Unsatisfactory service quality is ubiquitous in Bogotá, but since customers don’t complain or have any better choice, restaurants continue to indulge in their spoiled ways.
The first time I tested my luck with Café Amarti, a popular restaurant at the North East corner of the Usaquén square, was on a Saturday, at 1pm. I went in and asked for a table at the back, in their famous patio/conservatory type space.
I was rejected outright, ‘No, that area’s only for reservations.’
‘We’re just gonna have a quick lunch so please give us the table of your latest arriving reservation.’
‘I’m afraid I can’t. All of them are arriving in 30 minutes, at 1.30.’
OK.. It’s quite hard to believe that all the bookings were gonna arrive at the same time, not to mention the local culture of lateness, of at least 15 minutes, if not 30. The place turns out to be presumptuously snobbish. As to how it might have gained its fame is unfathomable, beyond my intellect. Quite counter-intuitively, it seems to have fueled its desirability by giving its customers a hard time. Since that accident, the famous Amarti has topped on my black list quite nicely.
The problem is that the restaurant is such a solid favorite of Bogotá that it’s hard to avoid it completely. So, ironically I had the ‘privilege’ to savor the Amarti experience at a lunch invitation the other day. ‘Privilege’ is in quotation marks because the restaurant is so over-subscribed that it’s almost impossible to get a table without any reservation, which explains the permanent sight of a long queue of eager food-grabbers.
We arrived, got our table, had our starters and ordered our main courses. So far so good. After much anticipation, our main courses arrived, but the dish in front of me was totally unrecognizable. It had broccoli instead of rocket, and fusilli instead of fettuccine.
‘Waiter!’ The waiter came.
‘I didn’t order this.’
‘Yes this is what you ordered.’
!(*@&%(£* How could he be so sure?
‘No it isn’t.’
‘Yes it is.’
Right, even if he was sure he shouldn’t be correcting the customers. Anyway.
I tried to be objective. There might have been a misunderstanding. The dish I got might have been just directly above or below the one that I wanted on the menu. In that case I would just let it go and swallow it.
‘Please get me the menu.’ He came with the menu.
‘Please show me where this dish is on the menu.’
It turned out that the broccoli fusilli was on a page behind that of my rocket fettuccine, so there would have been no room for any confusion except for the one in his own head.
‘This is what you ordered,’ he pointed at the broccoli fusilli. Wow. He corrected me 3 times. Didn’t apologize. That’d be the end of my patience.
He offered to get me my fettuccine anyway. After everyone has finished their food, my dish finally came. It was supposed to be rocket, goat cheese, fresh tomatoes and bresaola. Goat cheese doesn’t usually go unnoticed. But I couldn’t taste a tiny bit of goat in there. And they asked me for a COP 28.000 for that. My ass.
And as if that wasn’t enough, up next was the aromatica incident. Café Amarti offers 3 aromaticas. One with ‘forest fruits’, another with hibiscus and the last one with both, which costs an extra COP 3.000. I asked for the one with hibiscus. The same waiter responded, ‘No, we don’t have it. We only have the one that comes with both hibiscus and fruits.’
Then why the hell have you got it on the menu? And it’s just grade 1 math. Why would you have an aromatica with both hibiscus & fruits but not one just with hibiscus? I couldn’t help but think that it was his way to get more bucks from me. Why couldn’t you just give me what I want and leave me alone? In the end my companion asked him simply to remove the fruits from the one that he said was available and that’d be it. And he actually said he would be able to do that! God knows if he charged the COP 3.000 extra in the end.
Amarti’s only salvage is perhaps their divine-looking desserts, admittedly more difficult to reproduce at home than pasta is. But even though the massive cheesecake and meringue might have been begging me for a bite, there’s no way I am gonna return.
The problem with most restaurants in Bogotá, like Amarti, is that neither of their food nor service quality deserves their popularity or pricing level. Of course there are exceptions, especially the upper tier restaurants and those in hotels. In the meantime, I wouldn’t queue to eat or toss the mediocre lot a penny for such service. If I can cook better food at home than the restaurant can, and have to suffer being mal-treated, then that totally defies the purpose of eating out, doesn’t it?