BUENOS AIRES GRILL Where’s the (Argentinean) beef? Victoria Renard
by Leora Y. Bloom

The Buenos Aires Grill
2028 Virginia St (Belltown), 441-7076. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm; dinner 5:30 pm-10 pm; dinner Sat-Sun 5 pm-11 pm.

Leora Bloom is a local food writer and copy editor who freelances for Amazon.com, Seattle Best Places, the Zagat Survey, and Seattle magazine. I guess I should've talked to her about "industry trends" and other grown-up-food-writer topics; instead we chatted about South Africa (where she's from), the art of baking (she's a former pastry chef), and her recent trip to Scotland, where she tried haggis (a dish involving organ meats stuffed into stomach lining). I love meeting people who share my passion for "the adventure meats." --Min Liao

The Buenos Aires Grill is a constant scene of serious carnivorous celebration. Weekend nights feature live tango dancing and plenty of noise, but even on a recent quiet Tuesday evening, lively music on the stereo made it feel like a party about to happen. The hostess led my party into the relatively Spartan dining room (no Chihuly glass here, thanks), and passed us on to a super-friendly, almost giddy waiter who never stopped smiling, and who raved (rightfully so) about the restaurant's food in a delightful accent. He left us with our leather-bound menus (foreshadowing the fact that they use every part of the animal here), fresh bread, and two bowls of salsa (one green, all spices and herbs; the other slick and sweet with minced peppers). A good selection of Argentinean wines by the glass helped whet our appetites.

We made no attempt to save room for anything, and dove right in to the matambre ($7.50), or "hunger killer": chimichurri-marinated flank steak rolled up with peppers and carrots around a hard-boiled egg, served cold and sliced, with a creamy salad of tender potatoes, peas, and carrots. One bite of this perfect summer picnic food, and our conversation moved to talk of fishing in Patagonia. A big dish of melted Argentinean provolone ($8) followed, but the timing wasn't fair: I was loving all the spices in the matambre, and the cheese was just too mild. Not so the lamb empanadas ($7); it was hard to choose which to try (there are four different kinds), but if the lamb is anything to go by, it'd be a crime not to go back for the rest. The filling was well-seasoned, crumbly, and hot--studded with sweet raisins, wrapped in a beautifully flaky, tender dough with so much of its own flavor you didn't feel cheated if you got the end piece.

When a tabletop grill arrived loaded with sizzling meats, I vaguely remembered our waiter describing the evening's tuna special, served with Argentinean salsa. Next time. Our massive bone-in rib eye ($19) was a perfect medium-rare--tender, incredibly juicy, and so flavorful it's hard to believe it's seasoned with nothing but salt.

Owner Marco Casas-Beaux really knows his meat. Back in Argentina, his family is in both the cattle and the wine businesses. Marco says Argentinean grass-fed, free-range beef is better than American (ours came from Napa Valley), and that's what he'll be serving in three months. I'll be back.

Shipped in from Barcelona and velvety-smooth, blood sausage ($4.50) burst from its casing as soon as the tip of the knife touched it. The Buenos Aires Grill's blood sausage contains no wheat fillers, and its texture is more similar to a stupendous pâté than a sausage. If you've never tried blood sausage, this is the place to do it. Sweetbreads ($7.50) were sliced thin, mostly crispy, and we popped them like fries. A few bites of chorizo ($4.50) left an unusually addictive oregano-and-red-pepper burn, and short ribs ($14) were meaty, with plenty of delicious chewy fat. A generous portion of thick-cut fries came laced with plenty of parsley and garlic (surprisingly tender and soft, not at all crispy); assorted vegetables, grilled and simply seasoned, took some of the guilt out of consuming so much meat.

Despite collective deep food comas, our waiter's description of panqueque de dulce de leche ($6) hooked us. Almost painfully sweet caramel-cream-filled crêpes sat atop chocolate and strawberry sauces, and got doused with brandy, then set on fire. We needed strong cups of coffee to cut through the sweetness of the caramel, but for all our moaning, this plate, like all the others, was clean before we left.