I tried to keep this idea in mind when Cacho, an ex-butcher who started driving a taxi after the Argentine economy crashed in 2001, dropped off my vegetarian co-adventurer and me at La Cantina de David.
Thanks to taxista Orlando, I’d already sampled the pasta at this old-school eatery in Chacarita (and hadn’t exactly been dazzled).
All the same, Cacho’s connection to the place inspired me to give it another go. The taxi driver told us that during his childhood in Villa del Parque, his dad used to take him to La Cantina de David for pasta. He had fond memories of their house-made fusilli, he said, dropping us off and driving away before we had a chance to invite him to dinner.
As we marched under the blue neon and into the art-deco cum 1960s dining room, I wondered whether Cacho’s fusilli would be any better than the ho-hum gnocchi I’d sampled the last time I was at La Cantina de David.
Meanwhile, my co-adventurer surveyed the scene, taking in the vested, bow-tied waiters, the faded linen, the toddlers in tiaras, the bald and the grey. At least three men wore pink dress shirts.
When we opened our menus, we were greeted with a page of steamed and grilled dishes designed to prevent cardiac problems, diabetes, and obesity. We skipped ahead to the pasta, trying to suppress the sensation that we’d stepped through the looking glass.
Our waiter gave us a thumbs up after we ordered fusilli a la zingara and mostacciolli with spinach and cream sauce.
I could see why Cacho was a fan of the fusilli. The slightly twisted, flattened tubes of homemade pasta were at once delicate and firm, their pink sauce balanced and rich. But I avoided the ham and ricotta ‘meatballs’ that finished off the dish, which tasted as if they’d been deep-fried in rancid oil.
Almost delicious, but not quite.
My co-adventurer’s mostacciolli followed a similar pattern. Though the freshness of the spinach came straight through the subtle cream sauce, it was a poor match for a dry pasta like mostacciolli. The dish fell as flat as a 2-for-1 coupon on a blind date.
Experience may not be interesting until it repeats itself, but in a city with over 32,000 places to eat, sometimes it pays to be choosy about the restaurants we go back to.