Stopped into El Gaucho, Tacoma, for a quick bite with my brother-- photographer Steven Naccarato, and Fulcrum Art Gallery Owner and glass artist, Oliver Doriss, the other night.
We sat in the bar, and decided to try some of their Happy Hour Menu items.
I love this elegantly retro room, with it’s tall ceilings, romantic booths, and dark moody lighting. And I was glad to see they were doing decent business for a Sunday night. I was also glad to see that Gaucho had a Happy hour Menu again, as for a while they had discontinued it...
Prime steaks were being slapped onto the grill with a nice hiss and a flash of flame. The polished staff was working their tableside shows, and the piano-man was crooning an old classic.
One of my favorite people in the world (and a former server/assistant manager with us at Pacific Grill) Kari Monreal came by for a hug.
“How’s it going?” I asked her.
“Really intense --the training”, she replied—“ it’s a lot to learn!”
Kari is not only beautiful and smart—she is an excellent server, always impressed with good food, and is a fearless eater—a female Anthony Bourdain—she will try anything! Love her!
Then charming Hostess Christina Vaughon came by to say hello and to meet my brother.
I ordered a draft beer, and Steve had a glass of red wine.
I was starving, so I immediately told the nice Bartender, Sylvia, to bring me the Tuna Tartare [$9.95]. It arrived on a plate all in components: salt, chile pepper, capers, pine nuts, onion (and oddly) --diced pear-- the Bartender explained it also had splash of soy sauce on it.
I tried to toss all the ingredients together which was awkward, since the appetizer arrived on a flat plate with a tiny cocktail fork, a spoon and a dinner fork. It was difficult to accomplish, but tasted ok-to-good, on the toasted sliced crostini that accompanied the tuna. (Although I needed to ask for more crostini to finish the dish). There were about 3 too many ingredients in the dish for me (capers, pears, and pine nuts??) for it to truly be great. It was confused from inception--and the soy sauce unnecessary.
Oliver and I ordered the 1/3 lb El Gaucho Signature Certified Angus Beef Cheeseburger [$5.95]. You can add avocado, or bacon or fries—each for an additional dollar.
I decided to have mine with just fries.
Several minutes later, the Bartender arrived to explain that they had just “run out of fries” !!!
She offered mashed potatoes but there is something inherently wrong and unappealing and un-American to eat a burger with mash.
“Huh? Don’t you have potatoes in the kitchen?” I asked. “Just cut some potato!” we laughed.
They couldn’t (or wouldn’t) so I ordered the side of “skillet hashbrowns”(sp) [$6]. Oliver ordered a side of asparagus.
The impressively gigantic burger arrived, with the side of hash browns. The red onions on the side looked slightly sad and a little brown around the edges, and of course tomatoes are out of season –so I didn’t expect them to be good anyway. The beef was mushy and under-seasoned, and had picked up no discernible char-flavor from the grill. Of course I ate the whole thing anyway, but I was less than impressed. I do have to say for the size it is a bargain though. Next time I’ll ask them to really char the meat--and season it.
The hash browns were also disappointing. They were literally smothered in cheese (more like a potato gratin) and were almost as mushy as mashed potatoes—and almost white-hot with cayenne or white pepper. Not send-back-bad ...but still, most customers wouldn’t expect the hash browns to be spicy. And the presentation was gloppy and unappealing.
I have to say: in my book, the only thing worse than over-seasoned food is bland, under-seasoned food. But someone here (hello Chef?) needs to taste the food after it is made to make sure seasonings are spot-on.
Steven ordered the Steamed Manila Clams [$7.95]
The clams arrived with a huge silver sauce-boat of butter. It was easily enough drawn butter to feed a party of 20. An extravagance. The tiny manila clams were steamed with some garlic and white wine and Steve pronounced them "delicious."
Generous Bartender Sylvia poured me a glass of red wine “on the house” to make up for the French fries I assume. If it is one thing Gaucho always does right is take care of their customers!
In the background, the piano-man was singing another song about love gone bad, glasses tinkled in the dining room, and another fat steak hissed as it hit the grill.
I walked out into the cold drizzling night, stuffed from the sheer size of the burger. Next time I’ll know to split it with a friend so I am not tempted to eat the whole thing. I’ll be back.
[P.S. I have since been informed by Hostess Christina, and Waiter Kari, that I was mistakenly served the "Southwest Scalloped Potatoes", instead of the Skillet Hashbrowns that I had ordered. That would explain while I felt disappointed with my "hash browns". However I still feel the presentation sloppy--the scalloped potatoes overcooked & mushy, and they were still over-the-top spicy ...with way too much white pepper and/or cayenne!]
El Gaucho® Tacoma
2119 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma , WA 98402
Fulcrum Art Gallery
1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma