Steaking Out the Territory

2013.Mar.25 Monday · 0 comments

in Life, Restaurants

Some of you may remember that over the last year or two I took on starting the process of updating the dining section for Fodor’s BA guide. It’s kind of a new arena for me – I had a loose connection with the territory back in the days when I was reviewing restaurants for Time Out BA, but I didn’t directly work on the guidebook, just the magazine – the guidebook is simply edited from things pulled from recent issues of the magazine, with some added exposition done by the editors. I have had the opportunity to respond to my own readers’ critiques of my critiques, here on the blog, but it’s generally been pretty civil. Only a couple of times has it gotten ugly – in one case I simply deleted all of the reader’s comments and e-mails, the other, or at least the part that occurred on the blog, is located here and I took the person on publicly. Recently I got a note from the editor who I had been working with at Fodor’s asking me for my thoughts on a reader’s e-mail:

“Your 2012 Argentina Guidebook lists the Rio Alba restaurant as the best parilla in Buenos Aires. It absolutely is not! We ordered the most expensive cuts of beef. The meat was cooked to death and tough as leather even though we ordered it medium rare. The side dishes we ordered were incredibly bland and above all the prices were ridiculous. This terrible meal cost us 351Ar$. We would have gotten a better meal at Sizzlers, which makes us question whether you ever even sampled this restaurant! We just tossed your guidebook in the trash.”

So, a couple of things here. First, this is one of the places I have/had yet to get to to re-review, which is one of the reasons the editor asked my thoughts, it had been a few years since my predecessor had visited it, and things do change. It’s one of the drawbacks of guidebooks – they can’t always be 100% up-to-date. Second, even though I’ve liked it on my past visits and gave it a decent write-up here, I doubt I ever would have put Rio Alba as the best parrilla in BA (and unfortunately, because the book has been updated numerous times by different writers, there are actually several in the city listed as the best – one of the things I let the editor know I want to address in an overhaul for the next publication), though at least for those places that I’ve tried, it’s easily the best in the Palermo Chico neighborhood, and I’ll stand by that pending trying somewhere better. Third, drama, drama, drama. The reaction is silly. No, stupid, inane, even asinine. I mean, one recommendation that you disagree in a guidebook that stretches to 328 pages and that invalidates the entire thing? But, I told the editor I’d drop in on the place sometime and just see if something had drastically changed since my last visit, which was about a year and a half ago.

Rio Alba - steaks at the ready

I met up with two friends for lunch last week and we had a great meal. We didn’t order “the most expensive cuts of beef” because, well, why should we? Expense doesn’t guarantee quality – and bluntly, the only people who order from a menu based on price are those who are generally clueless about food to begin with. The guidebook, by the way, was quite clear about what cuts to order for a great experience (which doesn’t mean the expensive cuts aren’t good as well, by the way) – specifying that the best were the asado de tira (cross-cut ribs) and the entraña (skirt steak). I had gone back to the original article I referenced in my review of the place and Sr. Foster had recommended the matambrito, pork breast. My friends both wanted entraña, and between them got a whole one – which turned out to be massive (what you see in the photo is the second layer of a cut of steak for each of us, the waiter had already dished up an equal sized portion of each steak onto our plates – and these were the half portions for each of us! I ordered the matambrito. I’d also read that the waffle cut fries, the papas rejillas, were excellent, as well as the provoleta.

Rio Alba - provoleta

The provoleta was excellent, grilled just right, topped with garlic and parsley and nicely seasoned. No complaints.

Rio Alba - matambrito

My matambrito was perfectly cooked, tender, well seasoned with salt, and served up with wedges of lemon, classic for here. The only thing I added was a little pepper from the peppermill that the waiter offered, and, left on the table, a rarity here in BA. The two skirt steaks were likewise cooked as requested – one of them rare, the other medium, and both done properly, and again, seasoned right, juicy and tender. Note, by the way, that that’s half of my half portion, and that’s on a roughly 10″ dinner plate.

Rio Alba - papas rejillas

The waffle fries are among the best of the sort I’ve had here, and a heaping mound of them – again, this plate is a “half order”! I don’t even want to think about the size of the steaks or the side dishes for full orders – obviously designed to be split.

Service was efficient, friendly, everything you’d want it to be. The place still has that old-timey staid air, but so what, it’s a classic steakhouse. Oh and a nice discount for cash payment, if you ask. Here was my response back to the editor:

“Just had lunch at Rio Alba with a couple of friends. It was as good as always. I’d still never say it was the best parrilla in BA, but it’s quite good and probably the best in the Palermo Chico area. We ordered meals for three, with side dishes, each steak came out cooked perfectly the way requested, all were properly seasoned, huge portions, more than we could eat, and the whole thing, tip included, ran us 160 pesos apiece, or basically us$32 at official exchange rate and us$22 at the unofficial rate. A bargain and other than maybe removing the line claiming it’s the best in BA (you could just change BA to Palermo Chico) I think the review is dead-on.”

So in the end, I stand-by the past reviewer’s recommendation, if not quite as glowingly. While it’s possible that the complainer, “PCL”, hit them on an off-night or just simply got a bad couple of steaks, I actually just don’t believe him – no doubt something happened that just wasn’t perfection, but the rest is likely all exaggeration and drama.

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