Before I moved to Seattle, I got the chance to visit Peter Luger, the legendary steakhouse in Brooklyn. It’s not a formal affair – while you can expect to spend $150+ per person if they get a full meal, you can practically go in in sneakers. (I wouldn’t, but there’s something about gingham tablecloths that always makes me think more of picnics than a fancy night out.) The steaks are huge, homages to that which is aged beef, and everything feels larger than life.
After you open the first set of glass doors and enter the second, padded green set, you find yourself in an open, huge, swanky space. It’s actually a feat of restaurant engineering – there are large walkways to allow for waiters walking through, a bar dominating a corner, and a clear view into the kitchen. While it was a large space, it flowed, with both intimate areas and large tables for parties.That is not El Gaucho.
We took our seats in their Wine Cellar, an actual working wine cellar with a table set up that can seat up to 14. It was rather pleasant even for two, as we had a view of the restaurant, but Ben, our waiter, mentioned that there was another room, Table 410, that was where people usually took over if they wanted a more intimate evening. And speaking of Ben, he was a serious class act. He led us through an epic six course tasting menu, one that should be reserved for the not-at-all faint of heart.
Next came their classic caesar salad ($12), prepared to order tableside, using an old school method with a dressing recipe from Tijuana: egg yolk, dijon mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, and anchovies. The plates were coated with lemon for tang, and each finished salad was dusted with freshly grated parmesan-reggiano. Nice.It started delicately – a soft boiled egg, rolled in panko, with white truffle oil.
After the caesar came mushroom soup ($12), topped with truffle oil. Made entirely with criminis, the mushroom slices were cooked perfectly, with just a bit of bite, and the soup was an incredibly savory, almost gravy consistency. I wanted to eat it in front of a fire with oven mitts, it was just that comforting.
With asparagus and pickled rhubarb, the proteins started with salmon, cooked carpaccio style with a generous hand of pepper. This is a fantastic spring dish that currently isn’t on the menu and should get there and stay there. It’s the dish you want your friend who hates the idea of steakhouses to eat, all light and flavor.
The steak course was their trio ($63): a three ounce filet with bordelaise, two four ounce steaks, a top sirloin with lobster and béarnaise or steak El Gaucho, and a peppercorn New York. The filet mignon had a light hit of pepper, but was melting, subtle. The peppercorns were strong on the New York, but lent a sweetness. The steak El Gaucho was closest to what you would probably think of as a steakhouse steak, big and meaty, with the delicate lobster and peppery sweetness from the steak sauce mixed with the béarnaise.
Before dessert, they brought out a fruit plate, with nuts, dates, and pears, something I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen before or since in still life paintings.
And to finish, chocolate ganache ($8). It was a huge chunk of chocolate, a dish I’d normally want to share. The intense chocolate was offset by the buttermilk and caramel notes in the Olympic Mountain ice cream and the smooth creme anglaise, and the cocoa nib brittle added a great savory note.
As we ate, the Wine Captain, James, came through and gave recommendations. The guy was hilarious, and should write his own wine column. From suggesting have the salmon with an Oregon Pinot Noir to Woodinville Whiskey Rye for the ganache, his ideas spanned the range of flavors, intensities, and prices.
Executive Chef Matt Brandsey came out near the end of the meal. For Taste Washington this weekend, you definitely need to check out his seminar – he said there will be “huge chunks of meat” on stage, and a butchering talk, ending with their signature tenderloin.
And that is the crowning glory of El Gaucho – their staff. Everyone was helpful, cheerful, and generally excited about their food and their work. You can come into a large space and feel like everyone’s there just to see you have a good time, the true hallmark of a fantastic restaurant.
So come visit, come relax, and I’ll join you for a steak. And hopefully I’ll see you at the seminar at Taste.
El Gaucho Seattle
2505 First Ave.
Seattle, WA 98121