Viva la Revolución!
1810 celebrates Argentinean independence with good South American eats
By Erica Wayne 07/10/2014
Last week my hubby and I celebrated two revolutions. For the Fourth of July, we ate a traditional but updated all-American meal of hamburgers (free-range, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free), with home-cooked baked beans with pure maple syrup and nitrite-free bacon. We also enjoyed coleslaw made with farmers’ market cabbage and kale, and hot blueberry-and-nectarine cobbler (organic fruit/whole wheat flour) with — casting caution to the wind — Dreyer’s vanilla ice cream.
But a few days prior to the Fourth, we paid homage to Argentina’s revolution by dining at the Old Pasadena restaurant whose name commemorates the year it happened: 1810. Actually, we were going to dine there last Thursday night, but the horde waiting for a table was daunting enough that we decided to put off the meal for an earlier time on a less popular day. We chose dinnertime Monday, and, sure enough, were able to snag a table.
The popular restaurant’s interior has the requisite Old Pasadena walls of aged brick, dotted with interesting artwork and artifacts. Its black ceiling is quite high, with exposed ducting and a skylight over the L-shaped bar that wraps around the rear east side of the dining room. Lighting is dim, from two crystal chandeliers and smaller dependent light fixtures throughout. Votive candles illuminate the tabletops. Furniture is dark wood with a black leatherette banquette along the east wall. The floor is concrete. As the restaurant filled, it became quite noisy.
The first part of our meal was the best. A loaf of bread was brought to the table immediately, with a tangy green dipping sauce. Our beers (Sam Adams and Peroni drafts, each $6) were cold and the starters piping hot. We sampled a spinach-and-cheese empanada ($3), with flaky crust and creamy filling. Hefty and plump, it came with a small cup of zesty chopped salsa of marinated green and red peppers and onion.
Then we tried “provoleta parrillera,” described on the menu as melted provolone cheese with salsa criolla ($8). This salsa turned out to be the same as the one paired with the empanada, this time topping the contents of a small (six-inch cast-iron pan) brought to us straight from the oven, filled with delicious baked cheese, gooey and charred on top. We scraped up every bit, and definitely plan to have it every time we come back to 1810.
Finally, there were the “croquetas de arroz” — two golf ball-sized risotto-and-mozzarella croquettes rolled in crumbs, deep-fried and coated with a rich marinara ($7), like Italian arancini. These also were luscious; crunchy surfaces with nicely textured and seasoned interiors. We wanted to linger over these appetizers, savoring each bite, but the too-speedy delivery of our entrées crowded them out.
We had both ordered beef — my mate the “entrana al champignon,” a 10-ounce skirt steak with mushroom sauce ($22), while I decided on “bife ancho,” a similar size rib-eye without sauce ($23). Each came with rice, mashed potatoes, fries or green salad. Sadly permitting our just-about-empty starter plates to be removed, we checked out the entrées. Alas, mine was a problem. I’d asked for the rib-eye to be charred rare. But it was obvious that the piece was too thin for the kitchen to easily accomplish this request. I sent the skinny, barely pink slab back for replacement and concentrated on my husband’s thicker, perfectly cooked steak with its succulent sauce.
Not only was his dish completely satisfying, but the salad siding it was far better than expected. The so-called “green” salad was made up of baby lettuces and dressed up with bits of purple onion, cherry tomatoes and a super, quite tart lemon vinaigrette. Plus the few fries we’d grabbed from my plate while trying to catch our server’s eye to ask for a rarer steak were crisp and nearly sizzling.
Finally, the substitute arrived, looking, if not charred, at least not overcooked. But at first bite, I realized it was nearly raw, cold and sinewy. Even the new fries were pallid and limp. Feeling a lot like Goldilocks, having tasted both “too hot” and “too cold,” I decided to forgo trying to get “just right” (after at least half the skirt steak, all those fabulous starters and a full glass of beer, I was pretty sated), so I had it packaged to take home for our pets, who are not nearly as picky as I am.
BTW, I wouldn’t recommend the rib-eye no matter how you like it cooked. Trust me! At 1810, skirt steak with mushrooms is definitely where it’s at! And I’ve got to admit, the “pollo al ajo” (a citrus-marinated half chicken on the bone topped with caramelized onions and garlic sauce, $15) that our neighbor was devouring looked pretty tempting. I’ll probably order it next time.
We decided to split a dessert, despite the protein load of our main meal. Two south-of-the-border sweets (flan and crepes, each with dulce de leche caramel sauce, each $6) both sounded good. But we instead went with our server’s advice to try the warm “soufflé de chocolate” ($8). We were surprised to find the “soufflé” was, in actuality, a flourless chocolate cake; but it was still a fine finale, dark and rich, with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and a puddle of raspberry sauce.
And, as expected, by the time we vacated 1810 a little after 7 o’clock every seat in the place was full and eager prospective diners were congregating at the entry, just as they had been the Thursday before and likely are every night of the week.
Viva la revolución!