By Melody Burson
I usually don’t want a fuss on my birthday. I already get enough attention because I was born on the Fourth of July and I sometimes feel the spotlight shines a little too brightly on me that day – “the whole country celebrates your birthday!” Sparklers on the red, white, and blue cake. Friends getting the fireworks crowd to sing Happy Birthday to me. I can be a bit much.
But this year was different. I needed a celebration. I wanted an acknowledgment that I had made it one more year around the sun despite what the world had tried to throw at me: sinus cancer, political divisiveness, civil unrest, and, oh, pandemic! And let’s throw in a last minute a case of hives to boot. I hadn’t been in a restaurant since March 9th and I required some pampering.
El Gaucho to the rescue.
El Gaucho is a high-end, old school, New York City style small chain of steakhouses. The Tacoma one is on Pacific Avenue. It’s dimly lit. It takes a minute for the eyes to adjust and see the jazz pianist quietly playing in the bar area. Wait staff are in tuxedos and offer impeccable service. Showstoppers include the Flaming Sword Brochette of Tenderloin (think of the Three Musketeers fighting over meat), and the tableside presentation of flaming Bananas Foster. And they have the very best steaks. It’s a place where they will welcome you if you’re wearing distressed jeans, but you feel like you really should put on the fancy duds. Swanky comes to mind. And it’s pricey.
However, there are ways to stretch your dollar. I belong to El Gaucho’s Revelers Loyalty Club. Besides earning points that can be applied to future dinner tabs, each year they award a $75 credit for your wedding anniversary, and another $75 credit for your birthday. Since they were now open for dine-in patrons under Phase 2 guidelines, it was time to venture out and use their birthday gift.
Reservations are required, which we did online. The morning of our evening out, we were sent a confirmation text. Once we arrived, we waited for another text saying our table was ready and then we could enter the restaurant. Masks were required anytime you were not at your table, and all El Gaucho staff also wore masks. Bottled sanitizers were at each table, and we frequently saw staff sanitizing handrails, tables, and chairs. One use paper menus replaced the leather-bound booklets. I felt very comfortable with these precautions.
We started dinner with a cocktail; each having the Gaucho Barrel-Aged Manhattan. We then split a mixed green salad that had apples and walnuts, dressed in shallot vinaigrette. I chose the smaller of the two Filet Mignon offerings, while my husband had the Halibut special. For an added cost, you can add a sauce or a seafood portion with your entree (such as a Béarnaise sauce or lobster medallions). Sides are offered separately – we shared a dish of scalloped potatoes – but other potato and green vegetables choices are available. El Gaucho also has a nice selection of other non-beef and vegetarian/vegan entrees.
A 2017 Rombauer Zinfandel paired nicely with both entrees, and the chocolate cake for dessert was, well, the icing on the cake.
What struck me that night was the little things that I used to take for granted and that I really missed when going out to dinner: the anticipation of entering into a restaurant, being shown to your table and having chairs pulled out, napkins and menus offered, the back and forth between choosing among several dishes before taking the plunge and announcing your dinner decision, and then the “excellent choice” validation from your server. In essence, the theatrical interactions of dining out.
Even in a hash house diner, there is theater – the clanging of the pots and pans, friendly banter between customers and servers, diner lingo (Adam and Eve on a raft!), and the ballet of wait staff and bussers negotiating the limited space behind the counter.
If you’re having a grand night out, or just need sustenance to keep going on a busy day, eating out can be a means to focus away from the stresses and concerns that we have far too many of right now. Please heed the precautions, but go ahead – treat yourself. Indulge in the experience. Take in the sights, the aromas, the flavors. It’s just what the doctor ordered.
2119 Pacific Avenue
Valet parking available (make sure you get your chocolate chip cookies from the parking attendant for an after dinner treat!).
There are also El Gaucho branded restaurants in Seattle (closed at the present – they will reopen in their new location soon), Bellevue, Portland and Vancouver, WA, and its sister restaurants Aqua by El Gaucho, Aerlume, and Miller’s Guild in Seattle, and the Lakehouse in Bellevue. Revelers Loyalty Club points can also be earned from other Fire & Vine Hospitality partner restaurants and hotels.
Happy Hour Note: At present, bar areas in restaurants are closed, but before COVID-19 restrictions were in place, El Gaucho had one of the better Happy Hour deals in town. People would line up outside of their door to grab a spot at the bar when they opened at 4pm. It was a great way to sample El Gaucho’s dishes, drinks, and outstanding service at a much lower price. Their Happy Hour ran Tuesday-Friday: 4pm to 6pm and then 9pm until close; Saturday: 4pm to 5pm and then 9pm until close. On Sundays and Mondays, the Happy Hour menu was offered from opening at 4pm until their 10pm closing time. I’m looking forward to having this service back.
The artwork for this article is from the El Gaucho website and is titled “Sherwood.” Background information: “After Paul Mackay opened El Gaucho Seattle in 1996, he made a conscious decision to adorn the empty restaurant walls with commissioned art. The paintings would serve multiple purposes: to tell the story behind the people, or “players” in El Gaucho’s history (both guests and staff alike); to use for advertising and marketing; and to give a local artist business and recognition. Paul chose Nina Mikhailenko, a Russian born and educated artist, now local, whose paintings are full of energy, color, and motion.”