Wonderful Patagonian Parrilla in Ushuaia
Parrilla La Estancia (Intermediate A-), Godoy between San Martin and Deloque, Ushuaia
A Parrilla is essentially a grill house (although they often have other dishes) and they can be found everywhere in Argentina, often on every block in big cities. These kinds of places are always going to score an A with me; just for the very concept of roasting half a dozen whole animals ‘a la estaca’; on a scaffold circling a huge open fire.
The best known parrilla in Ushuaia is probably Moustacchio on San Martin which I’m sure is good, but they don’t do the ‘tenedor libre’ deal (literally ‘free fork’ or all-you-can-eat buffet) that La Estancia on the side street opposite does for just $97, about £15.
Basically you take a fresh dish from the stack each time and go to the hatch where a gaucho with a kerchief and an impressive moustache will pull your request off the side grill, hack it to size with a huge cleaver on a massive wooden chopping board and deposit a bloody oozing hunk of meat onto your virgin white plate.
It’s best to stand well back at this point because even at a distance of a few yards I got spattered with flying bits of flesh.
Make sure he paints it with a brush load of ‘salmoera’ (I ‘m guessing that’s the spelling) from the bucket on the counter which will bring the flavour out even more. Although I was smilingly told it was a secret recipe, I think it included water, lots of salt, parsley, lemon, green pepper, tomatoes and scallions.
You also choose between chips (C) or helping yourself at the extensive salad bar (C+), although I managed to swing both.
The star here this far south is not the beef as you might expect but the Cordero Patagonica, or Patagonian Lamb, quite possibly the tastiest little baa-baa I have ever had the pleasure to chew on, the best bit being the leg with its crispy skin (A+).
I did try other things as well, like the morcilla black pudding, which was even more juicy (although less flavourful) than the one I had in BsAs and exploded all over the plate when I pierced its tough little hide (A).
The chorizo on the other hand was disappointing (again) and needed chimichurri (usually parsley, oil, garlic, mlld pepper, it can be red or green in colour according to the capsicum used, here they had both) spooning over it to bring out the taste (B-). Although still very dense it tastes totally different from Spanish chorizo which would include paprika or chilli (they don’t like things hot here).
Chimichurri by the way is apparently a corruption of Jimmy McCurry, an English-speaking colonist who invented the sauce, although there are lots of variations on this myth.
I also tried ‘intestinos’ which were a bit chewy but full of flavour (B).
I passed on the chicken and pork possibilities but had sirloin (bife de chorizo) and flank steak (vacio), both good cuts of beef (B) but I had to save my last gasp for a repeat of the lamb, this time the ribs (B+).
I came here three times in nine days, the second time after my hike on the glacier, so I felt justified in returning to eat as much lamb and morcilla as I possibly could! On each occasion I went up to the hatch five times and had to be rolled out of the restaurant at the end of the night.
For every visit I got excellent service from Armando (ask for him), a great waiter and all round nice guy who speaks good restaurant English and looked after me really well. He recommended some great wines, taking me a stage higher each time.
On the first occasion a Malbec ‘Sant Felicien’ 2008 from Bodega Cantina Zapata (B+) and the second, a Cabernet Malbec ‘Ruitini’ 2008 from Bodega Rural, which just kept getting better after he’d decanted it (A).
Finally another Malbec ‘Angelica Zapata’ , also 2008, from Bodega Catena Zapata which I wasn’t allowed to touch for a frustrating 15 minutes after decanting (should be an hour ideally) which I paid about £60 for but was worth every penny (A+).
I got short shrift however (in a nice way) when I asked whether wines from Mendoza (his home town, and the wine capital of Argentina where all his suggestions came from) were equally as good as those just over the border in Chile (same terroir, no?). Apparently the vines grow at a higher altitude in Mendoza which makes for better wine.
For my digestives I had a fortified ‘Malamado’ Malbec from Familia Zuccardi (B-) and on another occasion a Tres Plumas Limoncello, which was great but would have been even better frozen rather than kept in the fridge (A-).
Nitpicking aside, this is a great place, come with an appetite! Total cost with tips the second time I went was $400, about £65 at the time, but it will be much less if you have the house wines or beer.