It is said that travelers should have visited La Tablita in order to be able to say that they have been to El Calafate. Besides enjoying one of the most outstanding dishes in the area, the best Patagonian lamb in the world is served at this venue.
Good manners request that one should not look at the tables around but at La Tablita it is impossible not to. At first sight, the colors, the smells, the exclamations and the comments of all customers make it inevitable to have a look around. La Tablita has become a tourist attraction itself, just like the Perito Moreno Glacier and its hiking tours, the visit to estancia Cristina or the city tour in El Calafate. This tribute to taste, sensations, good eating and a relaxed meeting with friends appears at the access of the city, at 28, Rosales Street. Nothing is ever the same once its doors are crossed. It is evident that Gonzalo Aguilar and Diego Perez, visionary owners of this magical site, are happy to do what they do. One just has to watch them taking care of every detail, taking reservations, getting the tables ready, assisting customers on the combination between a dish and a wine.
Founded in 1968, La Tablita has remained intact till our days as an unquestionable icon and a tradition of this southern city. This is the oldest steak house in town.
Starters for a Fascinating World Raw ham is a typical dish, ideal to get started at La Tablita in the company of some empanada filled with meat or cheese, along with a glass of red wine –either merlot or malbec. We asked a subtle question to the waiter as we wanted to know what the table next to us had ordered. We were greatly surprised to learn that lengüitas de cordero a la criolla (Criollo lamb tongues) and pumpkin cream soup are served at these tables: two true temptations. The unbeatable aroma of bife de chorizo became alive on a tray that was heading for the “background”, the new space created to increase the capacity of the venue without losing coziness and the customized service provided to each customer. The decoration and the light are worth mentioning. Windows, walls, wood, curtains and paintings are part of a harmonious setting that encourages customers to stay longer, enjoying a pleasant chat after the meal.
Patagonian Lamb, the Best in the World beyond any Doubt Manuel Ruiz Villegas has worked at La Tablita ever since its foundation in 1973, whereas his colleague Julio Almonacid joined him in 1982. Today, they are the best-known parrilleros (steak cooks) in southern Patagonia. The house specialty is Patagonian lamb. One corner in the restaurant lets visitors witness how this delicacy is slowly roasted under the supervision of one of the cooks who has dealt with the cooking and taste secrets of this particular meat. In addition to lamb, beef is also served and tenderloin, steaks, vacío (bottom sirloin) and neat offal made with beef and lamb, as well. Meat may be accompanied by exquisite grilled Provolone cheese with high prominence. The most coveted are the oregano version and the one named after the house: a real delight. Fish like trout and salmon are combined with all kinds of signature and regional sauces. The same happens with pasta, which the locals never fail to order on Sundays: perfectly seasoned tagliatelle, ravioli and gnocchi. The wine list at La Tablita includes the most prestigious wineries in the Provinces of Mendoza, Río Negro, Neuquén and Salta. Over 170 wine labels perfectly agree with each dish and dessert served.
Desserts: an Invitation to Paradise In perfect English, a Norwegian couple commented on the taste of the “exquisite chocolate marquise”. In the meantime, the lady had a bite of the irresistible pancake filled with dulce de leche (milk jam). As we asked for a recommendation, the waiter did not hesitate to trigger out a real dilemma at our table: fresh fruit and calafate ice-cream, berry soup and ice-cream or homemade calafate mousse. “Three options to try typical regional ingredients”, he said to raise even greater uncertainty. The three of us accepted the advice. What followed cannot be put into words. The aromatic coffee was the perfect finale to our visit to La Tablita, where customers become real gastronomic readers from the very first moment. Introduction, climax and ending are embodied by the most perfect flavors one can ever imagine. We were on our way out when one of the owners told a couple: “No customers enter our venue, only friends do”. Today, over a million people scattered all round the world have something in common: they all are friends with La Tablita.
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