While each and every moment should be enjoyed, there are few that come close to being as savory and delightful as the ones spent eating. There is nothing quite like being seduced by food, and when I come across a restaurant that does just that, I promise to do what I won’t do when I’m eating there: share.
As the newest of three restaurants from Argentine entrepreneurs Pablo Alcorta, Javier Pardini and Luciano Alcorta (the first in Santa Monica), restaurateur Pardini has big plans and bright eyes for Ushuaia.
“We’re waiting on the photographs from Patagonia (southern region of Argentina and Chile),” Pardini says.
As he gestures at the naked brick walls he continues to talk as I nod and slyly pull the appetizer of Mollejas a la parilla (veal-heart sweetbreads alongside a light lettuce salad of bibb, tomato, onion, avocado, salsa criolla and lemon vinaigrette) closer to my place setting and proceed to devour the entire thing.
He seems happy that I’m now an advocate for sweetbreads.
“The replacement for everyone who’s going to miss foie gras,” he says while smiling even though there’s none left for him.
To prove I’m not a total hog, when the empanadas arrive I make a gesture and split the two crescent-shaped pockets in half (one is spinach and ricotta, the other beef) and take a piece of each.
Just as I think we might be edging toward our main course, a splashtastic presentation of wild shrimp, scallops, and smoky-sweet Pimenton sauce makes such an arrival that it’s only once we’ve eaten half of the spread that we realize the attention of the room is on us and the iridescent sauce. Startlingly blood-orange and red, Pardini points to the powder on the lip of the plate and explains that I should try it. I dab my finger in it and taste it – Pimenton, which is Spanish paprika, I find out that it is officially the best version of “paprika” since it’s bright, tasty, and truly an easy-going delivery with a side nudge of flavor that’s ideal for seafood.
In perfect timing our steak to split arrives flanked by two triumvirates of sauce as Pardini has heard that I’m obsessed with dip. Our talk slows to silence, and then low nonsensical murmurs join our table as swallowing and swooning takes over.
It becomes apparent that we have mutual favorites.
The first set of sauces is traditional and can be expected with any of the grilled meats: Chimichurri Norento, Salsa Mia, and Salsa Criolla. The second set is to-order and we opt for: Pimienta Verde, Ajos y Tomates Asados, and Salsa Argentina. Quickly disappearing down to the bowl was the Pimienta Verde (creamy peppercorn sauce) and Salsa Argentina (sautéed mushrooms, onion, and what tastes like gravy) and had it been never-ending and not on the table I would have sat in it and eaten it for days. With a spoon.
Halfway through I sit back. In the middle of the breather a side of Humita (creamy corn and bacon) is placed on the countering side of my placemat and it’s golden, steamy, and practically beaming in all its yellow glory. If a food could smile, Humita would grin.
When our plates are cleared Javier informs me that dessert is on the way, along with a drink of whiskey sent over by a neighboring table. I raise an eyebrow – at 2 p.m.? While I’m not about to down a glass of the fiery stuff so early in the day (and despite the sender has already left), Pardini tells me not to worry about waste because he’ll just put it toward a larger top-off of what he already had planned.
Just as I begin to inquire, an opulent sundae glass presents itself. Donning long spoons we dig in, and suddenly I realize what he meant. The Don Pedro, which is chocolate and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate and caramel sauce, walnuts, and a splash (or shot) of whiskey, is the perfect adult dessert that evokes fond memories of childhood without being too cloying or sweet.
There’s one more – he waves his hand. The waitress is blushing when she delivers the final dish. She clasps her hands and does a little bounce. “This is my favorite,” she punctuates, and then disappears. This is my favorite dessert as well. Crepes de dulce de leche is comprised of crepes, dulce de leche, berries, and vanilla ice cream. The best part is that the dulce de leche drizzle on the coat of the crepe is not just a tease – cut the crepe open and you’ll find a flooding pocket of the heavenly sauce just waiting to ooze out.
If you’ve ever wondered how an interview becomes a meal, and how a 2.5 hour lunch becomes a moment, visit Ushuaia. It’s where steaks are cooked medium-rare and the staff is incredibly good looking. While the food isn’t cheap and none of it is zero-calories, when it comes to being full, happy, and impressed, it only takes one word to summarize why this is the best Argentinian restaurant in Santa Monica: Priceless.
Category: Lunch, dinner, happy hour, dessert.
Company: Dates, friends, business meals.
Quickie:The best Argentine steak house in Santa Monica.
Tip: Happy Hour is M-F, 4-7 p.m. and includes discounted tapas and drinks!
2628 Wilshire Blvd.