Several weeks ago, we went to dinner at Bottles, which was recommended by a few people as a fantastic place to go for their very reasonably-priced wines. We got lost a bit on the way there but after a few stops to ask for directions, we finally found it.
Bottles is a boxy warehouse looking building which houses a wine store/ fresh meat and fish counter/ delicatessen. Right near the entrance is the shop area and towards the back are the shelves and shelves of wines and the restaurants tables. For a mid-week evening, the place was packed. We were asked if we were going to have "appetizers" or "main courses" which we found strange. When we told the receptionist that we were going to have dinner (i.e. main courses), she led us towards the back to a smaller closed-off area with a few tables that were set apart from the main room.
Our server came over right away with their makeshift blackboard menu which was actually a paper stuck onto a heavy wooden board. The menu is varied and had several appetizers and several main courses with ingredients mainly taken from whatever they also sold at the fish and meat counter - tuna, scallops, sirloin steaks, veal chops. We were surprised at the prices - appetizers were around $12 to $19 and main courses were $30 to $50 - quite pricey for a deli/restaurant.
We finally settled on two starters to share: tuna tartar and fried calamari and a main course to share - the veal chop with mashed potatoes. Our sever didn't seem too pleased with our order as he was recommending their special that evening which was stone crab and neither of us ordered that. He also asked us if we were sharing the main course and when we said yes, he suggested that we split the main course onto two plates which we thought was a great idea. A few minutes later, the server came back to tell us that they had run out of the veal chop so chose the rack of lamb instead.
After ordering the food, we went to the shelves to have a look at their extensive wine display. Here is where the attraction of Bottles lies, it's being able to choose from such a wide variety of wines and paying just retail price to drink that wine at the table with one's dinner. I have to admit that the selection was amazing - from interesting New World wines to French Chateau wines all at very reasonable retail prices and not the usual three times more we would have had to pay to drink these wines at a typical restaurant.
We settled on a bottle of an Argentine Bodega del Fin del Mundo (the cellar at the end of the world) special blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The appetizers were served soon after and that's when the surprises started - the tuna tartar was a large mound of chopped raw tuna with some tostones (fried plantain rounds) and the calamari was also a large platter of fried squid which came with aioli and cocktail sauce. We were shocked at the portions as we could have shared an appetizer if we had known or if the server had kindly told us that the portions at Bottles are for sharing. After having a quick look around, we realized that we were the only ones who had an appetizer each as the other tables were all sharing their appetizers. We were relieved that we had decided to share a main course as there was no way we were going to get through all that food in one sitting.
The tuna tartar was delicious - spicy chunks of sashimi-grade tuna in a wasabi, lime, soy-sauce and sesame oil dressing. They were perfect slathered onto the crispy and usually tasteless fried plantain rounds. The calamari were also good but nothing special, just crispy squid with some dipping sauces. We managed to finish the tuna but asked to take the rest of the squid home.
Our main course was served not long after we finished our starters. It was half a rack which was three pieces each with some mashed potatoes and half a head of broccoli. Again, the portion was gigantic and enough for two. Who can finish a whole rack of six lamb chops after the giant appetizers? Again, we noticed that the other tables were also sharing their main courses.
By the end of the meal, we figured out that everything on the menu is triple the size of what you imagine it to be and ordered only one dessert to share - cheesecake - which as we expected was a large hunk (about a quarter of a regular-sized whole cheesecake) with strawberries and melon and strangely enough, chocolate sauce instead of the usual berry coulis (sauce). The cheesecake was delicious and a nice sweet treat to end our meal.
When we asked for the check, we found one last unpleasant surprise - they had charged us $8.00 extra for splitting our order into two plates (which the server had never mentioned when he "kindly" offered us separate plates) and they also added a suggested 17% service charge which the server honestly didn't deserve.
After our dinner at Bottles, we asked around and everyone agreed that the portions were outrageous and the service uncaring so we didn't feel too bad about our own experience. Would we go back to Bottles? Yes, because the wine selection is impressive, the wine prices a bargain and the food is pretty good. Next time though, we're doing what everyone else does - sharing appetizers, main courses and desserts and remembering not to ask for the plates to be split.
P.D. May 28, 2012
We've been back twice more for brunch at Bottles and the service has been much better and once one knows that the portions are gigantic, then it's easy to order right and enjoy the meal and the fantastic wines at super prices.
5 Tabonuco Street
Guaynabo 00968 Puerto Rico
Telephone: +1 787 775 1210 or 787 775 0604
*Open Mondays to Fridays from 9 AM to 10 PM, Saturdays from 11 AM to 10 PM and Sundays for Brunch from 11 AM to 4 PM (Kitchen closes at 3 PM)