Saturday, August 22, 2009

It was a steak as big as my head

No lie. I sat and stared at it. It stared right back at me. Immediately, I knew this steak meant business. Meaty, bloody, tasty business that would leave me disdainful of all other steaks I’ve had in my life....

Well you’ll probably want a bit of background and who am I to deny? Let’s set the scene, I am sitting in La Cabrera - often referred to as Argentina’s best steakhouse, or parilla (no easy task as there’s one everywhere you turn). There are ten of us at the table – and though the buzzing sound of chit chat and laughter had been quite prominent a few seconds before, the silence hung over each and every person. The kind of silence that comes about because you have so much to say that it’s not even worth saying anything, that saying nothing is actually the nearest thing you can get to coming close to expressing what you are feeling. Scene set? Moving on.

“That’s the biggest steak I’ve ever seen in my life”. The silence was broken by Mike, and everyone quickly chimed in with some form of agreement. But then it was quiet again, the only noise the sloshing of the wine into the equally gluttinous-sized glasses as the waiter worked his way down the table and as people divvied the steaks in two and began to take in the true meaning of an Argentinean asado. I almost didn’t want to eat it in case it turned out to be a disappointment – no chance. The first taste was exquisite, the second taste was sublime. The third, fourth and fifth disappeared in a haze of steak-infused haze that I can only vaguely recall with a shiver down my spine and a smile on my face.

It's a rubbish picture but you get the point when that's HALF the steak...

Although there were sauces and chips and pumpkin and many, many accompaniments, all I was concerned about was the steak. Screw papas fritas, how good can chips be? And sauces? Who needs sauce? I grudgingly conceded to some pumpkin as an effort at a balanced meal (a poor one you needn’t point out) but, really, it was like having one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters on stage at the same time as Marilyn Monroe – the contrast is so great that the ugly sister suddenly appears to be a sub-human ork-like animal when really she is just an unfortunate looking lass with a few warts. In fact, if you’d seen her on her own, you wouldn’t have thought she was that bad at all.

The only other thing I was really paying attention to was the glass of Argentinean Malbec gracing my hand in between each steakfested mouthful. Whoever first decided that red wine and a good (great!) steak went hand in hand really deserves a page in history.

Rewind a few hours. I’d been told that there was a steakhouse so good that people queued for hours outside to get a seat and a bite and I’d laughed. How good could one steak be? It’s the middle of Argentinean winter and therefore fairly nippy outside. I’d obviously be game, because I’m a curious soul who’s always wanting to put these things to the test but the rest of the city? Especially when you can walk right into any steakhouse and pretty much guarantee a decent if not mindblowing feed?

Well if I hadn’t been so busy eating my steak, I’d have been eating my words. In the end ten of us went to the restaurant, which meant a very long wait outside, in the cold. But you know what, it wasn’t so bad. We had heaters (good), free slices of chorizo (good good), champagne (err excellent) and a whole lot of conversation.

By the time they found us a table someone slyly suggested that we stay for one more on the house, but we figured we might as well see what the fuss was about. And now I know, and now you know and I will never laugh at the idea of waiting outside a restaurant again.