Monday, October 27, 2008

Travel Dish: El Trapiche (Buenos Aires)

This is the first in a series recapping my recent trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Check back every Monday and Tuesday when I’ll be giving you a taste of my food adventures in this South American metropolitan city.

Me Want Meat
Paraguay 5099, Buenos Aires
Palermo Hollywood neighborhood
PH: 11/4772.7343
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Argentina is known for its meat. Similar to Niman Ranch beef, the cows in Argentina are fed grass and live a pretty stress-free life, getting to roam the acres upon acres of open land that is Argentina.

So you can’t go wrong eating beef in Buenos Aires – they’re often very tender and very cheap. And the best place to find it is in a parrilla, which is basically a grilling restaurant just like a steakhouse back in the states.

Since I was staying in the Palermo neighborhood (considered the spot for some of the city’s best restaurants), I visited the nearby El Trapiche parrilla, which is in the area across the tracks known as Palermo Hollywood. (The Palermo neighborhood is subdivided into four smaller areas. The more popular areas are known as Palermo Hollywood and Palermo Soho because the Argentines like to be chic like Americans, apparently.)

Despite the fact that I ate on the early side, the restaurant was pretty filled with a mix of locals and tourists. Even though it’s highly recommended in the tourist guides, El Trapiche still had a very local feel with its simple décor, including burlap covered legs of jamon hanging from the roof. The room was brightly lit, making the white cloth-covered tables even more stark.

The multi-page menu (English included) is filled with a variety of meat dishes and Italian pastas. Argentines have a very deep connection to Italy. But what I discovered, after shifting through the pages and pages of dishes, is that a parrilla is not made for a solo diner.

For example, wine isn’t sold by the glass, just bottles. So I ended up ordering a half bottle of Malbec.

Then as I tried to order some dishes with my waiter, he kept looking at me like I’m some kind of weirdo and telling me that I’d be satisfied with just one order. See, what happened was I knew I wanted something from the parrilla, or grill. So I ordered the Bife de Lomo (sirloin steak) for AR$44 (or $15.25) but I wanted some salad to counterbalance all the meat I knew was ahead.

So I ordered the Caprese Salad (AR$31 or $10.75) because everything else sounded too big. But I also wanted to try their pumpkin squash pasta because it sounded really interesting. The waiter told me it was a big dish and that I wouldn’t be able to eat all the pasta. Then later on I wanted some plain rice because I’ve been eating meat all week and no real grain, so I had a craving for rice. But even that was considered too much and my waiter convinced me not to order it, even though I wanted just a side of white rice.

So after drinking my Malbec, my Caprese Salad arrived, looking actually quite big. The waiter served a bit of it for me to start, and it was nice and fresh. But it did feel filling, with its mozzarella cheese and olives, so I didn’t eat the entire salad, saving room for the beef.

When the meat arrived, it looked a bit lonely on the white plate by itself. Turns out, most people typically will order several dishes from the parrilla to share. A plate of the rabbit or maybe the matambre de cerdo or thinly grilled pork steak. I’ve seen some people at the other tables with a steak covered with French fries, but I’m not a fries person.

So I dug into the sirloin steak, prepared medium per my request. From the first bite, I knew this was something special. It was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but the grilling was the key and the execution was masterful. Just the picture of the meat itself doesn’t give it justice, so maybe this will …

… the meat was so incredibly tender and juicy, just cutting into it was like cutting into the soft billows of butter. I’m not generally a meat eater back home, so to be honest I really didn’t have a point of comparison. But if meat back home was just like this, then maybe I might take up eating meat more often.

The waiter was right. After slowly eating my meat, taking time to appreciate each bite, I was nearly full and couldn’t really eat any more. I think that steak was maybe 1 lb. or a bit less, but it still seemed filling even though I was able to finish off the entire plate.

Sure I could have ordered the fruit-filled crepe for dessert, which is flambéed at your table, but I really couldn’t eat any more. The meat did satisfy me, and I was done for the night.

El Trapiche has a friendly staff, despite the fact that few of them speak English. They’re all very comfortable helping tourists (mostly telling them not to order something) and the meat is perfectly cooked in this quintessential Argentine experience.

Single guy rating: 3.5 stars (Not for vegetarians)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Bueno … life in BA

Argentines love their dogs, so rumor has it that the best paid jobs in town is that of a dog-walker. During the days, you’ll see some dog walkers with more than a dozen dogs. One thing about a city with a lot of dogs is that there are a lot of mines on the sidewalks. So watch where you walk, because you never know when you’ll accidentally step on a gift from one of those pups.


Mrs. L said...

Did she have them on a leash? I can't imagine trying to control all those dogs if they weren't on a leash!

foodhoe said...

ahh what a life... just carry the steak bone and they will follow you anywhere

Chef Ben said...

Mrs. L, she did have this elaborate leash system where she had two ropes on both sides of her and each leash was tied onto one of the ropes. It was the most dogs I've seen walked by one person but there were other walkers with just as many dogs.

Foodhoe, a steak bone probably would work too! :)

David K. and Ann C. said...

Oh brother, this is one painful post for me to read. Since giving up red meat, I guess I'll just live vicariously through you. Question: Had you read about this place before you went? Of all the Argentinian steakhouses, how did you choose this one? --David

Chef Ben said...

David, I probably ate enough red meat for both of us during this trip! I read about El Trapiche in the food boards, and had a list of three parrillas I knew I wanted to try. One was really touristy and always crowded (La Brigada) and another one was kind of out of the way. El Trapiche was a convenient parrilla and also out of the main tourist path. I ended up trying so many other experimental restaurants that this was the only parrilla I ended up going to.