“The real Buenos Aires resides in its bodegones, neighborhood restaurants steeped in what it means to be Argentine.”
– Stephen Metcalf in The New York Times
The first culinary thing visitors or expats do in Buenos Aires, assuming they don’t happen to be non-carnivores, is gorge themselves on steaks. Someone once expressed to me the concept of the “The BA 15” – the 15 pounds one puts on in their first few months here just packing away meat… though I’d assert it likely has more to do with the huge, dulce de leche filled desserts. But we all know meat’s the thing, it’s what the town and its restaurants are famous for. And the question is always posed, “What’s the best parrilla in town?” There is, of course, no answer to that question that’s truly valid – it’s too subjective, and, more importantly, it’s too specific to what it is you want to eat – one place may have the most amazing bife de lomo, while another outshines it with their ojo de bife. It’s why I put together a list a long time ago, that gets updated as I find better spots, of where to find the best of one cut or another. And key to those updates are not a one-shot experience, but a place that has me coming back more than once just for one particular dish.
First off, of course, the place – Lalo, Montevideo 353 in Congreso, 4373-9696 – huge, decorated in classic style with a mix of tango art and photos/portraits of one famous Argentine or another be they an actor, singer, or politician. Like many other traditional bodegones it needs some sprucing up, but overall is clean and well kept. The waiters have likely been there since the founding of the city and they’re friendly, efficient, and know their stuff. Wine list is nothing more than the usual big commercial suspects… Norton, Lopez, etc., though to their credit, Lalo stocks half bottles of quite a few of their wines, a nice plus if you’re dining alone. On to the food – these grilled sweetbreads have filled the void left behind when El Yugo closed last year. Not only are they perfectly cooked and seasoned, but it’s a generous portion that’s sufficient for two to share as an appetizer. They’ve certainly made it onto my “Best of” list.
Likewise, the entraña, or hangar steak, or skirt steak, there’s always some overlap. A hefty portion, the cooking spot-on, well-seasoned, everything you want from this cut. It is cooked al cuero, sort of – since the entraña doesn’t actually have direct skin contact, but it’s left on the membrane that attaches it where it is normally attached – some folks like that, some don’t, it’s the classic way to cook this cut and it’s not that hard to slice it off as you go. I don’t mind it, and Lalo’s steak here edges out El Trapiche’s, which had been my top place for the cut. As to side dishes – salads nice and fresh, and both dressed and tossed by the waiter at tableside, a really nice touch. Fries, just okay, a little oily – I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. They’re fine, but nothing special.
It’s telling that, though these days I’m not eating much steak, I’ve been to Lalo three times in the last three months since stumbling across it one evening while out with a friend. I suppose I should try one of the other cuts of steak at some point, but these two dishes really do it for me, so I haven’t. C’est la vie.