Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Eatin' Argentinian

Typically it is always a good thing to give a marginal service at least a second chance to confirm a questionable first impression one way or the other. I say "marginal" because in that instance there was something definitely missing or not right the first time and I want to go back to find out if that is the norm or the exception. On this occasion the second chance was dining at the Gaucho Grille on Canoga Boulevard in Woodland Hills, north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley.

My first experience was back in late August as part of a nationwide business trip I was on at the time. My manager was with me on this leg of the trip and, having dined there the night before, recommended the restaurant to me as a good dining experience from one steak connoisseur to another. Just a short walk across the street from my hotel and offering a dining experience unique from The Cheesecake Factory I ambled in to the low lit, wood paneled establishment to be met with a California-ized version of gaucho-styled waiters in black pants, white shirts and red scarves.

The selection of the evening was the "Bife de Chorizo" which to Argentines loosely translates to the equivalent of a New York strip as opposed to the more familiar Mexican sausage. On a trip to Argentina many moons ago I discovered that not every country cuts its beef in the same style as the United States. A "T-Bone" is virtually unknown south of the border, for instance. I further discovered the different translations in Spanish for the various cuts as well: "chorizo" is a strip steak while "lomo" is more of a tenderloin.

Served a la carte, the steak was just a tad tougher than I prefer but strip steak tends to be leaner and meatier in most cases anyway. The service was professional and discrete but also on the robotic side of things as well: "What would you like, how would you like it cooked, bon app├ętit." Not much in the way of cultural immersion, explaining the beef tradition of the country or the nuances of each cut but I didn't know what to expect either. All in all, a good but not great experience.

Round Two was earlier this week in mid-December as part of a return visit to the project site I was working in August. A different colleague was with me on this occasion and I hosted the evening meal at the Gaucho Grille to get his reaction as well as give the place a second chance in my own eyes. His choice was the chorizo/strip while I went with the "traditional Argentine cut," the skirt steak or "entrana" served with steamed spinach and fresh broccoli.

My friend ended up cutting about a quarter of his away, describing it as "gristle" which I had not experienced the first time while mine was cooked to order but not nearly as flavorful as the Mexican style I'd come to expect for skirt steak. Again no real "presentation" of the food or the culture but we were able to enjoy a live broadcast of Thursday Night Football during our meal.
Having eaten steaks in Buenos Aires I was disappointed with this representation and my friend's reaction confirmed this as probably the last time I will dine at this chain. Too bad Argentina is so far away but the steaks they enjoy there are alone just about worth the 10 hour flight to get there.

Gotta go!

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