Note: Patagonian Gourmet has closed
At least a couple of times a year when I go visit my parents in the Los Angeles area, I take my dad and one or more of my siblings to an Argentine restaurant. My mom never goes; she thinks it's a waste of money to go a restaurant serving the same type of food we eat at home. And she has a point - Argentine food is quite simple to make and Argentine restaurants, even those in Argentina, usually serve the same fare most people eat at home. That should tell you that the point of going to an Argentine restaurant is less about the food (though these are great places to go when you want some beef and don't want to cook it yourself) and more about going out and socializing - two of the great passions of most Argentineans.
There are many Argentine restaurants in Southern California, including the Gaucho Grill chain, and several in the San Fernando Valley where my parents live. We decided on Patagonian Gourmet because its ad in a local Argentinean magazine mentioned that they served ice cream. My sister Katherine craves "real" dulce de leche ice cream (not that poor Haagen Daz imitation), so she was thrilled to find a place in Southern California where it is served.
Patagonian Gourmet is a very small, owner-run restaurant. It seats barely 22 people in 6 tables but still manages lunch and dinner six days a week. It's only been open for about five months and it's a very casual, friendly place. There isn't much decor to speak of, the place has the ambiance of a deli (and there is a large TV for those who want to catch the game), or more accurately, of a small, unpretentious neighborhood restaurant. This is really the type of place where you could become a friend (and make other friends) after only a couple of visits.
We visited on Saturday night at 9pm in May 2004. In Argentina, most people don't go out to eat until at least that hour, but three of the tables were occupied when we got there and only one more party came after we arrived. Four out of the five parties that night (including us) were Argentineans.
Despite its name, the owner doesn't come from Patagonia (though she says she loves the region) and the menu is made up almost entirely of pan-Argentinean specialties, though a couple of lamb dishes pay homage to the deep south. Appetizers, which include such Argentine specialties as Tongue Vinaigrette and Vitel Thoné (thin slices of beef in a mayonnaise sauce) cost $3 to $10 and the 13 types of empanadas are a bargain at $1.50 each. Also on the menu are savory pies ($3-3.50), salads ($3-5.50), pastas ($6.50-9.50), meat-based main dishes ($7.50-15) and, of course, grilled meats ($7.50-13.50). Desserts ($3.50-4) include flan, dulce de leche crepes and, as promised, Argentine ice cream. Vegetarians, however, will find plenty to eat by combining appetizers like the egg plant vinaigrette with a salad, a vegetable pie or empanada and/or a veggie pasta. In all, the prices are very reasonable for the type of food.
The dinner started with an amuse bouche of eggplant vinaigrette and chicken escabeche. None of us like eggplant so we didn't try it, but the chicken escabeche was simply delicious. It's also served as an appetizer ($6.50) and next time we go there, I'll be ordering it. I then had a Roquefort and celery empanada. This is not a traditional filling, but it worked quite well and I think I will serve it to my guests in the future. Mike had a spicy meat empanada and he said it was good, though not as good as mine (of course!) or the ones he'd had in Argentina. Mike also had the Matambre (beef stuffed with egg and vegetables, rolled and sliced - $6.50) which was served with Russian salad (potato salad with carrots & peas). He liked both but didn't think they were anything special.
For my main dish, I ordered the Lamb Chops in a brandy and mushroom sauce ($15) with mashed potatoes (the other choice was creamed spinach). This was a very simple, unadorned dish. It was good, in a rustic, homey way. I would order it again. My dad had the lamb stew in white wine ($12), also with mashed potatoes. We both felt the stew needed more seasoning (Argentineans, in general, are not very bold with seasonings), but we liked the mild, mint taste. The mashed potatoes were OK; they tasted real but they weren't creamy enough for my Americanized taste.
Katherine decided on the Filet Mignon ($13.50) served with Provencal fries (seasoned with garlic, parsley and olive oil). The steak was very good, perfectly cooked medium rare. The fries apparently were delicious. They disappeared so quickly that I wasn't even able to try one. Mike went for the asado de tira or short ribs ($12) with regular fries. He thought the meat was very good. He also liked the fries but not as much as the Provencal ones. He ordered a chorizo ($3) but they forgot to bring it - it was just as well as he already had leftovers.
For dessert, Kathy and I had, of course, ice cream ($4 for 2 scoops). Kathy liked it (though not as much as the ice cream at Tango Gelato in San Francisco) but I wasn't thrilled with the dulce de leche ice cream. The taste wasn't very strong and it tasted of home-made ice cream. The chocolate with almonds ice cream I had was better. Mike had the dulce de leche crepes and they were quite good (how couldn't they be?). He was nice enough to leave me one to finish.
All in all we had a very nice meal and at $90 after tax for the four of us (including a few sodas and a whole Lemonade carafe) we were happy campers. I still want to try all the Argentine restaurants in the Valley, but Patagonian Gourmet is certainly worth another visit.
Note, Patagonian Gourmet also offers lunches that include an entree, dessert and soda for $7.50
19527 Ventura Blvd.