Cabaña Las Lilas
Just arrived in BA this morning. I decided to start with a small, relatively unknown restaurant. Nope, just kidding. You probably haven't heard of it, though, unless you've done research into Buenos Aires cuisine. R.W. Apple, Jr. listed it in his famous article, Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket. It was also featured in my Lonely Planet, Frommer's, and just about every other anything that was ever written about the city. In a nutshell, this might be the most famous parilla in Buenos Aires and, ironically, I'm not sure why.I arrived with two other guests at 9:30pm, without a reserve, and was told there would be a 20 minute wait. No problem, we grabbed a table by the bar, had a caiparinha, and waited to be seated. Really nice drinks those caiparinhas. The restaurant was packed and the longer we waited, the more people continued to pour in. We were told we could be seated immediately in a smoking section, or could wait another 20 minutes for non-smoking ... we decided to take the smoking, normally something I would not do, because it seemed like no one was actually smoking at the time. As I walked to the table, the decor was trying to convince me that I had been transported to a wooden cattle ranch somewhere in the country; but, the large port-side windows and views of modern high rises quickly brought me back to reality. The room had what seemed to be a lot of wood: exposed beams, wooden tables, paneling ... but something just didn't sit right. It was as if everything had been made of plastic. My visions of eating at an Argentine steering ranch were quickly shut down by the loud english of tourists who, likely, had read many of the same recommendations as I had. Something about the place screamed inauthenticity, making me feel as if I had entered Disneyworld, a world of make believe. But I was ready to make believe, for a night, because it's about the food.
The meal started off with the cover food: plates of chipa, Argentine cheese bread, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella, mushrooms, zucchini and olive oil, stewed red peppers, and chicken with olives. The waitress asked us if this was our first time eating here, which it was, and she proceeded to explain how "we do things here," starting with a varietal plate of appetizers to whet the palate. All the finger bites were tastey, particularly the chewy texture of the chipa which required no butter, but nothing really jumped out at me except the excessive amount of oil on everything.
First course was a mixed vegetable salad for the sake of eating vegetables. Nothing special there.
As a main, I ordered the Ojo de Bife (Rib Eye) and asked for it jugoso (rare). I was very excited when my grass-fed beef arrived which, unlike most corn-fed beef in the states, is supposed to have a leaner texture and rounder flavor. The steak pushed on the upper limits of rare, more like medium rare, but close enough. And it was a pretty good steak. Definitely the best steak I'd had so far in Buenos Aires but, after all, I'd only been here for a few days. Which makes me wonder if most food writers have really had the time to sample all these steak houses before declaring Cabaña Las Lilas as having the best steak in the country -- a pretty bold assumption, if you ask me.
Dessert was a panqueque de dulce de leche con helado de crema, pretty standard, nothing special.
The bill came, it was around $25 / person -- incredible by New York standards; but objectively way over-priced for what I'd just eaten.
Overall, this was a good restaurant; but definitely nothing special. I think there are other places with better steaks for slightly less money.