There's nothing slick about El Puerto (I would call it "cute" at best). Both food and decor are pretty rustic, but it actually does have a bona fide feel as it reminds me a lot of some of the restaurants we tried in Argentina...the only difference being that our $107 meal would've set us back more like $35 in Buenos Aires. The venue:
Some fine bread appeared right off the bat...hot and crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside. Butter was already softened. Very nice, even if it was presented in a plastic basket.
We started with an empanada apiece, which were somewhat bland as far as empanadas go. I thought the pastry was a doughier than it should've been as well. Not that any of that deterred us...there wasn't a crumb left on the plate. There's really no such thing as a bad empanada (at least not that I've ever met).
I also ordered the Tostones Rellanos, which I have had before and really enjoy. They are little fried plantain "baskets" filled with sort of a spicy marinara sauce and a jumbo grilled shrimp. It's a really unique taste and textural combination.
My better half ordered a starter of grilled Argentine chorizo, which he really did not need to do since more chorizo later appeared in his Mountain of Meat (aka Parrillada Argentine). Do you see a pattern here? Iceberg lettuce leaf = "plating".
I selected the whole fried Red Snapper for my entree and the fish was truly beautiful...crispy on the outside and moist, fresh and perfectly cooked on the inside. I usually prefer to steer clear of ordering anything that still has a face, being a carnivorous hypocrite who would turn to vegetarianism if it ever came down to that or killing my own food. However, I've found that I can sometimes temporarily place my denial on the shelf for nicely done, whole fried snapper. I managed to put a healthy dent in this guy in spite of the fact that I had to endure his relentlessly reproachful gaze throughout the course of my meal. There wasn't much room to spare for the white rice, fried cassava and other sides, though.
Underdog's Parrillada Argentine was a vegan's worst nightmare...this is one giant pile of grilled animal parts! Chorizo, short rib, skirt steak, chicken breast, pork chop, sweetbread and morcilla (which is Spanish blood sausage...I tried to eat a bite but felt lightheaded the moment it touched my lips and simply could NOT). The mister does not share my aversion to blood, however, and proclaimed it to be quite sweet and tasty. Not being much of an offal fan, he did draw the line at the sweetbreads, however. Atkins dieters, El Puerto could be your salvation!
Our mammoth entrees came with Maduros (fried mature plantains) and more Tostones (salty green plantains). We were now getting into "Plantain Overload" territory.
Neither of us being the type to pass up dessert (even when 75% of our meals are left uneaten), we finished with a small piece of Tres Leches Cake. It was cool and wonderful...and I especially loved the fact that it was laced with dulce de leche.
There wasn't anything fundamentally wrong with our meal, but I also didn't think it was as inspiring as it could've been for a $100+ dinner (with two glasses of wine each). The food was simple and good, but ambience and presentation weren't as great as they could've been. Overall, it was fine...albeit nothing to rave about. By the way, would anyone like some leftover meat?