An El Gaucho Dining Experience to Remember

Sorry for the storytelling format but this is just a cut and paste from my blog Zinfandel Chronicles. I did think it worthy of a thread here though.

An El Gaucho Dining Experience to Remember

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.

Thanks for reading.


What a great story – and what an amazing example of customer service that went way beyond the norm. I will definitely put El Gaucho on my list of places to try when we start heading out to restaurants again (we have a six month old…)

That is a class act. Above and beyond…

James, Dasha and Cooper are all top notch at Gaucho.

Thanks for sharing.

Just a great share Tom! Man, in most other restaurants, that would have been a night/bday crushing catostraphe. So awesome they jumped right on it, knew exactly how to handle it…and offered you replacement wine choices that were, without question, at LEAST the equal of the wines that were spilled in regards to quality (I can just picture being at Capital Grille or something and the server saying “sorry we don’t have that exact wine to replace it with…but we do have this awesome bottle of 2014 Caymus!”)

And then to comp the entire meal!?!? Class act all around, and a place I would seek out just because of this story.

Oh…and happy Birthday!

Now that is service. Happy birthday!

That is a great tale of classy service!

I gotta say that kind of treatment is something I would make sure I found my way back there to spend what I had planned on spending to begin with!

Glad you salvaged the night, too!

This is EXACTLY the experience that would earn me as a life-long customer if I were to experience it. At the very least…it’s the sort of thing that makes me want to seek out this restaurant the next time I’m in Seattle visiting my brother. I hope someone from the leadership of this restaurant stumbles onto this posting.

  • a whole lot

compare that to Mastro’s steak house near S. Coast Plaza. They set a sizzling coated-in-butter steak in front of me on my birthday a few years ago; I was wearing a new silk shirt my wife had bought me. Hundreds of little butter stains suddenly appeared on the shirt, as I had been unaware of the sartorial risks of a butter-coated sizzling steak. They shrugged and did nothing when I complained. Haven’t been back. Shirt went in the trash after the dry cleaner couldn’t get the stains out.

Great story of customer service and earning a customer for life.

Thanks Tom, I have had many meals at El Gaucho and this reminds me to get to the Big city soon.

Fun Story and happy birthday! Seattle location I assume? That has always been the Real el gaucho for me.

Nothing like a good story to make a milestone birthday memorable.

Totally agree Scott, I live 10 minutes from the Tacoma location but will put up with the commute to eat downtown anyday

Yes. Seattle location. Classic dining in every sense.


A great story (and a happy birthday to you) that unfortunately shows the customer service discrepancy between their locations. Recently, we were not permitted to open more than 1 bottle for a party of four at their Portland location… with each of us bringing a great bottle, we walked.

I’ve enjoyed several meals at El Gaucho. Nice to hear they are so customer-oriented. They do make a killer Caesar salad.

I really miss their little speakeasy they used to have open on weekends underneath the main restaurant (Pampas Room). I used to go there often for jazz, cocktails, and dancing. On nights when the Sonics played NBA players would occasionally drop in.

Wow, this story just brought a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve been to the Seattle location and have always been impressed, and your story cements many returns for us in the future. Very cool to hear about the '98 Leonetti.

That is unfortunate as the wine service in Seattle was on point. They did not give pause for multiple bottles, gave us the option of multiple glasses and great care was taken decanting the wines including the successful extraction of a broken cork.