Everyone has a bad day. Sometimes things just do not work right, despite the best efforts of all involved. Other times, the troubles evidence a problem that is systemic. But how do you know when it is one thing and when the other?
That was the quandary this afternoon, when I had my single worst meal ever in Cuzco, after coming here regularly for more than thirty years. And, it was in a well recognized restaurant that is part of a well-established, Cuzco chain.
Ordinarily, I would be inclined to forgive and forget, and not write about the experience for Cuzco Eats. I mean, I went to one place and the salad had live worms in it, while the lasagna just tasted bad. My friends and I told the owner about the problems, showed him the worm, and then proceeded to give the place another chance. We did not write a review.
One of the questions that had to be answered, before deciding to write, was whether the problem was that bad day fluke, or represented something systemically wrong with the restaurant. Normally, I would try to return at a different time with, hopefully, different staff to get a different feel for the place.
This time, however, the bad meal happened in a restaurant I have visited many times since it opened a couple of years ago. That is the basic experience which let me feel I should write, rather than just keeping this one to myself.
My colleagues and I went to the restaurant, which is on a good place on the popular Plateros street. Right from the beginning things started to go wrong.
The restaurant offers a free salad bar, but the bar was understocked and they had no plates available. I asked for plates and it took them an unusual amount of time to bring them. When they did, they brought a big plate and two small ones.
We had ordered and, while we were waiting for the food to come, they brought us a pitcher of what they call “frozen lemonade”, a limeade slush. After almost fifty minutes the food still had not arrived.
I suppose I would have felt different about this if the place were busy, but it was not that crowded, comparatively. In our section, it was mostly empty.
Our waiter had not appeared for quite some time, almost since he had taken the order, so I asked a passing waiter if he could check into it. I also let him know that our window for being in the restaurant was swiftly closing; we would have to leave if the food did not come soon.
The waiter was very nice about everything, but as he walked away he knocked over my colleague’s full glass of limeade. He did wipe it up, but never replaced the glass nor the lost drink.
A bit later the manager passed by. On seeing the stained table cloth he muttered audibly “¡qué gil!”, which means “what an idiot”, leaving us troubled and unsure of who he was referring to.
After another wait, the waiter brought us the first dish, an appetizer of a stuffed rocoto with huayro potatoes. It was beautiful and very appetizing. We could not wait to tackle it.
The rocoto in its fried egg batter was wonderful (allthough the meat could have used some of the carrots and potatoes, as well as condiments, the dish normally has). But the potatoes, though they were boiled and then pan fried or baked to give them a crunch and amazing look, were so hard the fork could hardly go through them. They were severely undercooked.
As we were finishing this dish, he brought our pizza and the aji de gallina we ordered. The aji sauce was absolutely delicious, or maybe we were just very hungry. We sopped it up with the chunks of chicken and the white rice on the side.
The pizza however, was almost raw. Its base was slightly browned and the cheese lightly melted, but the crust was almost entirely uncooked dough. This was a severe disappointment, and, when we found out that the potatoes with the aji were also very hard, hence undercooked, I went to get the manager to show him what his kitchen had given us.
He was very polite and did recognize that the meal was almost inedible. As compensation he offered to discount fifty percent off the check, though we had to leave hungry.
As I said, I would not be writing about this if I did not feel there was something systematically wrong with this place. Over the two years I have been going there, the food, though it started as good, has been getting worse. This may have been a particularly bad day, but it comes in an eatery that should be better and has not been showing the dedication to its food one would expect.
Unfortunately, this place, Pacha Mamma (Plateros 310, 350), is part of a local chain. Its flagships have been here for a very long time. But even there the food is just not as good.
I write this with sadness, in the hope that it will serve to motivate the management of the Pachamama to dedicate more attention to their restaurant and its product. At the moment, I can recommend it to no one, though I used to consider it a reasonably good place.