“Too few soaring exceptions to be above the average Billyberg dining experience”
A Review of El Almacén
BY ELENA MANCINI
El Almacén 557 Driggs Ave. (near N. 7th. St.)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 718-218-7284
Caustic charm, overly-contrived rustic decor and decently executed cuisine with a few soaring exceptions characterize this bustling Argentine Billyberg restaurant, falsely billed as Mexican by New York Magazine.
Let me start with the high points: If you’re a carnivore,–there’s little point to come here if your not–by all means the skirt steak, entrana. Thick, velvety-tender and served with chimichurri and potato-gratin, it towered above all of the four entrees and every item in the three course meal that my party of four and I ordered.
A somewhat distant second would be the lamb chops, the corderito. Succulent and elegantly marinated in chipotle bbq sauce, the lamb chops were tender and rich with flavor. While well seasoned and skillfully grilled, it does not quite deliver the palatal gratification of the skirt steak.
The appetizers were a mixed bag. The ceviche mixto featuring shrimp, calamari and yellow tail was superb, uniformly fresh and appropriately tart and citrusy but under-portioned. The empanadas–we ordered a platter of assorted empanadas filled with spinach and cheese, corn and hand cut steak, were served hot, delicious and beyond reproach. The Ensalada De Remolacha, roasted beets on a bed of spinach, topped with parmesan cheese did not disappoint. The combination platter of fiambres (cured meats) and quesos (cheeses) had a winning presentation, despite the fact that it took up a deceptive amount of space on the table considering the parsimonious portions and featured a variety of cheeses, pungent, aged and soft, scant amounts of cured port delicacies and a tiny wedge of guava paste for an exotic touch. The platter was almost more about decoration than substance.
The staff’s highly-touted short rib dish, Tira de Asado, was an utter let down. Fatty and under-seasoned, I turned my appetite-satisfying quest to leaner and more appetizing sources of nourishment still on the table–namely remnants of the beet salad and my dining companions’ dishes.
As far as the desserts go, the staff recommended a tart made with plantains. My dining companions and I ordered it hoping for a reprisal of some exciting flavors. Instead it was overly sweet and underwhelmed. The chocolate torte was somewhat better, but far from inspiring.
All in all, El Almacen has its share of hits or misses on the menu, is mildly overpriced and provides a predictable Williamsburg ethnic dining experience with requisite moody and unmotivated servers, decent cuisine and an eclectic clientele.