For a Pine Ave. mini-chain restaurant that dropped its original location in the tony neighborhood of Brentwood, I admit that I am way too into the food at Gaucho Grill. The bougie L.A. connection, steak-for-lunch suggestions and nearly-always-empty dining room in Long Beach's historic core should probably take it out of the running for go-to LBC lunch spot.
And yet, I find myself trekking downtown time and time again to dive into their extensive lunch specials, spending around double what I would at any normal take-out joint for the chance to eat a mid-day meal of fresh veggies, chopped salads and hunks of meat cooked to juicy perfection. Oh, and that chimichurri isn't so bad either.
Gaucho Grill took over a tacky former restaurant/nightclub on Pine few years ago and instantly turned both the interior and the ample outdoor patio into an upscale rustic setting that channels both Argentina's Latin American and oft-forgotten deep Italian roots. The offerings match the place's wood-iron-and-animal-skin aesthetic with vegetarian-friendly sandwiches, cheesy pasta dishes and Italian-flecked protien-rich entrees that make a hearty lunch or an exotic dinner.
Until 4 p.m., the center fold of the leather-bound menu is dedicated entirely to lunch specials, however, whose prices and inclusion of a free soda are presumably to lure the surrounding businesspeople. A plate of hand-formed gnocchi (called "noquis" in Argentine Spanish) with beef Bolognese sauce is $11; a grilled salmon skewer with veggies, rice and a salad is $11; and the tender Entraña al Chimichurri (skirt steak marinated in the olive-oil-heavy parsley condiment) is a steep $15 but worth every bite.
Lunchtime is a chance to tread lightly into Argentine cuisine, which pulls heavily from Neopolitan, Milanese, and Southern Italian classics, slapping it together with Latin America's grilling know-how. Gaucho's Santa Fe Special is a good way to feel it all out--an eight-ounce flat-iron steak topped with a marsala-like pile of mushrooms sautéed with white wine and garlic.
Order it medium and you'll get a more medium-rare cut, one that is expertly seared on the outside, squishes down at the touch of a fork and knife, and oozes its savory red liquid with every cut. In the mood for a handheld version? The Skirt Steak Sandwich ditches the mushrooms, keeps the juicy meat and puts lettuce, red onions and melty mozzarella on a mostaza-smeared torta bun.
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If I'm feeling something lighter than an eight-ounce steak, I'll often go to Gaucho just for their Griega Salad, itself a meal reflective of Argentina's hybrid culture. Shreds of lettuce, olives and feta cheese come tossed in a creamy balsamic house dressing, which removes the strong vinegar-and-spices of most Greek salads and emphasizes instead the inherent flavors of its simple ingredients.
From burgers to fetuccine alfredo to asada de tira, Gaucho Grill is a remezcla's paradise, proof that cuisine represents not just a country, but that entire country's history, its dominant ethnic groups and its most time-honored eating customs.
Despite high-end restaurant group ownership (the firm also has a stake in Long Beach's Alegria and L'Opera), the casual atmosphere, free chimichurri appetizers and meat so perfect it appears in dreams for weeks afterwards keeps this starving-writer of a Long Beacher finding continual excuses to lunch at Gaucho Grill.
Gaucho Grill, 200 Pine Ave, Long Beach, (562) 590-5000, gauchogrilldining.com