All About Steak

Ever dreamed of steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner? If so, you've come to the right place. Argentina is a veritable mecca of beef.

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Argentina may be a vegetarian's nightmare, but it is heaven for dedicated carnivore. No diner would accept anything but a superb steak, and even French-style restaurants could not survive if a thick, tender, juicy and perfectly-cooked fillet was missing from the menu. Apart from Las Lilas, the four most famous Parrillas in Buenos Aires are La Chacra on Ave. Cordoba 950, the Restaurant 9 de Julio, on Av. 9 de Julio, Las Nazarenas, Reconquista 1132, Retiro and La Nueva Rurale, Suipacha 453.

A good Parrilla also has an Asador -- an open fire of glowing coals around which a number of vertical metal crosses hold carcasses of goat, lamb and pork meat. These slowly rotate to get the most benefit from the glowing embers, and the chefs, usually in gaucho outfits, will come over from time to time to slice off portions as they are ordered by the customers. The La Chacra restaurant is very representative of such Parrillas and offers the very best of this sort of classic Argentina fare.

A typical Parrilla meal will begin with Empanadas -- small, meat-filled pastry pockets that are the traditional starters. A bewildering choice of side-salads then accompany the grills. For those who have searched in vain to find a really first class salad in a European city, those available in the better parrillas of Buenos Aires will be a joy for eye and palate. At La Chacra the selection is enormous --- 24 varieties to choose from --- ranging from Einstein (beetroot, apple, hearts of palm, almonds, vinaigrette with cream and herbs) to Alexandra (lettuce, grapefruit, pear, apple, orange, grapes, celery, nuts with mayonnaise and cream.)

What often confuses visitors trying to select a meat course is that the local cuts may differ greatly from those found at an American, Asian or European butcher. Here is the code-breaker which will allow you to understand the strange, romantic-sounding names on the Parrilla menu.

The finest cut of beef, and likely to be the highest priced -- though ridiculously inexpensive by international standards -- is Bife de Lomo which equates to Eye Fillet. The most popular cut is Bife de Chorizo, a steak cut off the rib and somewhat similar to Sirloin or Porterhouse. T-bone steak has its equivalent in Bife de Costilla, and is generally enormous. Rib Roast, known as Tira de Asado, is the second most popular cut with Porteños. When grilled on the spit, this cut will be thick and short, if cooked on the char-grill it will be thinner and longer.

Cheaper cuts not generally used for roasting in other countries -- shank, brisket or chuck -- produces a budget-priced steak known as Churrasco. It is inexpensive, yet tasty. The Parrillas will also offer grilled chicken (pollo), pork (Cerdo), kidneys (Rinones), sweetbreads (Mollejas), and a marvelous Argentine sausage called Chorizo. Ask for your beef "bien cocido" if you want it well done, "a punto" if you prefer it medium and "a la inglesa" if you like it bloody rare. The bottom part of sirloin porterhouse is known as "vacio" and the flank is called "matambre." Fish is also frequently available at some of the better restaurants. Porteños also like offal and most menus feature lamb's testicles (creadillas), intestines (chinchulines) and udder (ubre).