At Gaucho Parrilla, it's all about the grill
With its diverse eateries and unique, colorful shops, the Strip District is a major city tourist attraction. So, when chef Anthony Falcon's paternal uncle, Sergio Falcon of Argentina, came to visit, his nephew, now of Mt. Lebanon, took him and Anthony's father, Candido, on a tour of the Strip.
“My uncle said, ‘Anthony, you got to put a restaurant here' – because of the market vibe, the ethnic culture of the neighborhood,” Anthony Falcon says. “(The Strip) is a perfect fit to receive something like this.”
“This” is Gaucho Parrilla Argentina, Falcon's stand-up restaurant on Penn Avenue in the Strip, which opened in February after Falcon took his uncle's advice. Falcon's wife, Amy, is owner of the restaurant, while Anthony Falcon is the executive chef who combines his education at the former Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts with the flavors of his ancestral background.
Falcon's great-grandfather and namesake, Don Antonio Falcon, was a gaucho — a cowboy — who owned a huge spread in Argentina. A photo of the bearded Don Antonio in gaucho regalia is framed in leather on the Gaucho Parrilla Argentina wall.
“Parrilla” means “grill” in Spanish and is the essential element of its food preparation.
As did North American cowboys, gauchos often grilled beef over a wood-fueled campfire. Anthony Falcon and his crew do the same, grilling various cuts of beef, chicken and fish and plenty of fresh vegetables over a wood-fired stove. Flames might leap up as Falcon and his sous chef do their grilling. Pieces of wood lie stacked against both walls, ready for use.
“People love watching us,” says the ebullient Falcon, 39. The kitchen is adjacent to the area where diners place their orders.
In turn, Falcon loves to cook.
“This style is a fundamental (culinary) style I really enjoy,” Falcon says. “It's visceral … the basic essence of what cooking was. It's very, very healthy food, either grilled or roasted. We use 90-percent extra-virgin olive oil and 10-percent canola oil. Everything is made from scratch,” including the traditional savory Argentine chimichurri condiment Falcon prepares and uses on sandwiches.
“We have no stove, no microwave, no ovens,” Falcon says. “If, by 6, 6:15 (p.m.), there's no activity and no orders, we let the fire die down and we're done. Sometimes, people come at 10 minutes to 7 and we have to turn them away.
“We can't turn on a deep fryer,” he says, because there is none.
Menu items range from $1 for wood-toasted bread, to $28 for a half-pound of filet mignon. Meats in meals or on sandwiches are available in quarter- or half-pound amounts for different prices. Gaucho Parrilla Argentina offers a wide array of beef, chorizo sausage, chicken, fish and vegetable sandwiches in the $10 to $20 range, as well as traditional empanadas for $4 each. Ensaladas — salads — are available in two sizes, ranging from $4 to $10.
“We even have vegans who come in here, just because of the price,” Falcon says.
Falcon has a diverse culinary background. A Brooklyn native, he came to Pittsburgh to attend the former Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts. After his schooling, he worked at various jobs in different localities and cuisines, including Asian, fusion and Pacific Rim, before working at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Las Vegas, where he was assistant executive chef for about seven years.
“I had to dabble in as many things as I could when I was young,” he says.
When he and his wife returned to Pittsburgh to be closer to her family here, Falcon spent eight years at Southpointe Golf Club as executive chef and later as food-and-beverage director. The couple has a daughter, 11.
Now in the Strip, he says Gaucho Parrilla has “a lot of Latino customers: Argentinians, Brazilians, Ecuadorians” who enjoy the South American-style cuisine Falcon offers. Whatever their ethnic background, Gaucho's customers are a diverse socio-economic bunch, including professionals, truck drivers, entertainers and even chefs.
One recent day, Stephen Grottenthaler, executive chef at Pittsburgh Field Club in Fox Chapel, and his sous chef, Kristina Crough, stopped for an early lunch at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina after visiting a Strip supplier.
The two ordered grilled skirt steak and chicken sandwiches, then ate half of each. Crough pronounced the skirt-steak sandwich especially “amazing.”
“It's my third time here already; I heard of (Gaucho Parrilla) through my vendors,” Grottenthaler said. “I've brought all of my chefs here. It's one of the few really good authentic restaurants using a wood grill. The value is just unbelievable and the authentic quality and fresh ingredients – you can't beat it.”
Of Falcon, Grottenthaler said, “He's doing the simple things, and doing them well.”
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Gaucho Parrilla Argentina's Carne Sandwich With Skirt Steak
One of Gaucho Parrilla Argentina's specialty offerings is a carne, or steak, sandwich, available with one of four kinds of steak, including filet mignon. Executive chef Anthony Falcon particularly likes to prepare the sandwich with skirt steak, a cut prized for its flavor.
Using extra-virgin olive oil on the steak and the ciabatta bread impart mellow flavor to the sandwich. But two elements make the flavor unique: grilling the beef over a wood-fired stove; and Falcon's homemade chimichurri sauce, said to have originated among gauchos in Argentina. The sauce comprises ingredients such as chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, cider or wine vinegar, olive oil and, sometimes, a bit of red pepper. Chimichurri, available at specialty markets, online or at home using online recipes, helps to give a deeper, savory accent to the smoky heartiness of the flavorful beef.
4 ounces skirt steak
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch coarsely ground (butcher) pepper
2 slices ciabatta bread (Falcon uses Breadworks' ciabatta), about 2 1⁄2 inches wide
1⁄8 cup caramelized onions
1⁄4 cup roasted red peppers
1 tablespoon chimichurri sauce
Drizzle the 4-ounce piece of skirt steak with 1 teaspoon olive oil and massage it into the meat. Sprinkle the kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper over the meat (See photo 1). Grill the meat, preferably over a wood fire, until it is medium-rare. While the meat is grilling, drizzle 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt and coarse pepper over the slices of bread. Grill the slices lightly and remove them from the heat (photo 2).
When the meat is medium-rare, remove it from the heat and cut it in half. Slice the meat on the bias and against the grain (photo 3). Place the beef slices on one half of the grilled bread and top first with the chimichurri sauce (photo 4), then with the onions and red peppers. Place the other half of the bread on top of the sandwich, slice in half vertically and serve.
Makes 1 serving.