: views from the Hill

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

[FOOD] El Raigon -- Argentine asado

El Raigon -- Argentine asado
510 Union St, San Francisco

I mentioned that we'd gone to El Raigón, a new Argentine restaurant on Union, a week ago. I've made copies of their menu to drop off with friends who might be interested. Hope this restaurant has much success. Unfortunately, one set of friends who would be very interested in a restaurant close to Coit Tower are low-fat vegetarians. El Raigón is not for them.

We'd noticed last Tuesday that El Raigón was open as we walked down to Iluna Basque. We'd walked a half-block farther past and decided to turn back and eat there instead. The door was locked! There were people inside eating! We realized that the staff was probably having an open house/dress rehearsal for friends. We stopped off again on our way home from Iluna Basque when we noticed the door open and a woman standing in the doorway.

"When are you opening?" we asked.

"Tomorrow," she answered. "Here, take a menu."

We thanked her and trundled home, already making plans to eat there the next night, even though eating dinner out three times in four days is far from our norm.

El Raigón -- Argentine asado
510 Union St. [between Grant and Stockton, North Beach]
San Francisco, CA 94133

The restaurant design is simple-- exposed wood beams, concrete floor. You can't miss the "art" on the walls -- framed cow hides. The frames are about 3'x3' and the cow hides are stretched over the frames. Spot lighting picks up the swirls and variations in the hides. The hides were all of a piece: reddish brown with white patterning, almost a Rorschach. Don't know what cattle breed. Maybe Guernsey? An array of bolos hung against the wall at the far end of the room. Some framed photographs of Argentinians hung on the wall as you came in.

The woman we'd talked to the night before appears to be one of the partners. She was running the front room and recognized us. There were a good dozen people having dinner. A group of five and another couple of couples came in while we ate. Seemed a good turnout for a first night for a restaurant that doesn't have a flashy exterior. Word of mouth from friends of the restaurant, Telegraph Hill neighbors and noticing the place while you were walking by are the only ways the first-night diners could've known the restaurant was open.

We started dinner by nibbling on bread dipped in chimichurri sauce as we decided what to eat. The bread came in a metal bucket, continuing the cattleman motif. Excellent chimichurri sauce.

Both of us had mollejas (grilled sweetbreads) for appetizer. My first experience of sweetbreads was when his nibs wooed me with home-cooked sweetbreads in a sour cream, shallots and port sauce. My first experience. Since then, sweetbreads have always been a favorite. Recently I've been lamenting the fact you can't find sweetbreads in the meat cases at the grocery stores these days and very few restaurants have sweetbreads on their menus. The prime reason we first stopped at Isa was because Luke's menu featured both sweetbreads and seared foie gras.

El Raigón's sweetbreads were delicious, simply prepared, grilled and served with a lemon wedge. Also good dipped in chimichurri. Excellent.

We continued on with beef for the main course. The restaurant is proud of its grass-fed Montana beef and plans to be able to serve Argentinian beef some day. I had Bife de Chorizo (similar to NY strip) and his nibs had Ojo de Bife (rib eye). My mental translation of "Ojo de Bife" is cow eyeball, which is why I didn't order it. Of course, Bife de Chorizo sounds like beef sausage ...

Both pieces of beef were ordered medium-rare and both arrived perfectly done. yay! I opted for a side of Espinaca Saltada (sauteed spinach) and his nibs had Calabaza Pisada (mashed squash). Both good. The spinach was sauteed with garlic. Both vegetables were prepared with no extraneous fuss.

Also on the menu are shortribs, lamb loin, grilled chicken, and halibut. For the vegetarians, main dishes include fettucini with marinara sauce and steamed vegetables. The restaurant also serves salads, other sides, empanadas, blood sausage, Argentine sausage, prawns, &c. Plenty of choices, just not very much choice if you're vegetarian. If you're on the Atkins diet, however, this place is for you.

I saved half of my beef to leave room for dessert. My Panqueques con Dulce de Leche (crepe-like pancakes rolled around rich, golden brown dulce de leche) were yummy. Exceedingly rich. His nibs had Flan Casero, which was an excellent excellent yummy flan.

What with wine and coffee, dinner was in the $$$ range even before tip. The pieces of beef were $24 and $28. The sweetbreads were $9 each. Sides were $3 each. Desserts were $7 each. Yummy stuff, though, and just a few blocks from home. El Raigón is definitely a place to return to when we are entertaining beef-eating friends or just hankering after a simple slab of beef.