El Gaucho Retains Original
Restaurant Dining Magic
By Fred Delkin
Restaurant extended longevity is a rare commodity. We were taken back in time recently with
a visit to Portland's outpost of Seattle-born El Gaucho, steakhouse extrordinaire. The original
Seattle location taught us what upscale dining was all about when we were yet a college student.
It opened in 1953 as downtown Seattle's classiest enterprise. Current owner Paul Mackay served
there as dining room manager before it closed in 1986. Mackay revived the El Gaucho tradition in
1996 at the current Belltown location at First & Wall.
Since then, Paul has extended the El Gaucho format
to Tacoma, Portland and Bellevue.
The format is nostalgic in food, service and interior
design, harking back to the masculine, classy days
of the downtown supper club, as in Manhattan or
Chicago. Tuxedo-clad waiters boe to your desires
and tableside preparations of such classics as
Caesar Salad and Bananas Foster match your
utmost expectations. The bar adjoining the
booth-lined, low-lit dining area offers an extensive
collection of rare, aged single malt scotches and
bourbons to make a Kentuckian proud.
Portland bar manager Mark Joseph has been with the local site since its opening and is
well-deserving of the title "expert mixologist." He concocts the perfect Martini and a variety
of cocktail classics, as well as originals he matches to the season. The wine list extends to
some 400 labels, largely born in Oregon and Washington. The wine nut's bible, Wine
Spectator, has recognized El Gaucho with no less than seven "Awards of Excellence."
The cuisine is centered upon steak, but also offers Ribs, Pork, Poultry and Seafood.
The dining atmosphere is highlighted by an open bed ofcoals in a vertical exhibition grill bordering
the dining area. The Mackay regime purchases only Certified Angus Prime for steaks that include
Filet Mignon, New York Strip and Ribeye. Angus Beef Prime meets quality standards that exceed
USDA Prime, with marbling for flavor and tenderness
like no other. Dry Aging takes 28 days to achieve
perfection. Our viewing of cuts prior to cooking
elicited our resounding "Wow!"
The signature El Gaucho appetizer is "Wicked Shrimp,"
prawns grilled with a spicy dusting of seasonings. If one
loves tableside dramatics, Flaming Sword Shish Kabob
or Chateaubriand Steak carved for two are headliners.
El Gaucho extends its expertise to a selection of fine
cigars that can be enjoyed in the on-premise
thoroughly ventilated cigar room.
You pay for all this pampering, but surprisingly,
it is easily worth the pricing, which is not exorbitant, and you cqan dine like European royalty.
The Mackay empire is now supervised by Paul's son Chad, who took on the role of President
and CEO in 2005. Chad prepped as a busboy, waiter, line cook and chef under his father's
guidance before being crowned. He is a licensed private pilot, holds a Bachelor's degree in
business from Seattle University, is married to a tax attorney, and has a son to carry on a
distinguished salute to fine dining for the forseeable future. It is comforting to know that a dining
memory from our now distant past is very much alice and well, and right here in lil' ol' Portland!
© 2010 Oregon Magazine