Six Short Years
Malbec Argentinean Cuisine thrives as it grows
By Erica Wayne 07/31/2014
Remember El Capo, the short-lived Argentinean tapas cum casual dining cum corner store restaurant on East Green Street? Almost as soon as it was voted the Pasadena Weekly’s Best New Restaurant in 2007, it shuttered its doors. It was almost immediately replaced by Malbec, another Argentinean enterprise, which has proven far more successful, expanding to include a slightly younger sister in Toluca Lake and a two-year old restaurant in Santa Monica, Ushuaia Argentinean Steakhouse. All have gotten accolades from critics and Yelpers alike.
Malbec’s interior is semi-formal: black leatherette banquettes; raisin and white linens; salmon, peach, lemon, vermillion and terra-cotta walls and a chocolate brown ceiling; a stone-faced bar to the rear; dark wood furnishings and flooring and recessed lighting. Testifying to the excellence of the restaurant’s wines is the huge walk-in refrigerated enclosure at the back of the main dining room.
During Malbec’s baby days, we had several lunches and a couple of dinners which included their campestre salad ($10.95/$9.95) a variant on Italian caprese with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and balsamic vinaigrette, kalamata and cerignola olives, arugula and roasted peppers. We also tried the beet salad ($8.95) with roasted pears, toasted walnuts, arugula, blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette, and found it equally good. They remain among our favorite dishes.
As for entrées, my mate immediately bonded with his skirt steak ($23.95/$22.95). It’s reasonably tender, rich in flavor and comes topped with a generous amount of spicy chimichurri. Paired with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes, this steak’s a preeminently satisfying meat and potatoes dish. Each meal at Malbec begins with a basketful of bread and a dish of addictive chimichurri to dip it in.
I ordered “sorrentinos” (plump housemade ravioli stuffed with ham, smoked mozzarella and asparagus in a rosy cream sauce with white mushroom slices — $18.95) on my initial visit and fell in love. On our too-rare evenings at Malbec, the only times these are served, I sometimes order it in honor of the 60 percent of the Argentine population of Italian descent and whenever I can persuade Hubby to divvy his beef.
We ended our first Malbec meal with their simple flan al caramelo with dulce de leche and handmade whipped cream — ($6.95) and the more elaborate crepes filled with caramelized apples and pastry cream, topped with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche sauce ($8.95). Thank goodness much of the original Malbec menu, including these delicious desserts, remains intact! And the restaurant’s prices have increased only incrementally.
I’m particularly enamored of Malbec’s salmon en salsa verde, served only at lunch, with its piquant “pesto” of mint, parsley, anchovies, roasted garlic and lemon zest ($18.95 with roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables). At dinnertime, they grill the fish and pair it with kalamata tapenade, mashed potato, grilled tomato and broccolini ($21.95).
My mate only varies his entrées by meat cuts. Sometimes he switches from skirt steak to beef tenderloin with Malbec’s platonic green peppercorn sauce ($29.95) or New York with gorgonzola, mushrooms and onions ($31.95). But he will share the “tabla argentina” (antipasto for two with eggplant, ricotta and smoked mozzarella in spicy tomato sauce, cerignola and kalamata olives, grilled polenta with portobello, provolone and truffle oil, grilled bread with gorgonzola and prosciutto, escabeche and fresh mozzarella with piquillo — $23.95).
Our visits have necessarily been fewer than we’d like, but we continue to be impressed with food, service, wines and ambiance whenever we get the opportunity. A couple of friends and I were able to take advantage of the dineLA lunch specials ($20/$25 for a three-course meal) last week. Alas, we had to forgo wine for iced tea (afternoon errands), but we made up for the loss by extreme indulgence with our edibles.
We started with refreshing gazpacho, and two pairs of empanadas, each of the four completely different in filling and flavor and each delectable. Then it was on to main courses of gemelli with eggplant ragu, tomato sauce, basil and fresh smoked mozzarella (not on the regular menu); beefy, medium rare green peppercorn-sauced flat iron steak with emerald sautéed spinach, fingerling potatoes and baby carrots, and a pair of crepes stuffed with roasted chicken, Tuscan kale, onions, pinenuts and decadent manchego fondue sauce.
To finish up, two of us ordered Malbec’s impressively rich and subtle vanilla bean panna cotta, with a thin decorative coating of half mango, half blackberry coulis. (Again, this prep isn’t on the dessert menu; but if it makes you feel better, I prefer their flan.) The third selected artisan, intensely strawberry sorbet with a mélange of fresh fruit and berries. Although the portions were so large that quite a bit of steak, crepe and pasta made it home for dinner, none of the soup, turnovers or sweets survived meal’s end, a tribute to Malbec’s enduring quality.