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Critic's Choice: Where to find great steaks

December 29, 2011|By S. Irene Virbila | Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic

Carlitos Gardel: The beef at this restaurant, owned by an Armenian family from Argentina, is mostly grass-fed and from Argentina. The cook in the family is Azniv Bozoghlian. Her son Gerard runs the dining room. Son Max is an expert in Argentine wines. Carlitos Gardel is a warm, old-fashioned place with white tablecloths, smart service and, on Saturday nights, a pianist playing old tangos. The food is elevated home cooking — mushroom caps stuffed with chicken forcemeat, deep-fried squid in marinara sauce and, of course, empanadas. But the real draw here is the steaks and especially the long, skinny skirt steak served with chimichurri. Bife (regular or mini) comes with a black peppercorn and mushroom sauce. Sometimes there's a 40-ounce rib-eye big enough to serve four. The other way to go is with the parrillada, or mixed grill, for two — skirt steak, short ribs, blood sausage with a hint of sweet spices, spicy Argentine-style chorizo and flattened sweetbreads, which are cooked until they're crispy at the edges. Do save room for one of Mrs. Bozoghlian's desserts, such as postre Gardel, a tall slab of genoise layered with peaches, dulce de leche and meringue. Or her ethereally light ricotta cake.

7063 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 655-0891, http://www.carlitosgardel.com. Steaks, $34 to $44. Parrillada Argentina is $58 for two.

Jocko's Steakhouse: If you're headed up to the Central Coast wine country, plan on making a pit stop in Nipomo (eight miles north of Santa Maria) for a steak dinner at Jocko's. The place has been around since 1926, and the grill men really know their red oak fire and their beef. Pick your meat, your salad dressing and your potato (fries or a baked spud). Your meal will be out shortly. Jocko's specialty is the Spencer, a huge, 2-inch-thick bone-in rib-eye ($27). Charred a deep mahogany, it is well-salted, the cowboy equivalent of a bistecca alla fiorentina and just as satisfying. Most people don't have the appetite of the old cowhands and end up crying uncle and taking some of it home. The bartender is friendly, the crowd too. Just don't expect a slick steakhouse: This is down-home; practically the sole decoration some old cattle brands and horseshoes. The wine list is perfunctory at best, but hey, the corkage fee is only $5, so bring your best Santa Maria Valley Pinot. Dinner starts at 4:30 p.m., the only time when there may not be a wait for a table. Great value, great place.

125 N. Thompson Ave., Nipomo (about 8 miles north of Santa Maria on the Central Coast, just off U.S. 101), (805) 929-3565, http://www.jockosmix.com. Complete steak dinners, $17 (steak sandwich) to $31 (stuffed filet mignon); extra thick-cut steaks, $10 more.

irene.virbila@latimes.com

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