Any tourist planning a trip to Buenos Aires will hear ad nauseum, “You gotta try the steak!” It’s made quite clear from the get-go that if you pass through la Ciudad de la Furia and don’t scarf down the better part of an entire cow, you’ve missed the mark.
Luckily, you can’t walk more than 15 feet in this town without passing a parrilla. The offering ranges from the unassuming holes in the wall to the ostentatious, catering primarily to those looking to impress (and with well-padded wallets).
While this is a great way to savor one of Argentina’s national treasures, what about taking it a step further and getting a little more hands on? Locals and transplants alike will argue that to understand the real magic of the local steaks, one must score an invite to an asado at a someone’s home. “OK,” you mumble, “but I’m only here for a week, and obviously have no friends here.”
Fret not! Enter Steaks by Luis, a premium closed-door, five-course asado experience hosted right in Palermo Soho. Diners have the best of both worlds: access to local traditions surrounding the asado ritual alongside top-notch service in a setting that puts your friend’s backyard quincho to shame. Imagine having a pal that lives in a badass loft, grilling up some of the best meat you can find, and washing it all down with a variety of boutique wines, from picada to postre.
After climbing the narrow staircase behind a nondescript door, we’re greeted with a glass of fizz and a sprawling tray of charcuterie. Our hosts are friendly and welcoming; they mingle among the guests with ease and happily explain the forthcoming experience to the neophytes. Spoiler alert: it’s a marathon, not in any way a sprint.
It’s a lovely atmosphere of instant intimacy and culinary diplomacy. Before rolling up their sleeves and sweating it out over the grill, Luis and his team make a warm introduction as they display and define the mountains of meat that will soon be consumed. Piles of bife de chorizo, matambre de cerdo, morcilla and chorizo await their fiery destiny as Luis explains how the night will unfold. Guests have an open invitation to pop outside by the fire, ask about the process, and chat up the friendly asador about anything and everything.
The imposing long dinner table screams formality, but as soon as we’re seated, communal wooden platters of offal are spread before us. It’s a veritable sausage fest, with heaps of morcilla, chorizo and salchicha parrillera flanked by bubbling cast iron skillets of the best provoleta I’ve had in ages.
Luis promises a few surprises, suggesting that guests “eat first, ask later.” Kidneys, sweetbreads, and chitterlings all make a welcome appearance (he tells us this is his favorite part of the asado and I have to agree). I would have loved the molleja to be a bit more crispy and salty, but I happily gobbled up what my tablemates were too squeamish to try.
This first course is washed down with Malbec, and the pours are generous. Sommelier at the ready – in more than one language, mind you, as we have tablemates from Brazil, Japan and the US – it’s refreshing to sip on wines that one doesn’t normally pick up at the market. Anuva provides the boutique grapes for these gatherings, and most are either limited-production or from niche wineries.
At this point, it would be a boldfaced lie to say I was still racked with hunger. Between the picada, the offal overdose, and the goblets of wine guzzled, I was ready to go to bed with my panza llena, corazón contento. But no! The main event was on its way: slabs of bife de chorizo bigger than most newborn babies (and perhaps juicier) were paraded off the grill and to our places. Luis ensures that each diner is served their meat at their preferred cooking point, eschewing the stereotype that all Argentines overcook the blessed beef so it resembles shoe leather. Served with a red wine reduction and garlic mash, the bife is so big I’m unable to finish it, though I savor every meaty bite. A silence falls over the table, our mouths too full for the moment to even consider a conversation.
We guzzle more wine as the dialogue moves between the Chanel-clad, globetrotting Brazilians that come to town four times a year to shop and spend, the young Colombian couple who just found out they’re expecting a bebé literally hours before, and the Japanese cardiologists that spent the entire evening making quasi-inappropriate advances toward every woman in the room.
It had been a while since I’d participated in the classic communal table, closed-door experience, and I’d forgotten how fun it could be to have a completely random group of people brought together over a delicious meal. After a much-needed pause to regroup and digest, it’s time for dessert: classic Dulce de leche cheesecake and a glass of white dessert wine. The evening winds down and the group gathers together for a final photo taken from above: a perfect postcard souvenir.
From the wine pairings to the sheer amount of food you’re served, there’s no doubt you get plenty of bang for your buck, though this experience is definitely something geared toward those who don’t call Buenos Aires home. Steaks by Luis combines the exclusivity of a closed-door restaurant with local knowledge of the traditional asado explained in personal detail, all paired with wines that you’d be hard-pressed to find at the parrilla down the street.
For those who don’t have the luxury of time (or local connections), it’s ideal. The team is effusive, knowledgeable, and seamlessly anticipates everyone’s needs; it’s clear that they’ve worked to tweak the formula for a successful event and continually strive to fine-tune it.
The verdict? If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires and eager to move beyond the traditional night out at a parrilla, Steaks by Luis is where you need to go. For the locals fielding emails from friends (of friends of friends) looking for a shortlist of the city’s best, you can confidently include it as an ideal option that breaks the mold.