By true definition, a gaucho is a South American cowboy, a wrangler of the four-legged beasts on the plains (or pampas) of his fertile lowlands. By Northwestern interpretation, El Gaucho is a definitive steak house and ode to the cowboys of the South, a quintessential proprietor of Certified Angus Beef and curator of restaurant experiences of yore.
After opening in 1996, proprietor, chairman and CEO Paul Mackay started Mackay Restaurants (now El Gaucho Hospitality) and now includes five properties—from downtown Seattle and its waterfront to Bellevue, Tacoma and Portland. A 50-year restaurant industry vet, Mackay now shares the reigns with his son, Chad, and the two continue to keep the 18-year-old restaurant on the map as a timeless destination to be experienced by all.
Recently recognized by the Washington Restaurant Association as a winner of the acclaimed National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s Restaurant Neighbor Award, El Gaucho Seattle not only plates mean meat but has also donated more than $3,000,000 since its inception, forging a strong bond with the Seattle communities and charities.
Beyond the promotional collateral and overall good will, the restaurant is more than a name and reputation—it is the experience it promises to deliver. Upon entry, heavy doors swing wide to welcome guests to the romantically-lit, multi-tiered, theater-like room that gently transports you back in time to when dress coats, ties and cocktails were the norm for dining joints across town. The congenial host immediately meets you, greets you and hangs up your jacket before guiding you to your table. The novelty!
The tables don white clothes and mood-maintaining candles, a pianist tickles the ivories to your favorite Frank Sinatra jam and a suited-up garcon appears with a water pitcher in hand moments after you’ve taken your seat. The original El Gaucho Seattle was a speak-easy-style bar and breakfast club in the 1950s, an atmosphere Paul Mackay was not going to sacrifice and brought back to life with his own version of “dinner theater.” Cue the servers with tableside carts—Mackay’s dinner theater comes with a new meaning for “hand made” Caesar salad as servers fight for bragging rights for making the best dressing on the classic steakhouse romaine appetizer. Eggs are separated, Parmesan is shredded, anchovies and garlic are chopped—all in front of your eyes. The same goes for dueling desserts—order the cherries jubilee and bananas foster to see flames jump and sugar caramelize at arm’s reach.
Even beyond the glamor, showmanship and frame of a archetypal steakhouse menu, the quality of service and grade of cuisine is what keeps the restaurant relevant. Bounce between surf and turf for round 1, with three different iterations of oysters (Rockefeller, pan-seared or fresh-shucked) and the Wicked shrimp (sautéed prawns in the Gaucho Wicked spice, which is sold in-house) or the Tenderloin Diablo, sautéed tenderloin tips finished in a Cajun-style cream sauce, or ask for the chef’s take on foie gras for the day (moussed with fig jam on brioche was sublime).
Specialties range from the tender and lean Filet Mignon and simple and flawlessly-seasoned New York to a Frenched rib chop that is dry-aged, generously marbled and opulent. Again, the tableside for two options bring a new element to the beef—the center cut tenderloin Chateaubriand is seared and served next to you, plated with baked potato, asparagus and broiled tomato, and the addition of a 1/2 pound lobster tail is also prepped at your table. Sauce add-ons include (but are not limited to) peppercorn, Roquefort cheese, Bordelaise and the house Gaucho-style with lobster medallions, asparagus and béarnaise.
Sustenance like this requires beverages that keep up—more than 30 wines are offered by the glass, the lengthy bottle list features a Northwest producer monthly and in good steakhouse manners, large format bottles are well-stocked and plenty of Bordeaux is in inventory. Signature cocktails include the Barrel Aged Gaucho Manhattan with Jacob’s Ghost White Whiskey, bourbon, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth and bitters along with the El Gaucho Glass Martini, featuring Seattle’s Glass Vodka up with a twist.
And the scotch—the selection is vast but the restaurant is considered a “Society Spot” for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the Edinburgh, Scotland-based membership organization which bottles and sells single cask, single malt whisky for its members. El Gaucho Seattle offers 11 of these exclusive whiskies. And the cigars—although smoking them in the restaurant isn’t up to legal snuff, more than a dozen are stored and sold.
If the pomp and circumstance is too posh and colorful, happy hour provides an alternative and casual menu that is still true to the Gaucho experience. Do not miss the duck-fat fries, poutine-style with Beechers cheese curds and peppercorn demi-glace; the braised tenderloin sliders with truffle slaw or the Insane Truffle soup, an umami spin on mushroom soup.
As intended, dining at El Gaucho’s handful of locations is an affair to remember, complete with a strong cocktail and Dominican cigar.
El Gaucho Seattle || 2505 1st Ave, Seattle || (206) 728-1337 || elgaucho.com
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