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Malbec in Pasadena: a short appreciation

One visit doesn't really lay out enough material to do a real review, especially if you didn't taste anyone else's stuff or pay for the meal. However, our experience at Malbec on Green St. last night was so seamlessly pleasant that I feel some observations are called for.

The date was made suddenly - I was in fact starting to cook dinner! - when our globe-trotting friends called and said, "How about 8:00 at Malbec?" There was plenty of time to prepare the dish and refrigerate it, so we said okay. Got there right on the button; our friends were at the bar, and of course nobody had a reservation, but the cheerfully unflappable hostess looked over her sheet and gave us the choice of two tables near the door, saying that if we waited there'd be another one farther into the room. But this was fine for us, so we sat and immediately had menus and a wine list. Our friends, one of whom is Argentinian, had been there before and made two firm recommendations for me, the flatiron or the skirt steak. The latter comes with chimichurri; I would eat tennis shoes if you put chimichurri on them, so that was that. Besides, I'd somehow missed ever having skirt steak before. E., the Argentinian guy, ordered the same. Mrs. O saw the potato gnocchi as a good veggie option, and our other friend H. spoke for salmon. Mrs. O found a semi-bubbly - petillant, as they say - that looked interesting, and I saw an attractive midpriced Malbec, labelled Tilia and described as "sustainable." Okay.

The steak and the accompanying grilled vegetables were great on their own and delightful together - asparagus, eggplant, carrots, some haricots, and the steak was buttery rich and exactly chewy enough at medium-rare. We wrapped the meal by sharing a dessert E. insisted we try: two crepes, each folded over a filling of dulce de leche, with banana slices and some berries garnishing a good dollop of very rich vanilla ice cream. As good as it sounds. We also all got seconds on wine, Mrs. O switching to a real bubbly (don't remember what) in a flute. The woman who'd been in charge of our service needed no reminder what the rest of us had had.

This brings me to what I consider the best thing about our visit: the level and the thoughtfulness of the service. Every server was efficient, polite, properly deferent without subservience; nobody forgot anything, and the woman overseeing the operation did so lightly and gracefully. Nobody touched any plate or glass, however empty, without asking first, nor did they say anything remotely like "Ya done with that?" The room itself, though it seems to be all hard surfaces, did not reverberate with noise; even though a couple of men next to us were talking more loudly than we were it was somehow not obtrusive. It was a good place to be, to sit and talk - which we did for about two hours - and although we pretty much closed the place down there was no pressure at all to get us out the door, unlike a much "fancier" place we visited whose carpet was getting vacuumed before we'd even finished dessert.

We'll be back!

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  1. Seconded. I've been to Malbec several times and always had excellent, attentive but not cloying service and the food has been good, at worst, to superb even (the shrimp appetizer in the garlic - paprika sauce) at times. It is reasonably priced, comfortable and a place we'll keep going back to.

    1. I like Malbec.

      When they first opened a couple of years ago (maybe it's almost 3 years now), they had a really good chorizo sandwich, which I don't believe is offered anymore.

      1. Funny, the time I ate at Malbec, about 7 months ago, I also had the skirt steak, and must say at medium rare, mine was just too chewy. The veggies were nice, the chimichurri sauce good enough, yet it hardly compares to the one at Carlito's Gardel on Melrose.
        Wine list leaves a fair amount to be desired - not bad, yet hardly deserving of the selections available in the marketplace today from Argentina.
        One most noteworthy point - bring a flashlight or a magnifying glass to read the menu, as the place is way too dark for menu reading, even if you bring the lighted table candle right to the edge of your menu.
        I would go back, but would not order the skirt steak again.
        Might try the lamb or a seafood item instead.
        And, yes, that crepe dessert is very good!

        3 Replies
        1. re: carter

          That was my experience, as well (from several yrs ago). Chewy (but really flavorful) skirt steak, very dark dining area. Overall, a pleasant experience, but not a place I was dying to re-visit.

          Random question, but is skirt steak supposed to be chewy? I've never had a not-chewy version....

          And as for Ushuaia below, the food and service *should* be vastly improved, given the prices they're charging. But perhaps I'll try it for lunch....

          1. re: ilysla

            "given the prices they're charging"

            Reading from my last visit: enough food for 4 adults, including $20 corkage and 2 mineral watter bottles ( @ $7 ea ), total $215 before tax & tip, or about $54 pp. Sounds very reasonable, at least to me, given the quality.

            1. re: RicRios

              $54 per person sounds moderately expensive to me. It certainly might be reasonable for the quality of the food, but I'd *expect* high quality (not necessarily outstanding) food at that price plus good service. And it sounds like they justify their pricing.

              You're lucky that you can consider $54 "very reasonable." Not all of us who read this board are in a position to be so lucky, even if we very much enjoy food. ::shrug::

        2. Haven't been in Malbec ( Pasadena way too far North for LA traffic! ) but have been quite a few times in their sister restaurant Ushuaia in Santa Monica ( where Drago used to be ). Let me summarize it by saying: I travel frequently for business to Buenos Aires, and I can confidently say, these guys have vastly improved on the original! Their grass-fed meat purveyor in CA is just spectacular, as well as their knowledge of how to handle the stuff. Meat taste doesn't get any better than that. And as you said, service is what it was always supposed to be at the top ( and now, alas!, is mostly a lost art).

          4 Replies
          1. re: RicRios

            Thanks Ric. Been meaning to try this place.

            1. re: RicRios

              Does the grass-fed beef taste something akin to newly mown lawn, or actually beef? The few times I have tried grass-fed beef, it always tasted like grass-clippings.
              Since I know you like and drink quality wine, how is the wine list, and can you offer any comparison(s) to the one at Carlito's Gardel on Melrose?

              1. re: carter

                I know you didn't ask me, but I'll respond anyway: first, grass-fed beef has always tasted to me much beefier, not like grass at all, and my skirt steak was the beefiest thing I've eaten in over a year. Second, I very much agree with you on your first posting, about the wine list's limitations. I was happy to find something reasonably priced that was good, but surprised at how few choices were presented. I also found the list's format confusing, with one set of BTG selections on the left-hand page and a different set on the facing page. That's not enough to get me really annoyed - all I want is a decent glass for a decent price, after all - but it seems silly to have a multi-page list with so few wines per page.

                And, for the record, my elderly eyeballs had no trouble reading anything …

                1. re: carter

                  From what our waiter said, it's grass-fed up to the last few months, at which time they feed corn to improve marbling. Taste-wise (prob the only thing that matters to me): I can't recall a better tasting meat, period. As Will says one inch above this post, no grassy taste at all.
                  Re. wine list: I didn't even look, I always do BYOB ( both here and at CG, and anywhere else, for that matter ).

              2. Nice pick. Perfect service. Professional and not in your face. Fantastic chimichurri. Salmon with olive tapenade exceptional. And I like Malbec wine, so...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Victor Lieberman

                  like all argentine restaurants in LA, their chimichurri is not "real" chimichurri. i like their food and service, though!