Dear Mr. Gold,
Do local Argentines eat anything but steak? Because when I was in Buenos Aires last year, there were fish restaurants and trattorias and fusion restaurants, plus a lot of chic chef-owned bistros, but in Los Angeles it all seems like meat-meat-meat. Am I looking in the wrong places?
—Evan, Sherman Oaks
It’s true: There is a lot of animal in Argentine restaurants in Los Angeles, where Argentina is as synonymous with the grilled-meat orgy known as parrillada as Peru is with spit-roasted chicken. But even at the most grill-centric of them, like Mercado Buenos Aires in Van Nuys or Carlitos Gardel on Melrose, you can usually grab a slice of the cheesy Argentine pizza fugazetta, get a proper milanesa and decent fried squid. You can always find grilled blood sausage, grilled sweetbreads, grilled chicken and the like. And there are always the myriad empanadas to be found at Empanada’s Place down on Sawtelle or Empanadas Gourmet in Glendale.
But I suspect you’re probably thinking of a place like Malbec in Pasadena, a spiffy Argentine bistro with a small but appropriate list of Mendoza wines by the bottle, really good empanadas stuffed with spinach, spicy chicken or beef, and a menu heavily influenced by the Italian side of Argentina, which is almost two-thirds Italian by ancestry: grilled salmon with the tart, herby salmoriglio sauce usually associated with Sicily; thin, fried chicken filets Napoletana blanketed with mozzarella and thick tomato sauce; and an occasional special of Argentine tagliarini in an unusual version of a long-cooked Bolognese sauce lashed with fresh oregano. Malbec feels a lot like a side-street restaurant in Buenos Aires’ arty Palermo district. For dessert there’s apple crepes, house-made pasteles with cheese and fruit, and eggy flan with imported cajeta. And the indifferent grilled steak is the least compelling food in the room.
Malbec: 1001 E. Green St., Pasadena (626) 683-0550