"I will take you to the best parrilla in the whole city," my brother Sean's friend Fabian told us.
The best steakhouse in a city brimming with steakhouses? Clearly, an offer we could not refuse. Especially since Fabian has been working as a Buenos Aires tour guide for more than 5 years.
We arrived at Parrilla Peña at around 11:30 pm -- the typical dinner hour for a Friday evening in Buenos Aires. Though Sean and I each had 5 Buenos Aires guide books between us -- Parrilla Peña was in none of them -- which was fine. Sometimes you just have to wing it and live it up like a local.
And for locals it was: this restaurant was lit with fluorescent light and was sparsely furnished. No dark woods, no candles, no bossa nova music. Clearly, this was a steakhouse for regular folk, not tourists seeking the latest "in" spot.
(Later on, Sean did notice a framed review from the New York Times hanging on a far wall.)
The menu was very extensive, including choices for chicken, fish, and pastas, but we were there for one reason: STEAK. The guide books had explained that Argentina has an equivalent to filet mignon, known as bistec de lomo, which I knew I had to try. With some beef empanadas as an appetizer, a mixed salad, and a side of eggplant, I predicted that this was going to be a meal I would never forget.
Bistec de lomo was actually better than filet mignon, given the size of the portion and the fact that it was non-fatty and tender throughout. It was lightly seasoned with salt and a hint of black pepper. No sauce needed: just the pure flavor of grilled meat.
There, at the next table, I spotted them: french fries! Fabian said that french fries in Argentina are normally served with parsley and garlic -- wow. I'll just have to get those next time.
Now for dessert: what would a perfect steak meal be without espresso or cheesecake? Much to my surprise, Parrilla Peña did not serve coffee -- which I suppose was fine, given the time of night -- but when the recommended dessert was brought to the table, I was absolutely blown away: budin de pan mixto, a bread pudding, served with (unsweetened) whipped cream and dulce de leche, the creamy caramel-like sauce common in all of Latin America. With three spoons, we were all set to complete one of the best steakhouse experiences I've ever had.
I would later do a search on Parrilla Peña on the Argentine equivalent of Zagat or Chowhound, Oleo, to find its review, posted here. Definitely a gem.