While I am never one to turn my nose up at a free lunch, I had definite opinions when I went to go dine in at Pampas (17003 Chatsworth St; Granada Hills) an Argentine Café which served both lunch and dinner. While I was pleased to get a little bit different flavor from so much of the common dreck that is so many of the other restaurants I’ve been to since moving here, there were issues.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. First off, what sets Pampas apart from other places has got to be the quality and size of the entrees. So often it seems in Los Angeles or thereabouts, it is tough to even get a glimmer of a portion but at Pampas the sizes are generous and the prices seemed reasonable.
When we sat down we ordered some bruschetta and empanadas to begin with. I love bruschetta and these bruschetta had thinly sliced tomato, fresh grated mozzarella and the toast were not too doused in oil. It has often been my experience at many restaurants that drenching your bruschetta in oil sends up red flags about the rest of the meal. Not here; the toast was crisp around the edges and soft and gooey while still being biteable in the middle. As much as the bruschetta were good, the empanadas never showed up. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Then the entrees came; I ordered the NY Strip Sandwich which came with thin, yummy slices of steak, cooked just to my request, lettuce, and tomato on a roll. Another thing I really liked was that they didn’t cut off the fat around some of the edges; it made me feel as though the food weren’t “too prepared.” My wife ordered the chicken milanesa sandwich which came with thin breaded strips on a hard roll.
Both of our orders came with fries; long, thin, stringy, crisp, salted French fries. Unfortunately when they came out the fries were cold. I always grab a couple of fries when my meal comes so that I’m not throwing out false accusations and I’d done this on this occasion so it was in fact the case.
So the food was good and all-in-all everything was pleasant. If I weren’t reviewing this place these would probably be forgettable offenses. But I was reviewing this place so let me say a few things about the overall appeal of Pampas.
I got this assignment last night and I had a quick turnaround so I wanted to get right to the task of going to this place. When I called the morning of to speak with my contact from the paper, he wasn’t there; I was told he’d be there at 11AM when they opened. This was fine; I wasn’t planning on going until around noon anyway; I’d just talk to him then. When I got there around noon, he still wasn’t there. My gripe wasn’t that my point person wasn’t there; it was that the people who were there couldn’t speak English. Yo hablo un poco Espanol but come on! Really? And this poor girl was the hostess, waitress, taking phone orders, and being cashier. Too much responsibility for any one person; her problems were further exacerbated when her English was “iffy” at best. And it’s not like I was the only Caucasian person in there; at the other three tables they were all white (and one Asian looking girl)
We sat at a table towards the back of the restaurant and there was a bee line into the kitchen which could very easily be masked or made look less grubby with some beads, a curtain, or even extending the wall out a little bit.
Also playing on the radio was nice, appropriate, daytime sounding traditional sounding music. Fine. But on the back wall at a flat screen TV was MTV 3 with these thuggish looking, ghetto blaster, men and scantily clad women dancing and gyrating and throbbing and pulsating. Not only was the music not appropriate for the images but it was not something that anyone in the restaurant at that moment wanted to be seeing. A teacher, an office worker, two students who were trying to plug in their laptops so they could study and my wife and I; there was no dance party about to get started. Change the channel from the night before, really.
Finally, with notice to cleanliness. The place seemed okay. But we sat down at this table at the back and next to the salt and pepper shakers were balled up straw wrappers, presumably from the night before (they had only been open 20 minutes or so before we came in) Also of note was the ketchup container. The ketchup came in one of those red plastic things you have when you’re out camping. Not a big deal. But when we got there, our table was absent ketchup. So I dashed over to another table and the container we got from there was 1/3 full and sticky along the side. I worked in restaurants for years and years. The one thing you should always do when you close and always do when you open is check the sugars, salt and pepper, and the ketchup. This place is the same style restaurant as all those I worked in and whether it was a chain or an independent (especially at the independents!)whether it’s a glass bottle or a plastic container, you wipe it down with a wet rag and you make sure that every table is set with a full bottle for lunch the next day.
Overall the experience was positive but with these small improvements the experience could be made that much better. It’s these little things which can really skew a person’s otherwise pleasant experience at a restaurant and maybe drive away future business. Things which should be worked on in the future.