found themselves in a place far too fancy for them.

Have you ever experienced the love of a good waiter? Leave a comment and let us know!

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27 thoughts on The Never Ending Dinner

  1. This was a great story – although I don’t have a dining memory that sticks out, for some reason it did make me think of the Ernest Hemingway story ” Clean Well-Lighted Place”.

    I can only imagine how much better Argentinian wine tastes when you’re actually there. Happy belated-Birthday, Erin!

    • Thanks! I haven’t read the story but I’m intrigued! Not that we have a choice of literature here in Paraguay though. The wine really is excellent, great value and for some reason hangover free!

      • I work for a beer company, not a winery BUT I know that if another country wants to send over beer they have to add perservatives or the product can change due to shipping – which is why Guinness in Ireland tastes totally different then what you get here.

        Maybe the lack of a hangover has to do with the integrity and “freshness” of the wine. Food is always better closer to the source.

        For the record, I sit at my desk reading your blog and day dreaming… 🙂

  2. Dave and I were loved by a very nice maitre d’ in a French restaurant in Solihull. He had a way of making you feel very special and his recommendations were always wonderful. Sadly, Chez Julien is no longer there – though our memories are!! More recently, we discovered 3 York Place in Leeds – and the waiter there always remembers us and makes us welcome – even when we haven’t been there for a while. But I don’t recall any waiters giving us free champagne or red wine!! Though do ask Dave sometime about the liqueur 43 in Granada…….. XX

    • Glad you’ve had some great experiences too Anne Marie. The wine is a lot cheaper over here so that probably helps with the freebies!

  3. Fantastic story! Aren’t people wonderful sometimes? That’s happened twice to us in our travels across the U.S. and both times it just blew us away. Those definitely become part of our favorite re-told and blogged about memories. Thanks for sharing!

  4. sounds good, i cant believe you didnt get charged for the extra, that really was a nice gesture, and it does’nt happen very often but someting i really like the idea of, sometimes waiters or restaurants might try and reap of the rich rather than people like yourself, i have found myself guilty of that once or twice.
    and for the wine from my perspective its all down to your own pallet, if you dont know what grape or flavours your looking for its pot luck weather you will like it or not.
    and unless your a wine snob and have loads of money you can find a decent bottle for around 25-30 which wont be that much different than one priced at 60-120.

    i also really like italian food and would love to see what italian food is like in south america in that type of restaurant, i cant wait to get out there and see. and not just italian food there but different cuisines all over the world, this is something which i find really interesting and would benifit me if im able to open some type of food outlet in the uk. there is such a gap in the market i believe for fusion food and different ways of eating but im not to sure weather english people are to stuborn or just to small minded when it comes to changing there food habits. i hate supermarkets and fast food restaurant even tho i still eat there but thats not the point. the idea behind putting so many chemicals and additives in to food just too make it look pritty or have a longer shelf life, really doesnt help anything apart from people to make money.
    i could go on forever your blog set me of on a rante im now going to wright to a local mp or food health minister (if there is one)
    complaning of these type of democracies.
    im only joking there probably aint much point they wont listen to me anyway.
    i hope all is well and take care erin and simon ill speak to u soon.

    • You should definitely start a food tour of the world! It would be a great way to travel and you can write a blog about it!

  5. That’s a great story Simon.

    I wish I had a similar waiter story. Unfortunately, my most recent waiter story involved a guy in Mexico who refused to remove the charge for a dish that my friend and I never ordered and had sent back as a result. Needless to say, that was not such a pleasant experience as yours.

    And Happy Birthday to Erin!
    .-= Earl´s last blog ..The Strange Habits Of A Traveler =-.

  6. This reminds me of a dining experience I had in Melbourne, Australia at Mulatta, an quaint, authentic Italian restaurant on the upscale Chapel Street. I took a train and trekked about 20 blocks after a full-day in the St. Kilda sun. I was more tired than hungry and definitely had already spent my weekend’s budget. However, I promised my aunt and uncle that I would go try “the best pizza in the world” (this coming from my aunt who was born and raised in Abruzzo, Italy and is probably the best Italian cook I’ve ever met). They had spent a few months in Melbourne and after discovering Mulatta, would frequent there a few times a week, and soon became a part of the staff’s family. So being that it was my last night in Melbourne, I felt obligated…

    I got an uneasy feeling walking down Chapel Street unable to ignore the plethora of designer shops and people out dressed to the nines. This was not going to be a cheap meal. And to add to it, my hostel roommate was originally going to accompany me, but decided to save her dollars and stay in. This was all on me.

