La Casa Argentina
The steaks are probably Prague's best, just about making up for this Old Town restaurant's poor service
"Don't get on the ship. The book, To Serve Man, it's a cookbook! IT'S A COOKBOOK!"To make a long story short, sometimes you go into a situation thinking some people are there to serve you but, in the end, you wind up getting burned.
-- The Twilight Zone: "To Serve Man" (1962)
Usually, I'd start off a post about a restaurant with exceptionally good steaks by talking about those steaks. Not this time, friends. First, I am going to start by talking about the service.
That's because, time after time, the service at La Casa Argentina keeps interfering with my enjoyment of the meals. I've been three times. The steaks are that good. I'd say the best in Prague. Friends agree. But the service is that bad. The restaurant is relatively new, but it is not so new that this should be an excuse anymore.
I began a recent solo dinner with the steak tartare (240 CZK). It does not look so good under the glare of flash photography from a pocket digital camera, but the meat was excellent. The chef had already mixed in chopped onions, and perhaps a little salt. There were also the small dishes of egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, mustard, and garlic for the fried bread (topinky).
Usually, when I order this dish, I will mix in some of these things, along with salt. But when I tasted the raw beef, it was almost perfect. The meat was coarsely chopped, but so fresh and tender, the pieces melt in your mouth. It reminded me of sashimi. Sometimes, I add onions to steak tartare, but in this case, I was regretting the chef's addition because I wanted to experience the beef in its purest state.
If you look back at my review of Neklid Restaurant, the presentation and size of the steak tartare is very similar. I am still debating whether La Casa Argentina's version is worth nearly twice the price.
For a main course, I had the rib eye steak (445 CZK). This is the real deal, all the way from Argentina. I ordered it medium, and it was cooked perfectly, pink all the way through but never red. It was a big, thick cut. I thought it needed a little salt.
I didn't add any because the pepper dipping sauce was just salty enough. Some people say the meat is better without sauce, but I liked it with the stuff. It was very rich, made with a thick cream studded with peppercorns. I'd slice a slab of meat off the tender steak, and then dab a little of the pudding-like condiment on it. The flavor of the beef would always power its way through. The plate came with grilled eggplant and tomato, which I enjoyed. There was also a very vinegary red pepper salsa that I did not like.
One nice feature of the place is that you can look through glass windows into the kitchen and see the grill team at work on the meat.
I drank beer with my dinner. The Pilsner Urquell comes in 0.3-liter glasses. Half-liter glasses are not an option, which may be a good thing. The beers are 70 CZK. That's a big price for a small beer.
When the restaurant first opened, they offered a large and a small version of the rib eye. Now, there is just the large version. There is a fillet steak for 465 CZK. V and I debated over which steak was better at one meal. We could not agree. There is also a rump steak, and a strip steak, which dips below the 400 CZK mark. Unfortunately, the menu is not online since the restaurant's website is still under construction.
The service on my third visit was better than I'd seen it before, but still a step behind and not because it was busy. The place was virtually empty on a Sunday night. They also charged me for my steak's pepper dipping sauce when the menu states that each steak comes with the choice of one sauce. After this was pointed out, the 40 CZK charge was removed.
Here is a list of other service issues from my first two visits:
1. Both times, the service was just slow and there were those moments when the conversations stops, you look around, and someone at the table asks, "Where's the food?"On a previous visit, we tried a spinach, radicchio, arugula salad with grilled shrimp and an apricot dressing (210 CZK). It sounded very appealing. Laura Baranik's review said her tiger shrimp were plump and juicy. Ours were small, dried out, and barely warm.
2. Both times, our waiter disappeared after the final course, and we waited endlessly to get the bill. A friend also reported this happening. Laura Baranik, the Expats.cz reviewer said this happened to her, as well.
3. I ordered a rib eye steak. I ordered grilled vegetables on the side. I did not see the menu stated that all steaks came (at that time) with grilled vegetables. The server did not point this out. I wound up with two orders of grilled vegetables. Thanks.
4. I asked for the chocolate-filled bananas for dessert. Instead, I was brought the cinnamon-coated pineapple dessert. The server thought he heard "ananas" instead of "bananas." There was more waiting until I was brought the correct dessert, which I don't recommend, by the way.
5. The waitress did not know what a kir was, even though it was listed on the drinks menu. We explained the difference between a kir and a kir royale. When it arrived, it was a kir royale, made with champagne, not white wine.
6. During a call for a reservation and a request for information, a person, who sounded like the restaurant manager, was impatient and rude.
The main dining room itself is on the kitschy side. The walls on one side of the room are made to look like an Argentine street scene, with little balconies coming out of the walls. I had the feeling that little animatronic people would pop out and start singing It's a Small World After All. Sometimes, a computer-controlled spotlight searched the room, in case you are thinking of making a break for it.
Another room has water running down the walls and a caged lizard living in a tree trunk in the middle of it. Another Disney ride. This time, it's the Jungle Cruise. The running water gives the room a slightly damp feeling and a slightly musty, jungle smell. Or maybe that’s the lizard.
In the back of the place, there is an interesting bar with a nautical theme. Welcome to Pirates of the Caribbean. I actually like this room. There is a lot of wood. I like wood. But even more interesting are the seats at the bar. Some of them are heavy wooden chairs suspended by thick ropes from the ceiling. It's fun to go for a ride. I took some friends to check them out and thought they'd mind the relatively high drink prices. They ended up insisting that we stay.
One way you can tell that the same people who run the Cuban restaurant, La Bodeguita del Medio, own La Casa Argentina is that the mojitos are good. Another sign is that they have a couple of professional dancers moving around to entertain the guests.
On my last visit, they also had a crooner at the piano accompanied by a stand-up bass on numbers like Blue Moon and Georgia on My Mind. They had talent and style. I liked it. It was a shame there weren't more people on a Sunday night.
There is even another bar and dining area in the basement, though I've never seen it in use. I'd guess it can be reserved for VIP and private parties. This restaurant is huge by Prague standards. There is also a cigar bar next door to the restaurant.
On busier nights, I've seen the restaurant attract a mix of upwardly mobile Czech couples, a fair number of tourists, and foreign businessmen with their, (ahem), girlfriends.
If you want to get some other perspectives on La Casa Argentina, you can read the recent Prague Post review and the Expats.cz review.
As for me, I'd like to tell you I am never going back La Casa Argentina. I want to tell you that. I want to live by certain high standards and unyielding principles. But I can't. Those steaks are so much better than anything else in Prague, they make up for a lot of sins. And so I will probably sin again, myself.
La Casa Argentina
Tel. (+420) 222 311 512
Open: Mon to Sun 10:00 - 02:00
Prague Directory Listing
Jon Anders Moklegaard
March 7, 2009
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