June 19, 2007 | BITE: My Journal
Gaucho Steak Co: 10th Avenue Pampas
The worldly scion savors his rib eye sandwich. Photo: Steven Richter
Gaucho Steak Co. has a lusty down-and-out air. I can’t imagine it morphing into a sizzling club scene or even a haunt for uppercrust slummers, except maybe trend-flaunting carnivores, skirt steak cowboys and discount shoppers like me. From the off kilter slab of sidewalk where our foursome huddles out front, it looks like a scruffy neighborhood bar or cafeteria. Bare bones, bare tables, a horse hide banquette, so to speak, along one wall. An amiable bear of a man in charge offers us sangria while we wait for our table -- red wine or white. I’m ergonomically committed to red, but truth to tell, the white is smartly refreshing.
By the time our table clears and gets a fast wipe followed by a quick deal of four forks, and for some mysterious reason just two sharp knifes, we are on sangria seconds. Given how cheap it is to eat here, we have certainly sipped most of the profit from our dinner.
This slightly grubby take-out look is deliberate, inspired by the simple grill shops (parillas) that stud Argentina streets. There, a cook fires your meat, slices it, possibly sticks it into a roll and hands it over. Here, there are tightly packed tables, 26 hard wooden seats, already hotly contested. Four cooks tend the coals and a small crew of amiable, but clueless servers run relays, forgetting what they went off to fetch. Half a dozen pleas just to score two more knives.
So, it’s a parilla with sandwiches, of course -- the burger, chorizo with caramelized peppers and onions, and the Gaucho, thick slices of rib eye slathered with Vidalia onions and streaked with deliciously tingling chipotle ketchup, surrounded by sensational garlicky fries. And no surprise, meat is the mantra. What creative partner Alex Garcia (moonlighting from his executive chef’s job at Calle Ocho) describes as a “mile long” skirt steak for just $13 is the winner, infinitely tastier than an innocuous $20 rib eye, though fatty short ribs with chorizo on my combinacion plate is a juicy contender.
And it’s all from “South American pastures,” as the menu notes: “We serve only grass fed Patagonic free range beef.” From Uruguay specifically, since Argentine beef cannot be imported. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking hall of fame steak here. Just good enough to please even my fussy meat-and-potatoes guy. And best of all for budgeters, Gaucho Steak is really cheap -- no entree over $20, except the daunting quarter of a cow tenderloin dinner for two we see served on a sword across the room.
Too late for us, alas. We’ve already overdosed on eight shared empanadas --tender pastry, easily divided in four with one of those elusive knives -- eight different stuffings at $3 each. Oxtail, cheese, sweet corn and manchego with Swiss chard are my favorites.
Just know that a truckload of fried calamari glazed with Argentine honey and sprinkled with sprouts is big enough to be a starter for four…too sweet for me and the Road Food Warrior, but catnip for our younger compadres. The shrimp ceviche with lemon oil, jalapeno and fresh lime in a milk shake glass isn’t bad. Just superfluous after all those empanadas.
There is chicken, of course, a mushroom gambit for vegetarians, even salmon. But as the Warrior’s worldly-wise scion rather gently points out to his date: “This is probably not the kind of place where you want to order salmon.”
Dessert? We are already beyond redemption. But the kitchen sends out a pleasantly gelatinous flan anchored on a cookie over a painted grid of very good dulce de leche. Sign of a certain elegance in the DNA of Gaucho Steak Co.
752 Tenth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets 212 957 1727
My friend and occasional co-conspirator Pamela Morgan is just back from Vietnam, so it makes sense that her summer entertaining class, Sunday, July 15, in Bridgehampton, will focus on entertaining inspirations from South East Asia. She promises participants will learn how to plan and execute a party from cocktails and decor to dessert to breezing through the evening stress free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
A Most Unamusing Bouche
I was sad…more than sad…I was really depressed when a friend who booked lunch at Anthos last week after my rave in “Yes, Where I Actually Go for Lunch” (click on Favorites) reported that one out of the three choices listed for both the first course and the entree of the $28 prix fixe I touted were already exhausted at 1 p.m.
Neither the waiter nor the maitre d’ seemed at all disturbed or particularly creative about it, he reported. “Is there another dish from the menu that you might substitute?” my friend asked, noting that all the dishes on the bargain lunch also appear on the a la carte list.
“No. There’s nothing we can do.”
He even mentioned his disappointment to co-owner Donatella Arpaia, who wasn’t in the mood to soothe either. "We only had enough lamb for 25 burgers,” was what she said, he tells me.
Wake up passionate partisans at Anthos. What’s the point of seducing the critics if you’re bruising the clients?