Steaking a claim for world domination

La Cabrera Express 1While La Cabrera steakhouses are slowly rolling out across South America and even into Manila in the Philippines, it seems there is little standing in the way of owner Gastón Riveira’s quest for world steak domination.

Indeed, the Palermo-based parrilla’s reputation was further cemented with its second consecutive positioning in the Latin America 50 Best Restaurants awards earlier this month, albeit with a drop from 17 to rank 22 this year.

Famed for its happy-hour discount, tender steaks the size of breezeblocks, a complimentary glass of fizz as you wait for a table and those tiny little pots and saucepans filled with yummy side dishes, La Cabrera is synonymous with steak, a concept that ensures Argentina is a dining destination – and it’s been getting it right for years.

Recently, however, Riveira has taken a new turn and and instead of continuing to further develop down Palermo’s Cabrera Street, he’s opened another establishment but this time in Villa Crespo. However, this isn’t just a neighbourhood change but also a shift in concept.

Homing in on what has become a bustling shopping district thanks to the dozens of outlets selling cut-price goods, La Cabrera Express surely aims to take advantage of that shopper who’s looking to refuel with something more than coffee and a piece of cake.

And while big brands have taken over in terms of clothes and shoes, most cafés and eateries in Villa Crespo are singleton enterprises, with just the one branch to their name. So it’s a clever move by Cabrera Inc to pop up right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle and sear that iron branding onto the neighbourhood as if the restaurant were indeed a cow.

Faster dining, similar price
What differs from the original steakhouses in Palermo is that this meant to be a faster dining experience — there is little difference pricewise.

There’s nothing like lingering over that final sweetbread before moving onto the main meaty attraction, indeed it’s one of the great pleasures of devouring steak, whether it’s in a restaurant or freshly sizzled on a garden parrilla.

So while wolfing down a steak at breakneck speed might not seementirely palatable, it is in keeping with the idea of refuelling busy shoppers whose main priority is credit-card bashing.

Located on a prime cut of a corner, the look is similar to the original: dark interior but large windows, mobiles hang from the ceiling and thankfully, there’s a lollipop tree.

The welcome drink is Gancia and orange, rather than fizz, and great big carving devices for slicing through hunks of meat are part of the mise-en-place. So far, so Cabrera.

Wine lists, in a bid to cut down on time, are hooked onto tables, while large blackboards display the dishes on offer. Instead of dozens of meat cuts, the emphasis is on just a few plus there are three sandwiches including the elaborate chorizan, all part of the food-that’s-fast strategy.

And instead of tiny pots of goodness, there’s a cute, all-you-can-eat, self-service salad bar atop a pushcart (100 pesos), greens and veggies stuffed into glass pots; dessert is also a serve-yourself affair.

But wine glasses are still fine crystal while the meat maintains its same high quality that diners have come to expect, so it’s not a complete about-turn.

IMG_2047Fully loaded
Mr Links went for the Bife La Cabrera sandwich (80 pesos), a fully-loaded affair in delightful bread and rammed full of cheese, ham, lettuce and all the other peripherals. He loved the bread and declared the meat to be delicious, however, he was defeated by it.

I went for bleeding steak as is my wont, and the medium size rib-eye (157 pesos) came inside an cast-iron tin atop a wooden board accompanied, would you believe it, a jacket potato. Nice!

A tiny paper dish of sea salt also made the cut as did a pot of sour cream for the potato. It wasn’t half bad.
The steak was juicy and succulent, big enough for two really, but even between the two of us the beef won outright and we took the remains home in a doggy bag, tail between our legs.

With nine main meat cuts on offer, there’s also a smattering of other dishes — milanesa and pasta —though I’m not sure why you’d want those at a steakhouse.

Note to reader: leave a gap for dessert. La Cabrera makes its own gelato, and a ridiculously creamy and fantastic affair it is too. I don’t often take the sweet route but the blackberry ice-cream was heavenly.

Regardless of the efforts to get us in and out — not in a hurrying way by the staff — lunch still took two hours instead of the more usual three or four.

I guess that’s the express part of this particular Cabrera experience.

La Cabrera Express
Serrano 698, Villa Crespo
No reservations

Buenos Aires Herald, September 28, 2014

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