Taking Steak Seriously at Buenos Aires

PICT8808Hadas Goshen Buenos Aires, 513 East Sixth Street.

As a person of encroaching middle age, I have a largely declinist worldview. Certain things, however, give me hope for the next generation, including the large numbers of thoughtful young persons who have rejected their parents’ counsel in order to engage in pleasingly unhealthful activities, including smoking, drinking to excess, and the eating of large quantities of red meat. Thus, despite public service ads advising Americans to eat more “plant matter,” the 16-ounce steak is making a comeback in the youth setting of the East Village.

Allow me, then, to introduce Buenos Aires, a restaurant at 513 East Sixth Street which features the high-cholesterol cuisine of the South American pampas. I would be predisposed towards any restaurant with that name, since in Buenos Aires I learned to eat cuts of meat, and even inner organs, that I had never tried before; at a little stand in San Telmo — the city’s East Village, more or less — I ate rich, greasy slabs of flank steak taken straight from the grill and slapped between thick slices of white bread. ‘Twas very Heaven.

Buenos Aires-the-restaurant is a no-funny-business steak place. The décor features a few standard photos of tango dancers, and two large-screen TVs which are turned to soccer games night and day, thus bathing the place in the electric green glow of distant soccer fields. You can, if you wish, order spaghetti, lobster, chicken or various kinds of milanese—breaded beef cutlet. But why bother? Stick to the house specialty.

Buenos Aires orders its boned meats from Uruguay, since that ridiculous hue and cry over mad cow whatever has kept Argentina’s great meats out of the U.S. The bone-in meats are domestic— because, according to Gaston, our romantically-named waiter on a recent dinner, the bones can harbor bacteria which cause the meats to lose freshness over time. I have, by now, sampled the skirt steak, the T-bone, the ribeye and the grilled short ribs. The short ribs, which Argentines slice horizontally rather than vertically, as we do, are odd-looking, since the transversely cut bone is so small; but no matter how you slice them, short ribs are better slowly braised than grilled.

PICT8814Hadas Goshen The skirt steak at Buenos Aires is a “red-meat hallucinogen.”

In general, the boneless meats at Buenos Aires — that is, the imported ones — are more succulent and more complex-tasting than the bone-in ones. The kitchen’s masterpiece is without doubt the skirt steak, a narrow strip of meat so long that it arrives doubled over on your plate. The outer surface is as  minutely dimpled and stained as an antique dining table; the interior is rich and tender, but with a lovely muscular resistance. The skirt steak is a red-meat hallucinogen; even the ribeye, by comparison, tastes insipid.

Beyond the animal matter, the French fries are ordinary, and the sauteed spinach perfectly satisfactory. The Provoleta Argentina — grilled provolone in a tomato sauce with oregano—is marvelous, though once again the nanny state has interfered with the chef’s designs by prohibiting the air-drying of the provolone (can’t leave cheese out of the fridge for long). Buenos Aires also has a very impressive selection of Malbecs. Gaston raved about an Alfa Crux 2007 which the restaurant had discounted from $120 to $65. “If you don’t love it,” he solemnly avowed, “I will take it back and pay for it myself.” Moved by his integrity, we ordered the Alfa Crux, which turned out to be the greatest Malbec I had ever tasted by a very large order of magnitude.

Buenos Aires has certain peculiarities. The underside of both the chairs and the tables are lined with woolen fleeces — to dampen the noise, Gaston explained. It is open at lunch time but does not feature a lunch menu, though the number of people prepared to spend $25 for an entrée at lunch on Sixth Street between A and B must be vanishingly small. I wanted to ask the owner, Karina de Marco, about that strategy, but she appears to be a hermit, or a Trappist, declining to respond to innumerable e-mails, notes, personal requests, etc. Perhaps she wants to keep Buenos Aires a secret. I hope she won’t be too upset that I’ve blown her cover.

Buenos Aires, 513 East Sixth Street, 212-228-2775, www.buenosairesnyc.com.