Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head

2006.May.16 Tuesday · 7 comments

in Restaurants

El TrapicheBuenos Aires – There are parrillas and there are parrillas. They range from bustling, packed with tourists places like Des Nivel or Cabaña Las Lilas, to those filled with businessfolk like Parrilla Peña, to modern yuppie hangouts like Miranda, to, well, the old-line, family style parrilla where the waiters and customers have been coming together for decades. Now, I realize that talking about yet another parrilla, and steaks in Buenos Aires, is akin to reviewing yet another Irish bar in Manhattan, but I’ve found that without exception, each parrilla I’ve been to has something to offer that’s different from the others. Yesterday found a trio of us lunching at El Trapiche, Paraguay 5099, on the edge of Palermo Viejo’s trendy section, at what the New York Times and Fodor’s both termed “arguably the best classic Argentine food in town, with a wine list to match”; Time Out says “unstintingly Argentinian, unfailingly reliable, and always full. The grilled meat is magnificient”; The Telegraph calls “Neighbourly but classy”. El Trapiche is big, clean, well-lit, and not at all smoky. The waiters know the zillion page menu inside and out, they’re friendly and efficient, and know when to step in with advice. The winelist, which we didn’t sample from, is long, well-priced, and isn’t just a paean to the usual suspects. The place was about 2/3 full when we arrived for a late lunch (2:00), but was very nearly empty by the time we left.

El Trapiche - boqueronesPerusing the menu at El Trapiche can take some time, it does indeed seem to go on for more pages than appropriate – with various meats, cuts of meats, pastas, salads – pretty much all the classics of Argentine cooking (except, strangely, no empanadas), along with a selection of Spanish dishes like paella, and a personal favorite appetizer, boquerones. Usually boquerones amount to a half dozen small halves of sardines, served simply on a plate with a little olive oil and some cracked pepper. Here, add in thick slices of tomato and onion, fresh basil, a garlickly marinade, and enough of them for three people to share as an appetizer.

El Trapiche - palta con camaronesNot that we stopped at just one appetizer. We were still in the pre-stepping-in stage of working with our waiter. So we also had a plate with a huge, smoky, grilled chorizo on it – one of the better ones I’ve had here (Miranda and Gardelito I think are the only toppers so far) – and a plate of palta con camarones, an avocado the size of a softball filled with an excellent shrimp and hearts of palm salad. Between those three appetizers we could have probably just stopped and been happy. But, we were there to try the much touted grilled meats off the parrilla.

El Trapiche - entranaI wish I’d read some of the reviews beforehand, as without fail, everyone seems to mention the matambrito de cerdo, or grilled pork flank, as stupendous. We didn’t try it. Not that that takes away in any way from what we did try. We were set to order three different steaks when our waiter sighed and clucked a little. He suggested that probably one steak at this point was sufficient for all of us. We only semi-listened, and compromised on two. A bife de chorizo that easily hit close on the two-pound mark was plopped on the table, along with this entraña, or hanger steak, which if the two pieces were left in one long strip would have easily come in at over a two-foot length. Not only that, but both were perfectly cooked to somewhere in the medium-rare or medium range, juicy, seasoned, and accompanied by one of the better chimichurris that I’ve encountered in a restaurant. Even between the three of us, we only finished half of each steak, the entraña came home with me and got itself diced up into a pumpkin curry last night.

El Trapiche - papas a la cremaIf I were to find any fault with El Trapiche it would only be a slight rigidness to the menu. At most places, substituting a side dish, say mashed potatoes for fries, or maybe a salad, is commonplace. At El Trapiche, each cut of meat is offered one of two ways – solo or with papas fritas. If you want something other than fries, you order the solo version and have to order the other side dish as an extra plate. On the other hand, the side dishes are very inexpensive, and really only amount to maybe 2-3 pesos more than the extra amount tacked on for the meat/fry combination. These are papas a la crema, certainly the largest portion of them I’ve ever been served, and well made – almost gratin style, though doused in milk, not cream, which took away a little bit from the richness of the usual dish. All around, a delightful experience, all-told 80 pesos for three of us, and a place I’d definitely recommend, and plan to go back to.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

lavish88 January 12, 2007 at 15:41

Dan,thank you for a wonderful recommendation – I have just had lunch here and as 3rd time visitor to BA I will say this place is up there with the best-the chorizo for starter was wonderful though I had to reel myself in on the blood sausage as I had also ordered a Bife de Chorizo (my favourite cut here in Argentina) and remembered your story of it being about 1 kg.I ordered it cooked 1 minute on each side and thats how it came ,an enormous slab of some of the finest meat I have had anywhere in the world.Gardelito is tonights choice though I have been there before and wait to see of it was as good as it was a year ago.I will follow up some more of your choices over the next 3 weeks – great website-I may also be interested in having a private restaurant session when my colleagues arrive in 10 days time – many thanks – Mark

Carolyn December 2, 2008 at 17:45

Hi, Love your web site. Made me laugh and want to eat (and avoid!) many of the places you talk about. However, picking out one “Highly Recommended”, for a special lunch we were SO DISAPPOINTED with El Trapiche. We order the Mixed Brochettes (the menu said it served two people), but IT WAS TINY. Tasty but tiny. We even had fried with it and left feeling hungry. I can see this review is quite old. Do you have any current highly recommended favorite restaurants ???

dan December 3, 2008 at 08:06

It’s unfortunately one of the problems in an economic climate where 35% annual inflation has been the norm for the last 5-6 years. Some places have responded by raising their prices steadily, to the point where I hear from people “Buenos Aires isn’t all that cheap, I heard it was cheap….” – of course, they’re reading articles from 2002, 2003, without thinking about the recovery of an economy that near completely collapsed. Other places, like El Trapiche, or El Obrero, both of which used to serve huge portions for very little money, have kept their prices relatively low, but just steadily reduced the quantity of food they serve. Hard to say which is more disappionting, but at the same time, I try to remind visitors that until not much prior to the 2001 collapse, Buenos Aires was one of the most expensive places to live on the planet, it was not a place to come to for bargains.

That all said, in terms of steak places, my current fave place I send people is Don Julio in Palermo. I’m also quite fond of El Yugo in Recoleta. Both of them are reviewed on this site, though again, quite awhile back – but I think you get better value at each. I haven’t been back to El Trapiche in about a year, so I’ll stick it back on the list to re-check out one of these days. Oh, and one other point – I’ve never been to any parrilla in town that I particularly liked the brochettes/kebabs – it’s not something that’s traditional here, it’s one of those sort of invented things to please tourists who are looking for something besides a steak, and I have yet to see someone do it well… so it’s possible it was merely that particular dish.

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