By: Jason Perlow
When many people think of cowboys and the manly, testosterone-fueled food they like to eat, one dish often comes to mind: Steak.
We’ve had it drilled into us ever since the National Livestock and Meat Board came up with the “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” advertising campaign beginning in the early 90’s, starring heart-throb actors Robert Mitchum, Sam Elliot, and now Matthew McConaughey.
But when you hear that “Hoe-Down” theme music from composer Aaron Copland in your head, you are probably thinking of some mythical cowboys from the Old West.
Real cowboys still exist, but they are not from Texas or from Oklahoma. They are from Argentina – where a lot of beef comes from before it ends up on our dining room tables. And they have a real steak-eating tradition that is still very important to their culture.
South Florida is no stranger to Argentinian food, but it has not really gotten the attention it deserves, particularly as a fine-dining experience in Broward County.
La Rural, which recently opened in Parkland and is a branch of the Weston original, is hoping to change that.
The cuisine of Argentina is distinct in South America in that it is perhaps the most European-influenced, with a heavy influx of Italian and German immigrants that have had many of their dishes pollinate the local food culture in cosmopolitan Buenos Aires and in the rural countryside the restaurant is named after.
We did not try any but La Rural has a few pasta dishes on its menu that reflect that Italian tradition.
Not only is Argentina a huge cattle producer, but it is one of the world’s largest wine-producing regions, along with neighboring Chile. La Rural has a substantial wine and cocktail program, with many vintages available featuring South America’s finest wineries to choose from.
La Rural is a very attractive but spartan-looking restaurant which directs focus on its wine and has many bottles stored on the main dining room wall. The kitchen is open so that the wonderful odors of the steaks hitting the grill create that legit gaucho atmosphere everyone is coming for.
Several of us were more inclined to go the cocktail route rather than the vino that evening — so I had a Spicy Parkland Margarita which featured some very piquant jalapenos and Milagro tequila. It’s more Mexican than Argentinian but it served its role for opening up the palate nicely.
My wife had a Lychee and Rose Martini which definitely fit the bill for a very girly drink at a very macho place, it was sweet but not unappetizingly so. The Argentine Mule had fresh crushed strawberries in it which added that extra something.
They are using premium liquors and fresh ingredients, so I applaud the effort to make fine craft cocktails at this establishment.
If you don’t know where to start and are super hungry — especially if you are dining with another couple, I’d begin with the Tablita La Rural which is a hot appetizer platter that showcases some of the greatest (and some of the meatiest) hits of the cuisine.
It features the Grilled Proveleta which is a type of mild white cheese, similar to a mozzarella or provolone, that has been cooked on a grill stuffed into red bell pepper seasoned with oregano.
It’s excellent but that’s the only vegetarian thing you are going to find on that platter, which includes three types of grilled sausage, including a pin wheel type, a German-style pork sausage, a Blood Sausage (which is cut with oats that gives it sort of a Kishke or Haggis-type consistency), sweetbreads (don’t ask, just eat it) and Chitterlings (same).
All of these meaty, offal-y things go great with the fresh baked, crusty pillow-shaped rolls that come to the table along with chimichurri sauce and butter.
The main event, of course, is the grilled entrees. We ordered Skirt, Ribeye, and Lamb Chops.
Unlike an American-style steakhouse we did not notice any aging of the beef, it seems to be a cultural preference for Argentinian restaurants to very simply season and to not put the steaks through an aging process.
That being said of the cuts we had, we preferred the Skirt as it has the beefier flavor, and that Argentinian flavor we were looking for whereas the Ribeye just tasted like, well a steak. The lamb chops (a special) were deemed excellent, and we appreciated the fact all the meat we ordered came out rare to medium rare the way we wanted it.
The presentations on all of these were immaculate, the restaurant is clearly trying very hard to elevate traditional, even straightforward Argentinian cuisine, which is not about fussiness in any way. It’s rugged, even simple by most South American standards.
The portions of everything we ordered were quite generous. If you’re not careful they will end up rolling you out of here. There’s excellent value at this place, for sure.
We also ordered a Milanese al Caballo, which is a traditional Italian-influenced breaded pounded and fried top sirloin, with fried eggs on top and served with freshly sautéed vegetables (very much appreciated for those of us going low-carb) and a fresh salad with a grated white queso seco cheese.
This was actually my favorite of everything we ordered, but the ladies thought it was a bit heavy. What do they know? This is cowboy food.
I would definitely opt for the fresh veg because the alternative is white rice, French Fries or sweet potato fries which appear commercially sourced. We were more impressed with the plain mashed potatoes, which are hand smashed and simply salted with a little butter in it.
If you still have room left in your stomach, and there’s a bunch of you, I would suggest the Dessert Assortment, which includes a crêpe filled with caramel, a very eggy Argentinian-style flan, a special layered peach and caramel sponge cake (Balcarce), and Vanilla Ice Cream (which we think might be Blue Bunny).
The pre-teen at the table went for the Chocolate Volcano Cake which we feel needs to return to my honeymoon on Maui at Roy’s Kahana in the mid-90s.
It wasn’t bad, certainly plenty gushy, but it’s not a standout version. The real thing takes a good 45 minutes to make from scratch and must be served immediately because it’s a souffle and will deflate.
If you still are able to walk out of there and want a sweet after dinner drink — try the Tipsy Cow Espresso Martini, which is a mixture of Baileys, Kahlua, Stoli Vanilla Vodka and espresso coffee. It’s one of the best versions of this drink I have had, even rivaling Tavolino’s in Coral Springs.
Overall we really like the restaurant and felt the service was highly attentive and personalized. Stick with the traditional Argentinian dishes and beef cuts that this place does very well and you’ll have a great time.
La Rural Argentine Steakhouse
7351 SR 7
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. -10:30 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain's "No Reservations" cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS's ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.