Picture this: A gray and white room with wine bottles lining the plate rack on high, bathed in a mesmerizing blue light. A multitude of Argentinean scenes circle the room from rural La Pampa on the pampas where the cattle graze far south of Buenos Aires. In the rear, there's a new sunlit party room seating 40. Raspberry accents add drama along with the salmon cloths (topped with white paper) and rolled napkins holding steak knives and forks.
Up front a wrought iron deck with dramatic cutouts of golden grapes (plus a draped woolen poncho) partition the small bar entranceway from the dining room.
La Pampa opens at 2 p.m., and it was 3 p.m. when I arrived - not my usual hour for lunching, and I was feeling very sophisticated, very Buenos Aires.
An oval platelet with two rolls of salami wrapped in provolone and a petite bright red tomato half, drizzled with oil and dotted with flakes of chili pepper, was set before me along with a napkin-lined basket of hot rolls.
The drinks were tempting: A rum piña colada; La Pampa, a golden, orange liquor delight; a frozen cosmopolitan; and La Guachita, a vodka and peach schnapps number.
To sustain the South of the Border mood, hearts of palm seemed an appropriate appetizer. And it was. Split palm hearts sat side by side on an oval plate with a ribbon of golf sauce and a sprinkling of parsley along the cut ends. A tiny silver boat of the "so good" velvety pink mayo sauce tempted me to spoon a bit on crusts of bread.
One of the chalk-written specials on the sandwich board listed club steak and short ribs. The beef at La Pampa, shouted out loud at every turn, is organic. Medium was requested and medium it was - precisely timed, wonderfully juicy and (so important to me) full of flavor. The short ribs were cut horizontally, in the Oriental manner. Three green chili peppers, pleasantly hot, topped the grilled steak and ribs, along with chichirrium, a thyme-scented relish. A plate of rice (there's a choice of potato, too) accompanied by a mountain of tossed greens topped with coarsely shredded carrots and studded with olives accompanied.
The dessert menu leads off with flan with dulce leche, and progresses to Italian cheesecake and tiramisu. But I chose tradition - cheese and guava paste. It was a pretty presentation with a triangle of each arranged in a square set beside a duplicate square. The flavors were so very complimentary. And then there was that cup of Argentinean coffee with leche, Argentina's answer to cappuccino. Cappuccino and espresso are served as well.
La Palma's food is as stylish as the decor and delicious to boot. On a scale of one to 10, I gave this late lunch/early dinner a 9.5 - delightful ambiance, upbeat (everything is beautiful) gracious, efficient servers, wonderful food. (Except the too-chewy grilled short ribs.)
On leaving, another diner complimented the staff - "A beautiful meal: The vegetable soup. The stuffed mushrooms with green olives and peppers. The stuffed beef rolls with Russian salad. And my husband had the best sangria." What was in the doggy bag she clutched? I wish I knew.
Supper at 6 p.m. for me was tongue with Russian salad, cheese ravioli with sauce Rossini, flan with dulce leche and Argentinean coffee. Substituting calamari and rock shrimp salad as an opener and ordering the radicchio salad, I'd give this meal a 9.
The ravioli were minis, the most delicate ever - who would expect to find them in an Argentina steak house? The flan was also sensitively presented: a demi flan topped with a curl of caramelized leche, fluffs of cream (each cherry topped), plus a long crisp cookie inscribed in chocolate "Argentina."
With that great Argentinean coffee with leche and topped with two coffee beans, it was memorable. Yes, La Pampa is the same but definitely not the same.
The Bottom Line
Small, chic, Argentine steakhouse. Very fine Argentine and Italian food. Jovial service. New ownership. Newly renovated.
La Pampa Steak House
158-15 Horace Harding Expwy
Empanadas de Carne o Pollo (beef/chicken turnovers)...$1.75
Matambre con Rusa (stuffed rolled beef with Russian salad)...$6.50
Churrasco (for 2) - Argentine organic beef rich in flavor)...$34.90
Entrana (skirt steak)...$17.90
Salmon Calabrese (filet of salmon, Roma tomatoes, onions, capers, basil)...$16.90
Milanesa de Carne (breaded beef cutlet)...$14.90
Linguine con Mariscos (clams, mussels, shrimp, squid in tomato sauce)...$12.90
Flan con leche...$3.50
Crepes with Caramel...$4.50
Service: Very fine
Hours: Closed Monday. From 2 pm Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun. From 3 pm Fri & Sat
Location: N side of Expressway
Dress: Neat casual
Credit cards: All major
Off-premise catering: Yes
Private parties: Private room to 40
Music: South American CDs
Noise level Fri & Sat: Moderate
Handicap access: Yes
©2003 Community News Group
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