    I finally found Mulatta. It was a perfect spot for a nice date with the candlelit white table cloths. Too bad I was by myself. The owner wasn’t in, but I found the manager on duty and mentioned the names of my aunt and uncle. When he realized who I was talking about he almost leapt for joy. So passionate; so Italian. He immediately had a table set for me and as I was looking over the wine list, he had a full antipasto platter sent to my table.

    I couldn’t help but get caught up in the romance of the Mediterranean atmosphere so I ordered a glass of Chianti. The menu was extensive to say the least- the pizza alone took up about four pages (each one somewhere around $20). At least I’d probably have lunch for tomorrow? The food was phenomenal. The mozzarella was so light and creamy, the meat was so fresh, the flavors out of this world. As I enjoyed my delicious starter and the colorful conversations around me, my waitress came around and topped up my wine (uh-oh, I hope she knows I didn’t want a bottle). The pizza came and I was already filling up, but one slice was definitely not enough. I swear I forgot I was in Australia for a minute.

    As I indulged in the “best pizza in the world” and my second (or third) glass of wine, the manager came and sat with me for a while and we exchanged stories. When he had to tend to his job, another waiter came and took his place. He knew my aunt and uncle well and had so much fun telling me stories about their time there. This night was picking up. I came in alone, but over dinner, had the pleasure of TWO dates with very attractive Italian men. Meanwhile, the waitress made sure my glass was never empty…

    I could only eat half of the pizza and I was busting at the seems, but I was so so happy. Of course, they insisted I had dessert. I could not physically endure another bite. I resisted. I was perfectly content with my wine and my company. I guess I stuck around too long though because eventually they persuaded me to “try” a “little” gelato. They brought out THREE scoops of gelato! And I’m pretty sure I ate all of it.

    Almost three hours had passed and this had become such a highlight to my weekend, I didn’t care how large my bill was (plus I had a whole bottle of Chianti in me- nothing could upset me). I approached my waitress on my way back from the restroom to ask for the check. She told me not to worry about a thing. What? Nothing?! Not even the pizza??? I couldn’t believe the hospitality. I got a chance to go back to Melbourne later in the year and brought a friend with me so I had someone with whom to share the amazing food, atmosphere, and people.

    Stories like these show the beauty of travel. Thank you for sharing yours. I’m so glad I found this blog.

  7. Es muy común en los buenos restaurantes italianos de Argentina invitar a los clientes con una copa de champagne (a veces, antes de comer, como aperitivo) y/o una copa de lemoncello después de comer. Gratis, por supuesto. Si quieren verificar, pueden ir a “La Parolaccia”, es un poco más económico y generalmente al mediodía tienen un buen menú ejecutivo.

    Suerte 🙂

    • The wine is great here and so cheap – a glass is often the same price as water or coke so it’s hard to resist. Luckily, for some reason I don’t get hangovers from Argentine wine!

  8. Happy birthday Erin, sounds like you two had a great time!

    I’ve just had a look at TripAdvisor and the 3 people that reviewed it all had a good experience too.

    It’s refreshing to hear a story about a generous maitre ‘d / sommelier – they’re so often snooty and off-hand – maybe he recognised the famous travel bloggers who could give his establishment some positive publicity!!

    • Thanks Adelle! Yeah, we were worried he’d be judging us but he was actually really lovely. In general we find the Argentines very friendly and relaxed. Hope you are well!

  9. Nice to hear that you had a positive experience in this case. We’ve heard many stories not that nice about restaurants, waitress and unexpected expensive bills, so in any case, for further readers of this blog, is always important to ask the waitress if there is an extra cost, and never never order something that you haven’t seen the price on list before. Another recommendation is to ask before ordering if they receive credit cards, as some restaurants only receive cash….and regarding the wine, there are plenty of excellent Malbec wines in Argentina at a very affordable price, the relation price-quality is what makes Argentine wine so competitive around the world.

    Here is some insiders tip article in case some of you want to see
    http://ow.ly/1NJJu

    Ps: great blog!!!

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