Let's get something straight about Angus Bar and Grill: It's all about the chimichurri.
That bright-green slurry of parsley, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil is all-important at the 3-month-old restaurant. Piquant and herbal, its flavor is something like a sharper, sunnier pesto. Slathered atop a massive hunk of charred beef, the grassy, tart sauce complements the meat's earthiness like brass trumpeting over a slinky bass line.
And yet, this chimichurri tastes great on just about everything. My friends and I had decided as much during a recent visit to Angus. We liberally splashed the stuff on top of our crusty Argentine bread patted with butter. We surrendered to it our skillet of crisp-broiled provolone cheese, then our salads and finally our steaks too. The point of no return came when my fiancée, Danielle, contemplated upending the final few tablespoons of chimichurri straight into her spinach lasagna ($8.95).
"Would that be gross?" she asked rhetorically, already spooning the garlicky sauce onto her pasta. Turns out, the answer is no. Mixed in with the lasagna's smooth pink sauce, it was equally awesome, if not woefully indulgent.
I doubt we're the first people to try that one out. After all, Angus goes through a veritable trough of chimichurri on a daily basis. I imagine to fill the demand, the restaurant must have a team of gauchos churning out the dense, green sauce with oompa-loompa-like proficiency. Our waiter informed us that's not far from the truth. "We make it constantly throughout the day," he said, adding that the process is actually quite arduous, requiring extensive washing to remove all the sandy grit from the parsley as well as a careful hand at ensuring the proper ratio of garlic, vinegar, and oil.
That sounds like a lot of precision for just one sauce in a brand-new restaurant. But Angus is not really a new restaurant. It just so happens that Angus opened a mere week after the somewhat iconic (and identical) Beef Eater Steak House abruptly closed its doors this past October. The closure was shocking, to say the least, because Beef Eater was as much of an anchor on ever-changing Hollywood Boulevard as you could get. During its eight years in business, the steak house had garnered plenty of praise — including from this paper — for its faithful re-creation of Argentine classics at egalitarian prices.
Beef Eater's sudden departure — coupled with Angus' stealthy arrival — is not a coincidence. It more likely was a result of a protracted legal battle over unpaid wages, a feud that began in 2009 and that, according to the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts, has yet to be settled. Compounding the intrigue is that the Beef Eater's former owner, Susana Quiroga, isn't listed as a principal of Angus on business documents filed with the state. But her husband, Sebastian Pappalettera, is. He's the registered agent for both restaurants.
Turns out the employees of Angus are pretty tight-lipped about the move. Waiters and managers at the restaurant have refused to give any information about its past life. And when I called Angus' office line to find out more, the phone was answered by a female with an accent who refused to give her name. When I asked her if she could answer even simple questions about the food, she declined and hung up. Such drama!
No matter what the truth is behind the shady split, one thing is clear: The cross-street move isn't fooling anyone. Angus' menu is literally identical to Beef Eater's. Much of the staff is held over too. Hollywood residents — you can identify them as the customers sitting at the open-air tables in front of the restaurant, gabbing away with their toy-sized dogs underfoot — are already calling this place Beef Eater Part Two or something equally smarmy. The only question is, is the food at Angus as good as the original?
To this palate, yes. Especially if you use enough chimichurri.
But let's get this straight first: Angus, like Beef Eater before it, is not a place for fine steaks. The grassy mountains of Argentina may be ideal for raising lean, grass-fed cattle, and the beef that hails from there may be known for its marbling, its flavor, and its lower concentration of harmful saturated fats. But Angus is not serving grass-fed beef — I doubt what it's serving is even prime quality. What it is cooking, however, is a steak for the Everyman. Nowhere is that exhibited better than in an executive lunch special that comes with charred skirt steak, glistening from the lick of the grill and dewy with juice, and a choice of side and salad. It's still just $7, the same as it was at Beef Eater five years ago. At dinner, you can order a combo platter featuring all manner of charred meat for a ridiculous $13. Is it the same as ordering a $50 dry-aged rib eye? Of course not. But the beef is cooked exactingly, and the portions are copious. What more can you ask for?
The best bets at Angus are the cheapest — and simplest. Starters such as garlic-roasted red peppers ($5.95) or crisp crusted provolone cheese served in a hot iron skillet ($11.95) are not complex, but a group of my friends gobbled them up with glee nonetheless. Empanadas ($2.50 each) are flaky little pastries stuffed with chicken or spinach or beef — small, yes, but definitely flavorful. Another appetizer featuring hearts of palm ($5.95) should be immediately familiar to South Floridians. The fleshy vegetable is like an artichoke heart but firmer and is softened by a drape of Russian dressing and a simple salad beneath. It's also fairly uninspired, but along with some bread and some chimichurri, it tastes just fine.
So, in fact, does Angus' sangria. My friend Maryanne and I split a half carafe of the ruddy concoction ($9.50), which was tasty and punchy despite being loaded with canned fruit cocktail as opposed to fresh apples, oranges, and grapes. Still, after a few glasses of the stuff, the otherwise Spartan restaurant seemed to take on a slightly attractive glow. That's a good thing: The space definitely lacks the rustic, dark-wood charm that Beef Eater once had. In place of the wood are vaguely creamy walls, paisley carpeting, and a smattering of Argentine "flair" such as cowhides and football posters. The tightly packed tables and broad, open design don't help either. A meal in that dining room feels more like eating in a cafeteria than a steak house.
My best advice: Sit outside, order the sangria, and stick to the cheaper cuts. Angus has a wide variety of steaks to choose from, from short ribs to sirloin to chorizo sausage. The aforementioned skirt steak, $14.95 at dinner, is a great way to go, pocked with char and grill marks and oozing juice onto the plate. Paired with some of Angus' house-made tagliatelle pasta, it's a meal fit for a cattle rustler. The pasta — one of the many sides that come with each steak and easily my favorite — is creamy-soft and rich with silky tomato-cream sauce.
Good too is the sirloin ($14.95), a well-muscled wedge of beef so thick that you can practically feel the bull bucking on the plate. Cut off a throbbing red hunk (cooked to a spot-on med-rare) and coat it with a shellacking of chimichurri and you'll be in beefy heaven. Tira, or short ribs ($11.95), are grilled so that the fat renders off, leaving behind succulent meat. They also have the benefit of giving you a bone to gnaw on afterward.
Not all the meat is prepared as well. Grilled sweetbreads, another Argentine classic, are usually my favorite. But the balloon-like offal that Angus serves ($7.95) were more gristle than anything else. And a rib-eye steak (the most expensive cut at $21.95) was composed mostly of fat. My friend spent most of his meal dissecting the steak, and what meat he excavated was unevenly cooked.
I felt so bad that he had to put up with that sad rib eye that I kept slipping him pieces of my vacio to compensate. Also known as "flap" or flank steak, vacio is one of the cheapest cuts on Angus' menu at $11.95. It's also easily the tastiest — a thick strip of beef with well-articulated musculature, little fat, and a deeply resonant beef flavor. The secret is the cheap cut, one that's immensely popular in South America but not so much here. Dollar for dollar, I'd put vacio up against almost any steak out there. Not to mention, it just seems to soak up that chimichurri better than any other cut.
That's really what Angus does best: turning the cheap into something extraordinary. There's a lot of flavor to be had here, and you don't need to spend a fortune to get at it. Just don't call it Beef Eater. At least, not in front of the staff.