This past week marked my 50th birthday, and the culmination of my week-long celebration was dinner at El Gaucho on Saturday. The evening was arranged by my amazing wife Lisa, and included my life-long friend Sean and his equally amazing wife Tracy. El Gaucho, for my money, has always been one of the top steak houses in Seattle. To that end, and to wrap a week of incredible wines, I brought a bottle of ’95 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon and a bottle of ’98 Leonetti Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy with our meal.
To set the stage for our experience, you should know that El Gaucho is famous for their tableside service. Our selections on this particular night included a Caesar Salad, Chateaubriand, and Bananas Foster, all of which were prepared while we watched. As our appetizers of pancetta-wrapped prawns and seared diver sea scallops were delivered, the sommelier suggested we move the wines, now in decanters, to the tableside cart to create more room for our first course plates.
After we savored the appetizers, it was time for the salad course. What happened next was both chaotic and surreal: As our server moved to clear the bowls and utensils she used to toss the Ceasars, the cart lost a wheel and collapsed toward Lisa and Tracy. Glasses shattered and dishes fell to the floor. My first thought was that the decanters of our wine were part of the carnage, but somehow both emerged without a scratch. It soon became clear, as I helped my wife sponge wine out of her purse with our napkins, that there was a fair amount of wine lost – both women were wearing quite a bit of the Dalla Valle, likely with a Leonetti spritz.
The staff at El Gaucho immediately went into crisis management mode. They quickly found us a new table, whipped up new salads, and brought what was left of the decanted Dalla Valle and Leonetti. We lost the Leonetti that was in the goblets due to broken glass concerns, and I suspect we lost a glass or two of the Dalla Valle before Tracy instinctively snatched the decanter prior to it hitting the floor.
As we settled in trying to make the most of an uncomfortable situation, the El Gaucho General Manager approached and placed bottles of 2010 Mouton Rothschild and 2008 Lafite Rothchild in front of me. He acknowledged that they couldn’t replace the wine we lost, but they wanted to make things right with one of these from their cellar. I was sorely tempted by the Lafite as I have yet to have the privilege of trying this Chateau, but the wine geek in me won out and I went with the better vintage (plus some vague memory that a critic or two may have scored the Mouton at 100 points). Without getting into specifics here, both of these wines are incredibly expensive at retail, and even more so on a restaurant wine list.
From this point forward, our evening was considerably less exciting. The steaks were fantastic and the deserts were amazing, and as the evening wrapped up our server told us the entire meal was being taken care of by El Gaucho. We felt they had been more than generous with the wine and were happy to pay, but she insisted that was not an option (we did manage to sneak in an appropriate tip). As we left, the GM encouraged us to send any dry cleaning or clothing replacement costs to him for reimbursement.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the wines. I tend not to take notes on nights like this but the Dalla Valle and Leonetti were both pristine. Tremendous aromatics, great texture and flavors. The perfect foils to an exquisitely cooked steak. Each wine is a great place right now.
The Mouton, albeit young, was almost beyond description. Immensely concentrated and powerful with cassis and plum laden flavors and this almost surreal smoky quality. God willing, I’d love to try this wine again on my 75th Birthday.
The staff at El Gaucho, General Manager James Parsons in particular, handled the evening with the utmost class and turned what could have been a disaster of a birthday into a culinary adventure. El Gaucho has a tremendous and well-deserved reputation for a reason. I truly look forward to my next opportunity to visit.
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