Sweeping statements aren’t usually form part of my repertoire but: everyone has heard of La Cabrera, right? One of the finest steak houses in Buenos Aires, so many people will list it as their number-one, absolute favourite, beating Cabaña Las Lilas, La Brigada and Don Julio into oblivion. (And those are all fine meateries and trust me, I have chomped down on the respective funny curly bits, which make various lightweights retch at the very thought of a gland or a freshly grilled testicle, many a time.)
Just this Wednesday, I went for dinner with Bec and Simon, fresh in from Sydney, Australia, via Brazil. Where had they been the night before? La Cabrera. When Azim from London was in town just before Christmas and took up my steak house recommendations of Don Julio and La Cabrera, which did he and his crew prefer? The latter, of course.
Where did Rich and Vero go for their first dinner back after three weeks in the UK last Saturday? I think you know where I’m going with this…
And which is the only restaurant in Buenos Aires that my mother continues to rave on, harp on and drool over, three years after she went to it? That’s right. La Cabrera.
We also all know that (apparently) film director Francis Ford Coppola (allegedly) camps out there when he’s in town (despite owning a house just a few blocks away).
So what’s the bloody fuss about apart from the great bloody steaks? (There’s a lot of questions going on today, for which I apologise.)
It’s got fabulous bloody great bloody steaks, is what La Cabrera has, and so popular it is, that there are in fact two restaurants, and now a pasta restaurant, Marcelina y García, next door to the original haunt on the corner.
The steaks, rib-eye, sirloin, whatever, are large enough to share. Swept out on a wooden dish by boina-wearing waiters, Cabrera steaks are steaming hot, seared so perfectly you’ll need to take a picture, and cooked exactly how a foreigner wants them… bloody.
What is also attractive is the fact there is no real need to order any sides, delicious though the sweetbreads and creamy spinach in its own miniature iron pot are. A dozen little sides are whisked out on a single wooden tray, and diners can choose from roasted garlic, pickles, mustard mash, pumpkin mash, sundried tomatoes, green beans, any number of mini delicacies which give the pallet a splendid opportunity to dip into lots of flavours.
But. And there is a but. The largest drawback, in January 2012, is the price. Any 400-gram steak is now, upwards of 100 pesos. No change from a purple bill there, that’s right. Even though the beef is for sharing, dinner at La Cabrera is not a cheap experience. Lunch, however, is rather better value with the set menu this past week costing 79 pesos. Who knows next week. Ideal for laid-back afternoons when the wine can go with the flow.
The second “but” is all about the fact that there is a way round all this costliness. I like to think of myself as the Guillermo Moreno of dining out, rather more attractive than our beloved domestic trade secretary (although I’m certain the lady in his life would disagree), but definitely a watchdog in a similar vein, keeping an eye out for an eating deal.
The but is that you can dine at La Cabrera – and get change from 100 pesos!
With my friend known as Pick Up The Fork in certain Internet circles, we wanted to nail this myth that had been floating about. We’d both heard that one could dine there with a 50 percent discount at the happy hour feast from 5pm to 8pm. We could treat it as a late lunch.
We rocked up one Friday at 7.30pm, having fasted all day in preparation for this extravaganza of a feast. We were essentially excited about the discount, in fact trying to get change from 100 pesos hadn’t even crossed our minds, given that we were three hungry mouths in need of a feed. We simply wanted a piece of the 50 percent discount action.
“We’re full,” came the reply from the lady in charge of the list. “You can book a table for later.”
Hearts falling, tummies rumbling, we put our heads together. Yes, we’d waited so long that it wouldn’t hurt to wait a bit longer. But dinner would be discount-free.
To cut a long story short, we ate well, ordered too much beef in our hungry haste, and spent 150 pesos each. It hurt, but we were full.
The main topic of conversation that night was: how did we misjudge this situation so badly? Wasn’t happy hour with a discount from 5pm to 8pm? After turning up the second time, two weeks later, at 4.45pm, it turned out that the wretched happy hour is from 7pm to 8pm, it does indeed last one hour, and there is definitely a discount. Again, we pounded the streets of Palermo, necked a margarita at the La fábrica del taco, and headed back just before the o’clock. Five minutes later — and we were in!
Although you literally have 60 minutes to eat, drink and leave, Pick Up The Fork and I shared: a bottle of Malbec (the cheapest on the menu) and 400 grams of ojo de bife steak. We had nine sides, two of which were repeated (PUTF ate all the miniature onions), and one was rather larger, and some kind of eggy, red pepper concoction which was perfectly delicious.
What made this meal, because being hurried through anything is never fun, was the creamy mustard sauce which we slathered over everything. We almost had a rumble over who would lick the jug.
So the deal is this. Get there at 7pm. Be aware of whether the deal is going on at La Cabrera (on the corner) or La Cab North. You will be pushed out after 60 minutes. But you are eating at one of the top-four steak houses in the city offering the best beef in the world.
And if you order wisely — ojo de bife, cheapest plonk — you will get change from 100 pesos. We paid a not very grand 94 pesos, getting back six pesos worth of change. And we had a perfectly cooked steak at La Cabrera.
Cabrera 5099, Palermo
Photo by Pick Up The Fork.