La Parrilla de Argentina

December 7, 2008

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It was a blistering cold evening when we headed out to Queens for our Argentina experience, one of those where you are chilled entirely to the bone after just walking one block.  Even when you are wearing your heaviest winter coat, hat, and scarf.  And this was November!

decorLuckily we warmed up right away upon entering La Porteña (74-25 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, 11372).  The hosts’ smiles, tasteful wood paneling, and soft light quickly relaxed our shivers.  Knick knacks, Argentine collectibles, memorabilia and photographs of Carlos Gardel adorned the walls.  We settled in to our table, and prepared to devour some meat.

La Porteña is a traditional Argentine style parrilla, or grill.  The menu features familiar comfort favorites like pasta (Argentina was heavily settled by Italians) but the crowds flock here for the grilled meats.  And there was definitely a crowd that Saturday night.

We were a group of five that week, and one of our guests was half Argentinian.  So we relied on her to order us the true parrilla experience.   She started us out with some grilled cheese, or provoleta, which is nothing like the stuff that goes in those sandwiches your mama used to make you, and is a common starter before a meal of grilled meat.  We also tried some slighted spicy and very tasty chorizo, (grilled pork sausage) and fried calamari (no different from any other decent calamari you’ve had elsewhere). These items were all devoured instantly, along with the basket of french bread that was set on the table.  We still had half a bottle of malbec to work on, so we sipped and chatted and waited for the main event.  So far so good.

Before too long the waiter appeared with a small sizzling grill, absolutely piled with all sorts of animal parts.  We were suddenly confronted with enough meat to feed a group of hungry motorcyclists.  This was the mixed grill for two?  How on earth were two people ever supposed to eat all this?  To top it off, we had ordered a slab of sirloin, which was now presented along with the mashed potatoes and salad.  My stomach was already churning at the thought of digging in.

grill

sausage2The mixed grill featured five cuts:  more chorizo, two pieces of blood sausage, skirt steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, and tripe.  Sweetbreads are the thymus gland of either a cow, pig, or lamb.  They have a slightly chewy texture, but a nice flavor.  Tripe is supposed to be stomach, though our long, thin, tube-like pieces more closely resembled intestines.  Either way, what it contained tasted just like half digested food, and one bite was all I needed to conclude my meeting with this organ.  Moving on, I tried a few bites of the tasty but very salad2mushy blood sausage.  The short ribs were nearly all juicy fat, too much for me, but apparently that’s how the Argentines like it.  The skirt steak was a nicely cooked thin cut of 100% beef, the only problem with it was that there wasn’t enough.  In the end, the gigantic slab of sirlion, though probably the favorite of the group, was nearly neglected due to our intense focus on finishing the grill.

We were just about at the point of collapsing on the table in a meat coma when our coffee and dessert appeared.  Vanilla ice cream doused in scotch and walnuts gave us all a strong kick in the pants.  The thin, crispy panqueque rolled up and filled with dulce de leche immediately perked my senses.  The group diplomatically took one small bite at a time of the flan con dulce de leche.   Both the cappucinos and esspressos were light and perfectly prepared.

dessert

In the end we went home stuffed and happy (until 5 am the next morning when Noquar awoke with a violent episode of his stomach purging itself that lasted for the next 5 hours. Luckily, this turned out to be a stomach virus, not food poisioning).  But having been to Argentina myself and enjoyed the divine beef they serve at the local parrillas, I was a tad disappointed.  I know, I know, this isn’t Argentina, it’s New York, and here we have to eat New York meat.  But I’ve had better here.  Maybe one of these days I’ll try another place that a good friend in Buenos Aires told me about, somewhere out on Corona and Junction.

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