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November 18, 2015

First Look: Malbec Argentine Steakhouse comes to Headhouse Square

Argentina's parilla and red wine tradition land in Philadelphia

Food Restaurants
05-111715_Malbec_Carroll.jpg Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

18oz. grilled New York strip steak topped with the traditional Argentinian chimichurri sauce.

The Argentine tradition of the Asado, a colossal grill accompanied by ever-flowing Malbec, signifies far more than your average belt-busting barbecue. Argentines have an expression – la verdad de la milanesa – that equates “the real deal” with their signature breaded filets. Steak is Argentina’s way of life, and in less than a month, that proud cultural repast will take root in Society Hill. 

Stationed in the former digs of The Artful Dodger, Malbec Argentine Steakhouse is primed to bring Philadelphia a national cuisine that an otherwise diversified restaurant scene has sorely lacked. 

“There’s nothing in this area that is Argentine,” said Malbec owner Miriam Porto, a Cuban native whose thriving Madera steakhouse in Long Island City became a hit backed by her more than 30 years of restaurant experience.

“We are going to cook our meat the gaucho way, and we promise to take the cooking of the country to the city with the same flavor you find in Argentina. Philly needs something like this.”

The interior of Malbec Argentine Steakhouse. (Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice)

Chef Will Anderson will employ the core cooking method that defines Argentina’s parilla style: a huge charcoal fired grill for preparing meats and vegetables.

Porto fired off a mouthwatering list of steak cuts to be featured on Malbec’s menu: T-bone, porterhouse, rib-eye, lomito, filet mignon, milanesa. “All of the high-end meat at a very reasonable price – you don’t have to be rich to join us for a meal here.” 

All of the staples of Argentine cuisine will be available to flank your steaks, from half a dozen variations on the empanada to hearty pastas, pampeano (grilled vegetables) and sausages like chorizo and salchicha parillera. On the 29th of every month, In keeping with a time-honored superstition, gnochis will be served to bring good luck to those hard on financial luck. 

Grilled Chilean sea bass with sauteed spinach, apple-tomato pico de gallo and a raspberry balsamic cream sauce. (Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice)

“Malbec brings a combination of Italian and Spanish foods cooked to perfection with our own seasonings and salsas,” said co-owner Walter Aragonez, who hails from the Argentine city of Rosario, home of soccer superstar Lionel Messi. “We serve our meat on a sizzling hot pan and pair it with our custom chimichurri sauce, sweet bread and delicious wine.” 

When Malbec’s doors open in December with a grand fiesta, patrons can expect an ambiance both cozy and flush with life. The smell of steaks searing in the kitchen permeate the restaurant while the walls are adorned with the bold, tango-themed paintings of Porto’s husband, Daniel Sollosqui, of Buenos Aires, who studied under the Argentine master Benito Quinquela Martín. 

“Our idea is for Malbec to be an art gallery too,” Sollosqui said. “We’ll be changing out paintings regularly to keep the scenery fresh and interesting.”

A painting by Daniel Sollosqui. (Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice)

The interior is designed to accommodate every kind of guest, whether you’re stopping by for a bite or spending a full evening. In the back, near the kitchen, a private booth will seat a couple or a family in search of an intimate meal together. Around the classic U-shaped bar, one side will have a TV and the other side won’t, satisfying both the sports pub crowd and the conversationalists. Just blocks from Old City and South Street, located on the corner of 2nd Street in the historic cobblestone village of Headhouse Square, Malbec can expect to attract plenty of business while still enjoying a peaceful distance from busy nearby neighborhoods.

“Our main commitment is to work hard for our customers every day,” said Grisella Jara, Aragonez’ fiancé, who holds up Porto’s experience as an example of how superior service will generate success. “Milli is our leader and Danny demands perfection, so that’s what will make us stand out.”

Malbec will be taking up The Artful Dodger's old address at 400-402 S. 2nd. St. (Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice)

A purist in the kitchen, Porto explained that all of Malbec’s ingredients will be cooked the same day they’re purchased – meaning plenty of lunch and dinner specials from seafood to pasta. 

“I do not believe in freezing anything,” Porto said. “Food has to be fresh, and that’s our promise to our customers. Everyone who walks through our doors is a very special guest. From the kitchen to the front of the house, we’re bringing our customers quality every single day.”

Malbec’s bar manager, Bash Abudahri, echoed that philosophy. 

“We want to return the freshness to cocktails,” Abudahri said. “So many bars in Philadelphia just make their drinks from the gun, but we’ll be squeezing and blending all of our ingredients from scratch. We’re also offering all kinds of Malbec and other red wines, some craft beers, and Argentina’s signature cocktail, Fernet and Coke.” 

Of course, no Argentine meal would be complete without dessert. You’ll have to create some room for the homemade flaming dulce de leche pancakes and flan, ice cream and coffee to stave off the food coma. (As locals might tell you, “a veces, tiene que echar panza,” or, “sometimes you have to let yourself go and get fat”). 

Everyone is welcome for a night of food, wine, sangria, and mojitos at the grand opening celebration, Porto says, which is slated for the first or second week of December. “We want everyone to come out and get to know us. We expect to be here for a long time.”