Sunday, August 23, 2009

Back at the Casa Escudo

We went back to La Escudilla last night and this time we weren't hussled out the door.

My indignant post from October '07 had attracted the following comment: "Thinks are changing [sic] mangement is changing and I hope we have the goodtimes back."

So perhaps it was time to accept this challenge from the nueva gerencia. I'd actually been back once before last year with a visiting friend and we'd had a very pleasant Sunday buffet lunch...but getting my wife back in there after the embarrassment caused to her own friend was always going to take a bit more cajoling. I eventually achieved it largely by declaring an inexorable antojo for Cordon Bleu earlier in the week.

So, what's changed aside from the management?

Well, they don't sell litros of Brahva any more...and this was the place that earlier in the decade temporarily swapped out all its rustic wooden furniture for bright red Brahva-branded director's chairs and sun umbrellas. (A customer uprising ensued, but it was nice to have something other than Gallo to drink.)

The two rather squat fellows who handle security at the entrance— and who seem to have been there since Riki first opened that door to patrons — are still there, but the perennial crew of sullen meseras has been whittled down to one survivor; fortunately the least elusive and sulky, and the new staff all seem to go about their jobs with an air of cheerful efficiency.

The weekend buffet is a really good idea and reasonably priced. However, the rest of the menu doesn't manifest quite the same mouth-watering price to quality ratio that it used to.

Being something of an Antigua institution is clearly a double-edged sword. Some of Escudilla's offerings, like the Cordon Bleu of fond memory, are part of the fabric of the joint. But chefs change and we were left thinking last night that perhaps we ought to have plugged for one of the upstart entrées. For what arrived in front of me was a fine lump of battered white chicken for sure, but the cheese didn't do the sort of oozing that it always used to, and I felt a bit like a surgeon in my subcutaneous quest for the ham.

And V's escalope was a slipshod affair, served with a perfunctory 'salad' and a few pommes frites — not quite the 'two fried potatoes' advertised. These were sent back and replaced with a really superb guacamol, but it couldn't really make up for the unfastidious nature of this dish in terms of both taste and presentation. (If you must do bland here in Centroamérica, Personajes currently has the edge with the basic chicken escalope I would suggest.)

Naturally I felt obliged to share my mashed potato, which I have to say the current crop of cooks prepare in far more savory style than their predecessors. Another blip of real satisfaction occurred when I asked for some salsa picante and the green chile sauce that turned up — eventually — was one of the best I have ever tried in a Guatemalan restaurant. Thankfully they've adiosed the Picamás!

And the good times do seem to be sticking a toe in the water again. The majority of our fellow diners were a smart — if somewhat staid — crowd of youngish capitalinos, with a smattering of gringos and gente del otro bando. Not quite the roaring atmosphere of the late 90s, but an improvement on the regressively funereal ambience of recent times. Anyway, a good number of Riki's erstwhile revellers are probably sprogged up and perched in front of Sabado Gigante these days.

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