Jim’s oldest daughter, Lauren, recently graduated and for her celebratory meal she requested “a really good steak” somewhere she could “dress up.” Now, finding a place to “dress up” in Seattle is a tall order as people find it acceptable to wear jeans pretty much everywhere including, the opera. The steak part was slightly easier, but with so much fusion floating around these days, good old-fashioned steakhouses are few and far between. Luckily, Jim knew just the place – El Gaucho.
Walking into El Gaucho is like walking into a swanky 1940s supper club. The lighting is soft, the booths are mink lined, and a jazz pianist provides the background music. This is not a place to whip out the camera – or even the iPhone – so I’m sorry to say that this post is photo-free.
Upon entering, we were greeted, our coats were taken and we were shown to our table (1/2 mink lined booth, 1/2 chairs). Within moments hot, cheese filled bread and water was on the table. As I’m in the home stretch – I hope – of the Candida diet, I refrained from tasting the bread. Lauren assured us, it was fabulous.
I also refrained from wine (the horror), so while I ordered and sipped on San Pelligrino with lime, Jim and Lauren enjoyed a 2006 Luigi Bosca Malbec Lujan de Cuyo. Jim assures me, it was rich, complex and very fruit-forward. Bastard ;)
We started the meal with crab cakes and Wicked Shrimp for starters. Jim and Lauren split the crabcakes (breading made them a no-no for me) and Jim described them as “a standard food done really, really well.” Jim and I shared the Wicked Shrimp (and made Lauren try a bite, she is not a shrimp eater). The Wicked Shrimp consisted of five jumbo prawns, lightly grilled and sauced with a thick, buttery, cayenne pepper flavored brown sauce. They were a very solid start to the meal with interest lent by the cayenne pepper.
For the salad course, I opted for a starter of escargot, Jim opted for the tableside Caesar salad and Lauren had the Gaucho salad (spinach leaves tossed in a creamy Roquefort dressing) without shrimp and with walnuts. The escargot was served out of the shell in a sea of butter and garlic. It was good, but much too hot. I burned my tongue on the first bite, and despite suspending the little morsels in the air for several minutes before enjoying them, they never quite cooled to a comfortable temperature. Jim’s caesar, however, was perfect. No fake gooey caesar dressing here, just a perfect blend of lemon, olive oil, anchovy, raw egg and salt and pepper.
After a decent interval, we moved on to the main course, an 8 oz filet mignon for me (medium rare of course) and 16 oz New York steaks for Jim and Lauren, his with melted Roquefort, hers with a peppercorn sauce, both cooked medium (something that I find cringe worthy, as it kills a lot of the flavor). For sides, we ordered Norigold mashed potatoes and the seasonal vegetable, butternut squash in a brown butter sauce with spinach.
The steaks were perfectly cooked. My filet was juicy, tender and so flavorful I skipped the au jus sauce served on the side. The Roquefort on Jim’s steak gave it a sharp cheesy tanginess, but to me, overwhelmed the steak flavor – Jim loved it. The Norigold mashed potatoes were . . . mashed potatoes. Good, but not exciting. The butternut squash and spinach side was the home run of the night for me. The squash was perfectly carmelized, the spinach wilted but still with texture and the addition of pecans was a crunchy compliment.
As sugar is not allowed on the Candida diet (other than whole fruit), I passed on dessert. Lauren ordered the classic – Burnt Creme (crème brûlée) and Jim went for comfort food – a cream soda ice cream float. Dessert was accompanied by a fruit and nut platter, dates, and a giant slab of Roquefort cheese. Jim and Lauren made quick work of the nuts, cracking them and eating them while waiting on dessert and I sampled a few grapes. When their desserts arrived, I cheated a bit and indulged in a few dates with Roquefort (fermented cheese is a no-no) and an apple. I think I was one of the few persons who ever actually ate the fruit presented at dessert time – a sad commentary on American eating habits?
3 1/2 hours after we arrived we paid our New York style bill and headed out into the drizzly Seattle night. Satiated, stuffed and ready for bed.