Bianca, being the shamelessly fantastic person she is, was adamant about taking me out for a memorable dinner for my birthday. I hadn't been to Carlitos Gardel in an age, and desired the grilled epiphany that is Argentine steak.
West of the racy pomp of Melrose's main shopping strip, Carlitos Gardel stands aloof and dignified. They take care of you here. The interior is quietly textured, with sounds of violin music and a sommelier named Gerardo who cares deeply about what works best with your desired experience and its courses. We settle down with a bottle of Blú sparkling natural mineral water to clear the palate.
I am helpless before the concept of sausage, and the Chorizo is grilled firm and dense with a brisk skin. Its intense, intoxicating scent would perk up the noses of a wolf pack in the next county. A small, polite salad with a mild vinaigrette accompanies it.
Bianca keeps to her seafood and vegetarian diet. The Mussels are utterly married to the warm marinara sauce in which they stand like a Druidic circle of shells. There is a tang of the sea resonant within the sauce.
With these we savor a half-bottle of what is now our favorite champagne, Pol Roger Brut Réserve. Simply smelling it was revelatory, and the taste is not nasal and fizzy as we find so many champagnes to be, but with an airy snap.
I am ready for my steak experience, and am given a big brawny wood-handled steak knife.
My choice for the evening is Oja de Costilla a La Criolla, a grand example of the varying terrain of a rib eye: fatty and char, grainy and plush, glistening inside. It is medium rare, stopping just shy of pink, spicy and somehow sweet. The knife cuts it with slight resilience. The fourteen-ounce rib eye is blanketed with a rich green chimichurri sauce.
A Mendel Malbec from Mendoza (I don't mean to go overboard with alliteration, really) is paired with this; it practically paints the glass as it runs around the interior, yet is elegant, not a powerhouse (again with the alliteration).
For another time, perhaps, the Churrasco Portabella is also worthy of mention; a 14-ounce New York steak is stuffed with portabella mushrooms, provolone cheese and spinach, and permeated with a Cabernet Sauvignon and mushroom sauce. The brown juices from the steak turn reddish with the sauce, the cheese mellows the interior, and it is enough to stop you from participating in conversations.
The Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, however, was possibly the greatest thing on Melrose that evening, perhaps an experience that will forever be chased. Juicy, yes, and buttery, melting and refined. Peas dot its surface, thankfully, instead of capers, which would have overborne the taste. A few vegetables assist, and a masterfully made hillock of mashed potatoes, pumpkin-colored with spices.
Fitting with this is another of Gerardo's recommendations, a Sauvignon Blanc whose name we regretfully missed, reminiscent of strawberry and peach and air.
We made room for this: Dulce de Leche Pancakes. Basically they are crêpes, stretchy and firm with a softly persistent flavor of griddle and batter. Inside, on top of, and next to it is pure, unbridled caramel that is almost too much sugar from Heaven, like nearly dying from a too-enthusiastic visit with your harem.
A glass of Sandeman 20-year Tawny port tempers it a bit, pulling it away from the brink of painful sweetness and away from vulgar metaphors.
Parking is street during the day, and valet at night.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood, Argentine )
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