The wait is over for the Forest Hills food-obsessed who’ve been wondering whether the Argentine steak house that has been heralding its arrival on Metropolitan Avenue since last summer would ever open its doors. Pampas Argentinas is open for business, and judging by the crowd waiting for tables on its second Friday night, is an instant success.
Pampas Argentinas features the cuisine of Córdoba, Argentina’s heartland, known for its large cattle ranches. It is the gaucho cuisine of simple grilled meats, tempered by the influence of successive waves of immigrants largely from Italy, but also from Spain and other parts of Europe. Their grass-fed beef is world renowned, but sadly, the USDA, in its wisdom, does not allow its import into this country.
The Brandalise-Frigerio family, the establishment’s owners, admirably resisted the temptation to turn their space into a gaucho theme park and opted instead for good taste and comfort without pretentiousness.
This lack of pretentiousness is also happily reflected on the very affordable wine list. For around the price of what you would pay for a carafe of house red or white at other comparable establishments, you can choose from a list of carefully chosen Argentine wines. We started with a fragrant, fruity Torrontes, a grape native to Argentina. We later moved on to a more robust Malbec, perhaps Argentina’s most widely known wine with French origins. Not only were the wines rewarding in and of themselves, but we can’t imagine anything that would pair more seamlessly with an Argentine meal.
Argentine antipasto, not all that dissimilar from an Italian antipasto (except maybe for the way they cut the cheese in little cubes) is a nice nibble with drinks while you consider your options. Hearts of palm with golf sauce is an Argentine standby. Golf sauce, as far as we can tell, is Russian dressing. We can only guess that it achieved popularity in Argentina at golf clubs.
If you are a tongue lover (one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods), the calves’ tongue is noteworthy. Tender slices are served cold in a tangy vinaigrette.
Do not even think of passing up the empanadas. These irresistible baked dumplings, done in the Salteña style, come with beef, chicken or vegetarian (tomato, mozzarella, and basil) fillings. They are so petite that even someone with a small appetite could manage at least one as a starter. For the more voracious among us, we recommend at least one of each.
With Italian food being the most pervasive culinary influence in Argentina, we naturally had to try one of the pasta specialties. Homemade Cannelloni Rossini stuffed with spinach and chicken, topped with béchamel and tomato sauces and gratinéed with Parmesan, reflected the rich but delicate Argentine interpretation of Italian fare.
The Pampas Mixed Grill, served on a parillada (Argentine grill), is an opportunity to sample a range of Argentine-style meats including chorizo sausage, black sausage, sweet breads, short ribs, skirt steak and sirloin brochette. The meat is grilled, seasoned only with coarse salt.
Although it was our impression that chimichurri sauce, a concoction flavored with finely chopped parsley, oregano, onion and garlic, was essential to this preparation both as a marinade and a sauce, we were informed otherwise by Mrs. Frigerio. She asserts that chimichurri sauce is not as popular as it once was, and while it is available at Pampas Argentinas, it is by request. We loved the chorizo, found the sweetbreads dry and the sirloin and short ribs chewy for our pampered American palate. The skirt steak was the best of the beef. The black (blood) pudding, an ethnic treat we’ve come to enjoy the Irish, Korean, and Taiwanese versions, was a bit bland and fat-studded for our taste.
In addition to the mixed grill we sampled the Veal Chop Cognac and the Roquefort Medallions. The generous chop was the standout meat of the evening. Sauteed with mushrooms, pearl onions and herbs, it was accompanied by delightful noisette potatoes. The Roquefort Medallions, while pleasingly sauced, suffered from the same chewiness as much of the beef served here.
For an Argentine take on feeding your sweet tooth, complete your meal with caramel custard deluxe, combining flan with dulce de leche, or cheese and jelly.
The Bottom Line
Pampas Argentinas is a worthy and appealing new option for Forest Hills diners where Argentinean expats can find a taste of home.
105-07 Metropolitan Ave.
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Setting: Comfortably upscale
Service: Friendly, efficient
Hours: Monday-Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Saturday & Sunday, noon to midnight
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Alcohol: Wine & beer
Children: No menu
Credit Cards: yes
Noise Level: Acceptable
Handicap Accessible: Yes
A SAMPLE FROM THE MENU:
Argentinean Antipasto ... $9.50/$15.50 for one/two
Calves tongue vinaigrette ... $6.90
Empanada (beef, chicken or vegetarian) ... $2.90
Cannelloni Rossini ... $15.50
Pampas mixed grill ... $27.50/$39.50 for one/two
Veal Chop Cognac ... $27.90
©2008 Community News Group
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