“Steaking” our claim in the Strip District
When I think of a tender steak, I think of your traditional steakhouse. I suppose that’s just the culture of America, where the steak as we know it was something born out west with the pioneers and brought to the four corners of our country in traditional consumerism fashion. What we don’t necessarily think about is that the term “steak” is not particular to America, but is rather defined as any cut of meat (although most often cattle, as in the beefsteak) sliced perpendicular to the muscle fibers. This definition broadens the use of this style of meat to many cultures and countries, few of which come close to the flair and pervasive use as Argentina. Argentinians lay claim to one of the highest consumptions of beef per capita in the world with over 244,000 independent producers in the country. Armed with this superfluous knowledge of beef, my friend Caroline and I decided to head out to Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, a stylized Argentinian steakhouse in the Strip District.
Gaucho’s atmosphere was very lively, without all the craziness and chaos of a restaurant that doesn’t maintain control. The space is slightly compact, but not loud, and the way that they’ve designed the space (you stand in line to order, looking at a gigantic chalkboard menu before placing your order and finding your table to have your food delivered straight to you) creates anticipation. Just make sure you’re not at the back of the line, which can get quite long if you come during the weekend or later at night.
The service here is interesting and therefore unique to critique. We placed our order at the cash register rather than with our server. This process, while efficient for the kitchen, forces the customer to wait an inordinate amount of time to eat. Everyone must wait in line to order at one open register, creating a bottleneck of orders. At the same time, the register was training a new staff member, and combined with the noise from the kitchen right behind them, the process of ordering our meal took far too long. Other than that, we were served promptly (and in fact almost too promptly, since there was little time between our appetizers and entrées) and of course everyone was very pleasant and polite, but nothing exceptional.
All around, the quality was very good. The empanadas were crisp with no soggy bottom and paired with delicious sauces. We ordered a selection of two (they change daily) and I have to say even though I was more of a fan of the chicken, the veggie empanada gave it a run for its money.
My entrée (steak, naturally) was the NY Strip, which I ordered medium rare but I definitely thought one side looked particularly rare. This is most likely due to the assembly line nature of the kitchen, which I noticed while ordering, but the steak was nonetheless seasoned well and the taste was very good. I ordered two “acompanamientos” – oven roasted red potatoes (nothing special) and then something that absolutely blew me away. The Zanahoria Bebé, roasted baby carrots with herbs, goat cheese, and smoked honey was absolutely one of the most amazing side dishes I have ever had. I would highly recommend pairing it with any steak, no matter what.
The hype that Gaucho has and creates while you stand in line didn’t last long for us, especially as key aspects of the experience like the service and the steaks’ preparedness took away from our overall experience. Gaucho is still a really great restaurant, but not without fault.
The best part of my experience (besides the company of the lovely Samson and the food) was probably the employees. The man taking our order double checked that we were aware one dish had bacon in it (I’m Jewish so no bacon), and asked if it was ok. I wear a Star of David necklace, so that’s probably what made him think to ask, but no one else has done that before. It may seem like a small thing, but it made me feel really taken care of.
What needs the most improvement is the timing of the food being brought to the table. I appreciate that we didn’t have to wait long for our food, but two bites into our empanadas, our main courses came out. Then, two minutes after we’d finished the empanadas and moved onto our steaks, the bread pudding was out. It was hard not to get overwhelmed/feel rushed, not to mention how crowded the table was once everything was out. Also, we got there early enough where we weren’t affected by this, but the place is small for the business they bring in. Finding a bigger space would make it lose some of the charm, but I imagine they lose some business by people leaving the line to get in (which was out the door and halfway down the block by the time we left around 8:00 pm on a Wednesday).
Overall, I’m going to be bringing my parents here first thing next time they are in Pittsburgh. Same deal with my sister. Hopefully next dinner date with my boyfriend too. Anyone who appreciates good food. There’s no kids menu, so I think there would be better picks for families. Since you order in line and then sit down, rather than experience full service, I’d say this wouldn’t be a restaurant conducive to a very productive business lunch.
As for my meal, I got a 6-ounce Sirloin, medium rare. It was cooked *perfectly*. The chimichurri sauce was just the right amount. There was a heap of caramelized onions which I had a bit of with each bite of steak and they both paired perfectly. The grilled ciabatta toast was best when dipped in the garlic sauce. I also ordered a side of the cremini mushrooms, which, like all the other produce, was very fresh. Did I mention the steak was perfectly cooked?
Born and bred in Philly, Caroline is now a Junior Mechanical Engineering Student with a related area in Computer Science at the University of Pittsburgh. In the future, she hopes to work in the robotics industry or run her own start-up tech company. In her free time, she loves to sing, run, cook, and obsess over puppies.
Gaucho Parrilla Argentina is a unique Argentinian steakhouse in the Strip District. A cozy but active environment awaits guests for lunch or dinner, with no reservations or corking fees (BYOB). Check out their menu here http://eatgaucho.com/