El Barrio de Ángel

Brewsta finds little to beef about at this Argentinean steakhouse in Smíchov

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."
We recently had a chance to try El Barrio de Ángel, the Argentine steak house in Smíchov.

Not everything was a work of art, but there were some very good dishes and we quite liked our lunch there.

The restaurant is part of a growing steakhouse renaissance in Prague.

It is located on a rather unfortunate, busy road with a tram line, within sight of the Nový Smíchov mall. The Anděl metro station is also just a few meters away.

Once off the street, you walk down a steep, twisting staircase made from large, rough-hewn logs.

At the bottom, you enter another world.

It is a large, subterranean space with tons of exposed brick, dark hardwood floors, and sturdy, El Barrio-branded furniture.

The large restaurant is divided by brick arches into several different sections.

With one or two exceptions, the restaurant has a minimum of steakhouse kitsch. It is the antithesis of Prague's other famous purveyor of Argentine beef, La Casa Argentina, which I wrote about last year.

El Barrio de Ángel has an open kitchen, and you can see and hear and smell what's going on if you get one of the tables nearby.

For a starter, I got the empanadas carne or Argentine meat pies (99 CZK). They came out piping hot.

The first of the two empanadas was filled with ground beef mixed with olives and had a spicy kick.

I really enjoyed the first one. However, the second one was not the same. It was filled with more ordinary and less flavorful ground beef.

I had wanted to try the chimichanga de pollo (99 CZK), but it wasn't available.

V got a rucola salad (129 CZK). It comes with a few cherry tomatoes, red onion, and Parmesan cheese. The salad was pretty basic, and she was given olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress it herself.

She ended up putting in too much vinegar (which I didn't mind, really). But we both thought it would have been better if the restaurant provided some kind of dressing.

The Argentine "Patagonia" burger was made, as you would expect, with very fine, quality beef. It is quite similar in consistency to the burger I had at Potrefená husa.

The low fat content of the ground meat makes it very dense and even seem a bit dry, even though it dripped fat on the plate. I didn't see exactly how it was cooked, but the chef may brush on some butter.

It was very well-seasoned, with a perfect amount of salt. V detected what tasted like cumin in there. The beef was the pièce de résistance here.

But the bun was a crime. The supermarket-bought bread robbed this burger of its potential greatness. The beef patty was large and the crumbling little bun just didn't have the right proportions. A small saving grace was that it was nicely toasted.

The burger came with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo pre-installed. I'm not a big fan of mayo on burgers and would have preferred to have a choice.

Ketchup was not brought, so I asked for some. It took a while for the waitress to return with it, and I only got a tiny dish.

I didn't want to send the waitress off on another ketchup run, so I rationed what little I had between my burger and fries.

There weren't so many fries, but they were big, crunchy, and hot and, in the end, just enough.

The burger is not perfect, but at 149 CZK, I'd definitely call it a good deal.

For example, Ultramarin makes a very good burger (with a similarly bad bun) and that one now costs 220 CZK.

The Potrefená husa burger has great, smoky ground beef and a good bun, but that one goes for 297 CZK. Both of those burgers come with bacon and cheese, while El Barrio's does not.

For a main course, V got the small 300-gram rib eye with "chimichurry" sauce for 319 CZK. This one was plenty large, but there is a 600-gram version available for 599 CZK.

Anyway, she loved it. She thought it was better than the rib eye at La Casa Argentina. A steak I had there lives on in my mind as the best I've had in Prague, so I'm not so sure. But I don't want to take anything away from El Barrio de Ángel's rib eye. It was excellent.

V ordered it rare, and it was cooked perfectly. I was a little disappointed that the first slice she cut for me had a bit of chewy gristle. But every bite after that was terrific, tender and smoky, with a clear flavor you will not find in Czech beef. The only other fault, easily fixed, was it needed a few extra shakes of salt.

V got a side order of marinated grilled vegetables (55 CZK). These were served cold. It was mostly onions and peppers, and a little eggplant.

There wasn't much going on, flavor-wise. We probably wouldn't get those again.

The chimichurri sauce was just OK, with the flavor of marinated peppers and a lot of oil.

We didn't try it, but they had grilled corn on the cob on the menu for 55 CZK. It's something we might try next time.

We recently ate at Ambiente on Mánesova, and I saw that they charged an astounding 114 CZK for grilled corn.

The lively Argentine music on the sound system awakened some Latin memory for V, and she ordered a bottle of Corona beer.

Later, while looking at the menu, she regretted it when she saw it cost 85 CZK.

She regretted it even more when she saw that there was wine by the glass for around 50 CZK, and many bottles of Czech wine were selling for around 200 CZK.

Most of this wine list will not break the bank. They were out of their Cabernet by the glass during our visit.

The dessert list is quite short, and they didn't have the chocolate fondue with fresh fruit (99 CZK) when we were there. They were out of a lot of things on this day.

On a whim, I ordered the house-made flan with dulce de leche (45 CZK). The menu's English translation called it "Home-made jelly with caramel."

I was expecting the usual cup-shaped factory flan, so I was very nicely surprised when it came out and saw it was the real deal and really made in-house.

It was quite sweet and eggy. The first bite, without any of the accompaniments, didn't make a big impression at first. Then, I tasted the dulce de leche.

Yes, it's basically caramel, but it was perfect. It tasted exactly like the dark, naughty bits of Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream.

Yum! I enjoyed it more with every bite, and I was very sorry when it was all gone. It was simple, but one of the better desserts I've had in a long time. I'll confess that, if I could, I'd eat a giant portion of the dulce de leche all by itself.

But desserts aren't what will bring customers into this restaurant. For most, it's all about a good steak.

While they didn't get every detail right, they did get the most important one. That was a fine rib eye, nicely grilled. We'll be back for that.

So, if any of you meat-minded Michelangelos want to carve up some well-marbled Argentine beef, feel free to give El Barrio de Ángel a try.

El Barrio de Ángel
Lidická 42
Prague 5 - Anděl
Tel.: (+420) 725 535 555

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