"Carne" translates from Spanish to English as "meat." It is so in Spain, it is so in Mexico, and it is so in every Spanish-speaking country save one: Argentina. In Argentina "carne" means "beef" unless otherwise specified. There may be no better place in our region to try it than El Gaucho Argentina (René Ortiz Canopy PRD, Centro Playas, 22710) in Rosarito Beach.
Gerardo and Flavia Marquiz—he Mexican, she Argentine by way of Los Angeles—co-own the tiny hole-in-the wall restaurant one block off of Rosarito's main tourist drag. On Saturdays, Gerardo makes parrillada Argentina. It is,perhaps, the greatest expression of Argentina's obsession with beef. Marquiz cooks various cuts of beef—flank cut short ribs, skirt steak, house-made Argentine-style chorizo sausage and mollejas (sweetbreads)—on a wood-fired grill on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. Each cut takes on the smoke's perfume and pairs perfectly with the tangy, garlicky chimichurri sauce offered on every table.
It is a symphony in the key of meat. It is a study in the different levels of richness, different textures and the different ways in which meat—make that beef—manifests itself. And it is glorious gluttony at its "break your New Year's resolution" best.
But as good as each cut coming off that parrilla may be, it is the sweetbreads that are the dish's greatest glory. They are silky, savory and rich, with a crispy, caramelized exterior and a creamy, luxurious interior. Flavia Marquiz brings a selection of each of the meats to the table on a little grill pan. Truth be told, though, I'd have been even happier with a plate full of those sweetbreads.
While the parillada Argentina is only available on Saturdays, meats—primarily in sandwich form—feature heavily on the everyday menu. The lomito sandwich is not your average steak sandwich. Instead of shavings of thinly sliced inexpensive cuts it is a slab of perfectly cooked filet mignon with chimichurri on bread. The choripan is a variation on the theme using El Gaucho Argentina's house-made sausage.
My favorite sandwich at the place, though, is the simplest: the prosciutto sandwich. A nod to Argentina's substantial Italian population, it is not about meat cookery—or even beef—but rather simple composition. Thinly shaved prosciutto, a crusty roll, romaine lettuce and a bit of cheese are all that is necessary.
El Gaucho Argentina also offers that country's national dish: empanadas. The deep-fried pastries come in five versions: spinach and cheese, corn and cheese, ham and cheese, chorizo and ground beef. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common Argentinian empanada is the latter. El Gaucho Argentina's includes carrots and potatoes in lieu of the classic recipe including olives, raisins and hard-boiled eggs. The piquancy of the olives might have helped cut some of the richness of the ground beef and fried pastry.
Many—indeed, most—Argentinian restaurants are on the pricy side. That may be the only aspect where El Gaucho Argentina is less than typical of the cuisine. Where it definitely does not fall short is with the carne. And it's all about the carne.