“You’re a critic?” Mauro shouts out. It was not quite a bark but definitely not a compliment. “Do you write critiques or tell stories?” I had heard whispers of Mauro Crivellin through the grapevine and listened to tales told with both awe and fear, often from the same person but had written them off as caricatures of the man. Unsure of what he meant to imply with ‘tell stories’ I continued my regular spiel and was quickly interrupted, “You have to have a lot of courage to be able to critique.” He stared at me with confidence. I wasn’t positive if this was a challenge, but it was my turn to speak again. “I don’t like to think of my writing as a critique. Food is subjective. If I don’t like it, who am I to tell other people they shouldn’t enjoy it. I write about places that I like, and hope people agree.” His eyes warmed and he gave me his card, which in place of a logo features his smiling face. “Come back on Monday and we can talk some more.”
I went home and searched for an answer. Mauro’s reputation preceded him, but why was he so turned off by the idea of a critic? I’d encountered my fair share of chefs and restaurateurs that thought their restaurants were above any sort of press, but most of the time they just brushed me off until I gave up on the story. Mauro had attitude. Which, I soon learned, was just Mauro. Learn to love him or hate him, but the attitude comes with the package.
As I sorted through the TripAdvisor, Facebook and Yelp pages, I found accolades and complaints in equal measure. But a sizable amount of the complaints were about him, not the food. Even Mauro himself gets in on the fun. He rates his own restaurant a 4 on Facebook, proclaiming in Italian “Down with Mauro! He’s a hijo de puta fraud!”
“I make food the way it would be eaten in Italy, and if that doesn’t match up with someone’s idea of what Italian food is [sic] covering your noodles in ketchup or putting cheese on everything, well, they don’t have to eat here,” Mauro explains, “These aren’t my rules. I just make food the way it’s always been made.” Crivellin was born in Venice, and after having decided to leave the restaurant business and relocate to Argentina he was reeled back in to cooking and decided to open Mauro.it but to run it his way.
This is part of the charm, although it’s not to everyone’s liking. Food is served the way that Mauro says it is to be served, and if you need a crash course on learning the proper way (according to Italian mandate) to eat pasta, not to worry, there is a complete list of rules to help guide you through the meal. Hungry M of Riverside, CA didn’t take kindly to the biggest rule of them all, “If someone has a strange palate and likes cheese on seafood pasta, let them be.” Not here, order parmesan with your seafood pasta dish and you’ll be fined. “Parmesan on shellfish, it’s ridiculous!” Mauro reiterates.
“I prostituted myself to the restaurant business and followed the idea that the customer is always right. Not anymore,” Mauro continues, “If I fail, the customer has every right to complain. But if someone doesn’t like my food, that’s not my problem.” In a way, Mauro is a walking stereotype. He is loud, theatrical and talks with boisterous hand gestures and a thick accent. He bickers with his in-laws, who help out at the restaurant. He never minces words, and after sitting down with him for an hour, I was charmed. He is a real life version of the Soup Nazi that became one of Seinfeld’s most cult-like characters, in real life it’s just as funny and frightening. When a regular walked in and joked with Mauro about his order, Mauro [jokingly] threatened to kick him out again.
This only works if the food and atmosphere are good, and Mauro.it has a decade to show that good food trumps all else. The restaurant originally opened in a tiny location on a quiet street in Belgrano C for lunch service and afternoon coffee. Neighbors demanded dinner (maybe the only example of Mauro relinquishing to his clientele) and they moved to their current location across the street. The restaurant is simple, decked out with a mini almacen where they sell imported noodles and caffè Mauro. Photos of famous guests paper the walls, including Marcelo Tinelli, ex-Vice President Daniel Scioli and Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.
The food is consistently good. While on a normal Argentine menu you order a pasta and choose what kind of salsa to top it with, here you simply choose the sauce and receive the pasta it is meant for. All noodles are dry, because “if we served fresh noodles everyday my stomach would have exploded long ago.” The carbonara is a reliable favorite. Spaghetti is cooked al dente and mixed with a sticky cheese and egg sauce and a nice dollop of cracked pepper. The bits of fried pancetta add a slightly salty taste. The cacio e pepe was unexpectedly served with penne pasta, I didn’t ask questions. The penne made more sense though as the creamy sauce took refuge in the hollow noodles and gushed out with each bite.
If you get into the restaurant early you might be able to order the polenta. Mauro prefers to make it at lunch time when the restaurant isn’t too full. “Polenta requires a lot of attention. I don’t like to make it if I can’t make it right.” His polenta is velvet smooth and dissolves in your mouth with a rich buttery flavor. The polenta is emblematic of all his dishes. Simple, straight forward, no frills.
To his adversaries, Mauro is a “crazy tano that does whatever the hell he wants,” but to his fans he is just Mauro, doing his thing. If you can handle the heat without getting burned, you will always be a welcome guest.
11 de Septiembre 2465, Belgrano C
Monday through Saturday 12:00 PM to 3:30 PM and 8:00 PM to 12:30 AM, Sunday 12:00 to 4:00 PM
Price: $$$ (ARS 250-400)