On the night of the last big snowstorm in February, I set out for dinner, demanding to be impressed for my troubles. The challenger: year-old Argentinean steak showcase Libertador. Would I walk back out into the pelting snow too content to notice, or would I be going for my knives?
Despite the fearsome weather, the place had a sprinkling of diners. My friend and I chose the middle of the room, between the bar and the meat bar, where you can watch the parrillero (grill master) work the fire. The background music was mainly of the Top 40 variety, which didn’t really gel with the surroundings. We cheered a bit when a song that could have been Argentine came on and wished for more of that.
We found ourselves engaged by the Spanish-language newspaper clippings that decorated the ceiling, but I was too hungry to see if I could remember any lessons from high school. Since we both had been mispronouncing the restaurant’s name, we asked the waitress for clarification. Happy to oblige, she succinctly sounded out each syllable in her charming, accented English.
To warm up, my friend ordered a Malbec ($9) and we decided to share a pair of chicken and potato empanadas ($6). They were too salty and also on the bland side. The citrusy sauce that accompanied them helped, but it really could have used some kick. The tamale corn version might have been the better way to go.
My companion picked the filet mignon special ($25), which, like all of Libertador’s meat, is organic and grass-fed. She said it was cooked beautifully (medium rare) and “each bite has different layers of taste.” She didn’t love the chimichurri sauce, which she said needed more garlic. Perhaps it all went into the delicious mashed potatoes, which I couldn’t stop sampling. For those who don’t eat meat or want something lighter, the king salmon fillet ($18) is a worthy alternative. The fish is marinated for 24 hours, grilled and lightly smoked. The grilled corn and tomato salad was a simple but refreshing side with a bit of tartness. I completely cleaned my plate.
For dessert we passed on something chocolate and went with the very decadent panqueques de dulce de leche (warm crepes stuffed with dulce de leche, $12). If that wasn’t sweet enough, there was also a pool of caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The dish sent us into a delightful sugar coma. An extra scoop of vanilla would have tempered the high a bit.
When the weather warms up, I’d like to go back for a glass of sangria, and to see if the empanadas have kicked it up a notch. Or maybe to try the french fries provençal that people have raved about, and listen to some authentic music. Hopefully by then, both the kitchen and the playlist will have a little more spice.
Libertador Parrilla Argentina
1725 Second Ave.
(betw. 89th and 90th streets)
Entrées: $14 to $42
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