This Steakhouse Is the Sexiest Thing to Happen in Poblacion
It was a bright and sunny weekday lunch at brand-new El Gaucho at Trump Tower, but we can tell the people in charge were struggling. Publicist Sunny Ku had his Wayfarers on and his usual easy smile, but eventually he confesses the cause of his exhaustion: “Last night was crazy!”
El Gaucho owner Dany Himi, ably aided by sons David and Patrick, threw an epic rager that involved never-ending pours of Prosecco and wine. The young Patrick did his rounds with bottles of their caramel-infused vodka (which is most parts Belvedere, some parts caramel syrup) and guests dared not refuse shot after shot from the rather massive host. Despite the efficient staff, who ensured all corners of the dining room and the alfresco area had warm empanadas and slices of perfectly marbled steaks, it was not enough to soak up all the alcohol that seemed to flow endlessly from the Edison-bulb lit bar. Manila’s bright and beautiful got properly smashed.
But, while that seemed like a fun night, we feel no envy. We are here for the steak and the sexy, modern-industrial dining room conducive for a civilized meal.
The Himis are currently based in Vietnam, having moved there from Hamburg, Germany, after Israel-born patriarch Dany sold his retail business in 2007, hoping to enjoy a cushy retirement. The move to Vietnam was supposed to facilitate this next stage, however, Dany saw an opportunity in the booming food industry in Southeast Asia that was too glaring to ignore. With his family background in the restaurant business, Dany set out to impose the benchmark for steakhouses in the region when, in 2011, he opened the first El Gaucho in Ho Chi Minh.
With the launch of El Gaucho No. 16 in Manila, suffice to say, the Himis have established their position in the hallowed arena of premium steakhouses. They import their own meats and most other fine ingredients. Dany admits that their greatest challenge here is finding a consistent supplier of vegetables.
While some might ask, “what’s wrong with our vegetables?” (we can almost assure you that chefs here will have a lot to say about quality and consistency), we cannot blame the Himis for expecting the highest standards for their steaks. They source only the best beef from Australia and the U.S., such as Pureblood Australian Wagyu and Prime Angus. These are also sold retail in their butcher shop situated in front of the kitchen, probably the only one that is Halal-certified in the country. And with this kind of meticulous attention afforded their meat, it makes sense that Dany opted to prepare his steaks in the pristine and rustic Argentine way.
Only fire and salt are allowed to kiss the exquisitely wet-aged meats, which are grilled over charcoal. This way, lamb chops that are cooked perfectly medium retain that inherent, slightly gamey flavor gently tempered by seductive smoke. The massive (and pricey) tomahawk ribeye is wrapped in a beautiful, crusty char while its juicy inside appears dark fuchsia slashed with fatty marbling we expect from beef of this quality.
Trust the Germans to do their potatoes right. The sweet potato fries disappear as soon as they touch the table. Dany himself cannot keep his hands off them, and quickly swiped a fry from beneath our noses to “check” for quality. An indulgent potato gratin would be the perfect match for the equally luxurious steaks, and El Gaucho’s is arguably one of the best. So is its creamed spinach, which is a more fibrous alternative but not necessarily less sinful.
“More meat?” Dany asks. And one of the more waif-like diners answered, “yes,” almost a little too quickly. Who are we to deny her of her burning desire for meat? Debauchery ensues as soon as the kitchen sends out a dozen perfectly grilled fillets that Dany expertly sliced table-side and instructed everyone to consume immediately. “Too many pictures,” the young Patrick clucks. Can you blame us, though?
El Gaucho looks, feels, and tastes like a place that encourages indulgence and partaking in life’s most primal pleasures. However, the passion here is only matched by the owners’ strict adherence to consistency. The details in its design match the meticulousness in selecting the meats. The Himis have an opening team they lovingly call Force 17, named after a special operations unit, who train the staff in their newly opened stores. Aside from consistency in the food, they instill in the local team the highest standard of service, something the Himis disclose they have yet to find in Manila. El Gaucho, it seems, is here to change the game, and it really has more substance than just sex appeal.
Trump Tower, Salamanca Street, Poblacion, Makati