South American Style

With so many choices of flavor from the new restaurants nowadays, it’s kind of difficult to use standards to tell whether a restaurant is good or bad. To make it simple for you, it’s a decent restaurant when you don’t mind to return there, however, if it’s a good one, you’re craving to come back for more. It’s the sensation we had when we dined in El Asador few months ago, and now we decided to learn more about the South American style grill restaurant.

Meet Eugenio Doldan, an Uruguay man behind El Asador, who spent 9 years working in Argentinian restaurant in Melbourne, Australia. There, he met his Indonesian girlfriend, Dhani Isti Tantyo, who then became his wife. After she finished the study and returned to Indonesia, Eugenio decided to came to Jakarta to open a business together with her. The couple opened El Asador (literally means “the barbecuer”) in 2013, then El Machote and Black Sheep in 2017.

“In the beginning it was tough because it was difficult to find the products (meat) and the suppliers. When you are new, people don’t trust you too much. I ordered 5 different cuts weighed 50 kg from a supplier, and they came up with only 20-30 kgs. But, like a baby learning to walk, we began to know more suppliers and now we have quite good credibility among them. They also know that if they don’t send me what I want, or the quality is not good, I’ll send them back,” said Eugenio.

The Parrillas

Each region has its own grilling methods. Brazil has its churrascaria, but in South America, especially Argentina and Uruguay, they use parrillas, a traditional griller using wood fire, no gas, no electricity! Eugenio prefers to use rambutan or star fruit wood because they produce more charcoal. Parrillas grill uses indirect heat from the embers of hard wood which creates the irreplaceable aroma, nice color of caramelization on the outside while maintaining the tenderness and warmth inside.

Parrillas takes longer time to grill than using the pan sear method. For medium rare to medium meat, it will take 5-10 minutes, while for the well done, it will take 25 minutes. “It might took longer than pan sear, but if you use pan, the flavor and the tenderness of the meat change a lot. When you cook in a really hot pan, the muscle will be strained,” he added.

Aged Meat

Eugenio is strictly conventional when it comes to the treatment of the meat. “Some people recommended me to use papaya leaf to make the meat tender, but no! that’s not the way we cook it. I have to follow my initial concept. It doesn’t make sense to come here and have the meat tenderized with papaya leaf, that’s not South America!”

Mr. Doldan also doesn’t use the trending dry age method for some reasons. “It’s a new concept in Indonesia. You come in and want your steak medium rare and juicy. If  it’s dry aged, it won’t be juicy, and it’s not rare, because, literally, no juice. People know the name ‘dry age’ but they don’t know about the product and then they will complain. So, I prefer not selling it,” he said.

The only meat treatment El Asador always does, is what we know as the regular “aged” meat. “We put all the meat in chiller in 0o C for 30 days and the muscle of the meat will be more relaxed, thus make it more tender. If it’s meat without the bone, you can age it for 4-8 weeks, but if it’s meat with bone, 4 weeks is maximum. Too much aging will result in too much flavor, I don’t like it, personally” said Eugenio.

The Secondary Cuts

Whenever you’re in a steak house, prime cuts (tenderloin, sirloin, ribeye) would be obvious choices. However, in El Asador, you need to be a bit adventurous. “If a customer ask me for cut recommendation, I always ask them to give me a minute to prepare our picanha (rump steak) or vacio (thin flank). Roughly 6-7 out of 10 people will end up ordering our secondary cuts, not for the price, but solely because the flavor is richer. That’s why we sell more secondary cuts than the prime,” Eugenio added.

El Asador’s “From the Parrillas” line comes with one regular side dish and one signature homemade sauce. However, we recommend that you give yourself a chance to enjoy the meat without any sauces in the first place. “I understand, Indonesians like sauce, but for me, if I want to eat meat, I want to have the flavor of the meat, not the flavor of the sauce. Of course, we have some regular sauces such as pepper sauce, mushroom sauce, but we put it in a separate place, it’s up for the customers to choose how to enjoy their steak,” Eugenio recommended.

From the authentic parrillas and meat treatment, you can tell that El Asador is pretty much traditional. However, Eugenio still saves some room for adaptations. “The only adaptation I do is to make our regular chimmichurri and salsa criolla like the normal one like we make in Uruguay, and make it a bit spicier. Another thing is that we don’t serve pork here. Like a regular Uruguayan, I can eat beef everyday, but pork is something I eat occasionally,” he added.

If you’re new to the place, El Asador might be quite intimidating price wise for most Indonesians. However, once you dine here, you’ll realize that it’s actually pretty reasonable, especially when you consider the quality. That’s what makes people keep coming back for more, whether it’s Indonesian or expatriates. “I’ll be honest with you, people still think that meat is expensive. If you buy 200 gr of good steak from supermarket, it will cost you around Rp 150.000. In here, you add another Rp 100.000, you’ll get side dish and sauce, without messing your kitchen,” Eugenio laughed.

Kemang Point Building, Ground Floor, 

Jl. Kemang Raya No.3, Bangka, Mampang Prapatan, Jakarta 17230
Phone: +6221 7182  206