1 N Broadway, White Plains
(914) 437-9966; gauchogrillnewyork.com
Hours: Mon to Fri 11 am – 11 pm; Sat, Sun noon – 11 pm
Appetizers: $6-$16; entrées: $19-$42; desserts: $7-$8
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good
Gaucho Grill is, in a word, lively. Yes, that means noisy and busy—which means it isn’t the place to go for quiet conversation or attentive service. The rear dining room behind the larger main dining and bar area is quieter than out front, but the doors between the two don’t seem to stay closed for long. On one visit, the front room was packed with participants in an event that included deafening music with pounding rhythms and a dance floor. When we asked that the doors between the two areas be shut, we were told abruptly that they could not be. (For the record, later in the evening, the doors were closed for a while.)
Meanwhile, the dining room seemed overwhelmed. It took six requests to get our bread basket, and empty water glasses remained that way. On a different evening, this time a crowded Saturday night (the aforementioned event was on a Monday), service was a little better: We got the bread basket without asking and our waiter took our order in a reasonable amount of time. The noise level wasn’t as bad, either, although it was still not conducive to intimate conversation.
We didn’t need to hear each other to communicate our reaction to the tuna ceviche—our eyes conveyed it all. The colorful tuna, avocado, red onion, and tomato tasted only of sesame oil: no fish, citrus, or fruit was discernable.
The iceberg wedge salad was equally unbalanced. Four small wedges topped with a scattering of crumbled bacon, bits of blue cheese, and diced tomato were topped with an oddly and assertively sweet, creamy dressing listed on the menu as “Italian.”
The watercress-and-avocado salad, on the other hand, was lightly dressed with a bright and briny caper vinaigrette and chock-full of crunchy, crisp, julienned carrots, sliced radishes, cherry tomatoes, and a mix of iceberg and watercress lettuces.
Beef empanadas, lightly seasoned meat surrounded by crisp and flaky crust and served with an herbaceous chimichurri sauce, also offered a pleasant balance of flavors and textures. Best of all (when it came to starters) was the pulpo ala brasa, which featured warm, thin slices of grilled octopus tossed with Gaeta olives, roasted garlic, tomato, and cilantro.
Gaucho’s crab cake, like the ceviche, looked better than it tasted. Unlike the ceviche, though, the crab cake wasn’t a one-note miss: The golden-brown crust was lovely, and the cake did have some nice chunks of lump crab meat and lobster. But it was also pasty, thanks to too much filler that seemed somehow wet. It was served with a lovely Dijon sauce (thankfully, not the honey mustard listed on the menu), but had a baffling garnish on the plate: swirls of what tasted like raspberry jam.
Entrées were similarly uneven. The salmon al forno was a generous portion of boring. The pan-roasted fish was obliterated by and buried in a muddied combination of tomato, caper berries, and Gaeta olives.
Grilled pork chops also suffered from excess. Two thin chops—one tender and moist, and its dry and bland partner, like an aged spinster sister—were topped with mounds of a tomato sauce with little chunks of hot chili peppers. The sauce was flavorful, but we had to scrape some away to even find the pork, let alone taste it.
Happily, a grilled-beef filet mignon benefited from its sauce and accompaniments. The syrupy balsamic reduction offered a nice balance of sweet and sour, and enhanced the meatiness of both the portobello mushroom and the beef. Bland saffron potatoes weren’t up to the rest of the dish, but a side order of crispy hand-cut fries were the perfect stand-in.
Meat lovers definitely should go for the Argentinian parrillada—a mixed grill of skirt steak, flatiron steak, hanger steak, sirloin, pork tenderloin, and a thin ring of sweet Argentinian sausage. The variety offers an unusual and fun opportunity to taste the cuts side by side. Each was a few ounces—maybe five bites or so—and, when ordered medium rare, was served juicy, tender, and nicely red in the center.
The Gaucho Classic Paella was also a lot of food, most of it tasty and well prepared. Lightly perfumed saffron-flavored rice was lovely, as were the calamari; crisp shrimp; flavorful slices of chorizo; mussels; and clams. The dish would have been better off without the dry, chewy half-lobster that came served on top, looking like a treasure but acting like the weak link.
Two of our favorite dishes were sides. The broccoli rabe, with just enough of its characteristic bitterness, was enhanced with sweet, soft, golden cloves of garlic and a glimmering light coat of olive oil. The quinoa mix was also a wonderful balance of sweet and savory: Sautéed shiitake mushrooms and bits of fried plantains made each bite an appealing play of soft and crunchy, earthy and sweet.
Desserts were as inconsistent as the rest of the meal. A dessert that was less Argentinian and more like an American hug, the apple strudel, consisted of warm, cinnamon-scented apples folded in flaky, light layers of puff pastry served with vanilla ice cream. The tres leches cake was moist, sweet, Latin American goodness, but a passion-fruit panna cotta was shockingly tart and unpleasantly thick.
To some extent, perhaps the kitchen is aware of the inconsistencies. On one visit, the dulce de leche-filled crêpes were served with great fanfare—they were doused with rum and flamed tableside before the server used the ice cream to put out the fire. It looked wonderful, but tasted only of raw alcohol. On a second visit, the same dessert was served with no sideshow or rum, and we thoroughly enjoyed the tender crêpes filled with lusciously thick, sweet dulce de leche. When we asked our server about the change, he said they were unable to be consistent when they flamed it tableside, so they changed the dessert (though, if requested, can still be prepared tableside). Let’s hope Gaucho applies that wisdom elsewhere and can produce more dishes as well prepared and well balanced as its paella mixed grill, quinoa, and strudel.
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