Argentine asado is at the heart of this ambitious restaurant in the new Charter Hotel, where chefs adroitly manipulate the fire of the parrilla.
Patagonia is on a lot of bucket lists among travelers obsessed with food, thanks in no small part to Francis Mallmann. In his cookbooks and on the Netflix series “Chef’s Table,” the provocative Argentine chef has taken armchair gourmands to South America’s southern frontier and introduced us to the asado. An Argentine variant on the American backyard barbecue, it’s a meal that revolves around meats and vegetables cooked over coals on a grill called a parrilla.
Patagōn brings the asado idea to Seattle. The comfortably appointed restaurant off the lobby of the new Charter Hotel at Second Avenue and Stewart lacks the rugged Mallman mystique — and the kitchen is less consistent venturing beyond what’s cooked on the grill — but Patagōn has several things going for it: chefs who adroitly manipulate fire; skilled bartenders; and a dapper, storytelling sommelier whose passion for South American food and wines approaches missionary fervor.
The decor vaguely evokes gaucho country, with framed Andean vistas, ornate metalwork and horseshoe-shaped booths. Logs are stacked in overhead bins above the open kitchen’s curved counter. The prominently placed parrilla is visible from seats in the bar and much of the dining room. Show up for lunch and you might see a side of lamb stretched on a rack cantilevered above the flames.
I never lucked into lamb, nor was I able to try the short ribs, unavailable on two out of three visits, but I was impressed by the enormous, bone-in Gaucho Rib-Eye. Two guests and I shared the steak, along with a superb, crackling-skinned half chicken, and I took home leftovers. Across the room, seven guys tucked into seven rib-eyes. Gentlemen, I salute you.
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Executive chef Brandon Cathey and chef de cuisine Stephen Moore did their menu research in Argentina, but they source their high-quality proteins closer to home: natural beef from Montana’s Meyer Ranch and Oregon’s Painted Hills, and “Poulet Bleu” chicken from Bernie Nash’s Mad Hatcher Poultry here in Ephrata, Grant County. Before they hit the flames, the chicken is brined, and the rib-eye is marinated, in chimichurri sauce. The simple, classic blend of olive oil and red wine vinegar, dense with parsley, garlic, onion and hint of red pepper flakes, also comes to the table as a condiment for the grilled meats. It is all they require.
An order of asado includes one side. I suggest the crisp papas fingerlings because, what’s meat without potatoes? (Also, because the charred creamed corn has been retired for the season, along with grilled baby eggplant.) A new fall menu is being introduced this week. They’ve added a New York strip and a bone-in pork chop to the asado selection and expanded the meatless options. That could help fill more of the 80 seats in a dining room that on my visits was sparsely populated at both lunch and dinner.
All the pasta dishes have been changed up for fall. It’s possible that the lamb I saw splayed on the parrilla was destined for bucatini with lamb and tomato ragu. The gorgeous array of foraged mushrooms I enjoyed in a brandy cream sauce over grilled polenta will now join smoked lardons over pappardelle. Cresta de gallo with braised beef reminded me of leftover pot roast with gravy; on the fall menu, clams in white wine sauce will accompany the cockscomb-shaped noodles in lieu of the beef.
Pasta is house made — the kitchen even has an extruder — and properly cooked. The team clearly benefited from a pre-opening tutorial by Il Corvo’s Mike Easton, Seattle’s pre-eminent pasta-maker.
They are tinkering with the empanadas, those Argentine turnovers that can be baked or fried (at Patagōn they are baked). Instead of three tiny ones encased in tender pastry, you’ll get a single large one, filled with braised lamb or pumpkin. I’m glad to see they’ve kept the veal sweetbreads. Asadors traditionally use all parts of the animal. If you are as crazy about organ meat as I am, don’t miss this lightly charred, marrow-basted lobe served with a side of lemon-dressed Dungeness crabmeat, a partnership that perfectly conveys the transcendent power of salt, fat, acid and heat.
Chicharones are among “first bites.” The slab of salty, pimentón-dusted, fried pigskin looks like saddle leather but cracks like a gaucho’s whip when you break off a piece to dunk in chimichurri. It works well as a cocktail nibble (and I love that the waiter brought us wet cloths to wipe our greasy fingers). The creative drinks list, laudable for incorporating several low-alcohol and spirit-free selections, is worth exploring.
The menu changes are partly seasonal, but the scope indicates that, two months in, Patagōn is still refining the concept. The wine list is also a work in progress. Sommelier Mark Thostesen, a seven-year veteran of Wild Ginger, has been seeking more malbec, torrontés, carmenère and other South American varietals to round out a list of New World and Old World wines. Just added by the glass: a Patagonian pinot noir from Bodega Chacra, made by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, a grandson of the Italian marchese who created Sassicaia, the renowned Tuscan cabernet.
Thostesen cut a Mallmann-esque figure, with a scarf loosely knotted over his jacket and tie. He also stood out as the most informed and informative among the front-of-the-house staff, eager to answer questions and keen to share what he knows about both the wine and the food. Other waitstaff were less enlightening. One described parrilla as simply “barbecue.” A server at lunch, assuming we were tourists, suggested a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass. I wished she had been as diligent a guide to the menu. She did steer us toward dainty churros, dipped into dark, spicy chocolate, and a lovely lemon-olive oil cake, served in bite-size chunks alongside sweetened whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Neither dessert is very original, or particularly Argentine, but I enjoyed them, as I did Patagōn.
1610 Second Ave. (downtown), Seattle
Hours: breakfast 6:30-11 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5-10 p.m.; happy hour 3-5 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$$ (appetizers, sandwiches and salads $12-$24; entrees $16-$70)
Drinks: full bar; original cocktails; domestic and international wines with a growing South American presence
Parking: valet three hours/$15 for restaurant patrons
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles