I always face the same problem at El Gaucho. No, not which steak to
choose, or what size. Certainly not how the taters should be cooked.
It's the damn salad.
At a meat-eater's paradise like this, veggies are almost an affront. No one goes to El Gaucho for the lettuce. But you get this bowl of healthy plant life, and you're starving (because that's how you prepare for a meal like this), and maybe even a tad guilty (you KNOW the stuff is good for you). And perhaps you're like me, hating the thought of food being thrown away.
You can't resist the country-style bread, and the divine aroma of steaks is driving you a little nuts and you want it NOW!
But wait. Gnaw on your fingers if you have to, nibble on that salad even; you know what's coming, and you know it's worth the splendid agony of anticipation.
Fast food it's not. The waiter zips right over as soon as you arrive, but no matter how quick you say gimme500gramsofsteakNOW!, the meat will not arrive until it's good and ready. And when it does...
I have been to El Gaucho many times, and the waiter's shpiel is always perfect. I don't know where they find such helpful people. They patiently describe the entire selection, explaining everything from the aging to the marbling. At some point, everyone says pretty much the same thing: "Yeah, that's EXACTLY how I like it." (Some day I'm going to go in there and specify a steak from a brown cow with white spots, medium marbling. I'm sure I'll get it.)
I can't suggest what to order, because that's a private matter between you and your waiter. Sharon, a good-humored, handsome young fellow (I had to rein in my date, who seemed hungry for the wrong thing), talked us through the menu. Chorizo (NIS 58 for 300 grams, up to NIS 160 for a one-kilo whopper) is juicy but not fatty; the El Gaucho steak is veally good, accompanied by a vegetable brochette; filet, the cow's personal favorite cut, is very soft (NIS 68 for 180 grams up to NIS 165 for 500 grams); entrecote, the king of ribs, has a little shmaltz on it (NIS 48 for 250 grams, up to NIS 150 for a kilo); asado is for the real he-men (and, I suppose, the real he-women), a delicacy for fat meat lovers. Uh, let me rephrase that: fat-meat lovers.
There's also trout (NIS 50), hamburger (NIS 41 for 350 grams) and chicken (half a bird, NIS 39), but that would be silly, wouldn't it?
Steak, steak, steak, we decided, and that's what we got: a mixed meat offering that included chorizo, entrecote and asado.
While we were still mulling, Sharon sized me up and correctly predicted that I would not go for the mixed grill: chorizo, heart, udder, intestines, asado, chicken and liver. To me, udder is just a milk bag, and intestines is of interest only because of the word's Scrabblology: each letter in "intestines" -- e,i,n,s,t -- appears twice.
Sharon warned that steaks could take as much as 30 minutes to prepare (we got ours in 15), so we agreed to stave the hunger with a first course. I loved the empanada, a lightly-fried dough stuffed with mushroom, beef or corn; my pretty blonde companion (eat your heart out!) asked for the salchicha, a spicy but not fiery sausage. She also polished off both her salad and mine, though I deigned to eat one cherry tomato.
Before we expected it, a tasty-looking brown slab was placed in front of us. I immediately attacked it with my steak knife. However, that was just the wood plate. The meat arrived moments later, sizzling on fire-heated iron.
The mixed meat was a brilliant choice, because of the variety of succulent cuts to try. I gallantly volunteered to carve up the steaks into two equal portions. In considering the fairness of equality, I factored in the fact that she ate my salad, so naturally I got the larger half of the steaks.
We dueled over the plate of Argentinian chips (thin, round slices of potato flavored with garlic and oregano), and liberally spread the chimichuri sauce over everything. All this was washed down with an imperial Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a sophisticated yet affordable choice, but more fun would have been a soft drink, which El Gaucho serves in towering glasses about 40 cm high.
Gili, a classy young man who was our host for the evening, insisted we sample a newcomer to the menu, a ribby steak called tostilla. At this point I was afraid I would not fit into my car, but go say no. It was fabulous! Tostilla provides an added enjoyment: you eat it with your hands, gnawing the sublime beef right off the bone, grunting and groaning with primal pleasure.
There seemed no end to it, when Sharon brought up the suggestion of dessert. Oh, I couldn't, I insisted, but he proved me wrong. The crepe caramel arrived dramatically flambe, and the waiter hastily advised us to blow out the flames before eating it. The caramelized sugar, crepe, apple slices and whipped cream make for a divine dish.
Gili still wouldn't let us leave. He invited us to view El Gaucho's VIP room, a quiet medieval-style sanctuary beneath the restaurant that serves as the wine cellar. There, we sipped espresso while Gili gave us an expert tour of the bottled stock.
Hours after we arrived, my pretty blonde friend and I bid our adieus and stepped out into the night air, happily waddling hand in hand to my waiting limo. It was just as I feared. We couldn't get in.