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Bring Binoculars

Outpost of Argentine pampas persists on the Lower East Side

Situated at Suffolk and Stanton, Azul occupies one of the few remaining Lower East Side corners that can be called out-of-the-way. Banks of windows stare at a public school's bare wall and a defunct haber-dasher called Smart Clothes, which apparently wasn't too smart after all. The minute you enter and your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you'll spot signs advertising such unfamiliar products as Quilmes (a beer named for a pre-Columbian ruin), Havanna (a brand of dulce de leche, a thick caramel sauce), and the glossy mag El Gráfico, pages of which are plastered all over the ceiling. Some are quite racy, so bring your binoculars. Eventually, the gimmick dawns on you: Azul is an Argentine parrilla remade in the mold of an East Village French bistro. Not a bad idea, since Buenos Aires likes to call itself the Paris of the south. Azul's patrons are a mix of expats from the pampas and Loisaida locals who've stumbled on an excellent place to bolt massive quantities of meat at sub-steak-house prices.

Pinnacle pig-out is the parrillada for two ($38), which comes sizzling on a cast-iron serving tray, spewing atomized tallow and other animal fats into the air. Smell your sweater after you get home and you'll perceive the strength of its olfactory contribution to your wardrobe. The collection includes a long portion of the Argentine fave skirt steak, done medium rare unless you demand otherwise; a pleasantly plain pork sausage; a blood sausage appropriately squishy inside its casing, flavored with sage instead of cumin; a brace of flattened sweetbreads, crusty on the outside, with a creamy interior; a pair of tender baby lamb chops, done to a turn; and a quarter-chicken that, though it's been roasted rather than grilled, has fortuitously perched on your platter anyway. This stupefyingly large collection is served with chimichurri, a condiment of parsley, olive oil, and raw garlic.

This parrillada comes with a generous plate of world-class fries and a salad as boring as a presidential news conference. That's OK; you didn't come here to eat salad. Other typical Argentine viands can be ordered separately, including the steak called churrasco ($21), a thick rib eye that's the equal of the best steak in many fancy midtown steak houses, checking in with a nice crisp char on its surface, while surpassingly bloody and tender beneath. I'd skip the filet mignon if I were you; it's the world's most boring cut of meat. Much better is asado de tira (for two; $38), very short ribs dripping with fat and as smoky as a midnight marshmallow roast at a Boy Scout camp.

Since meat selections are furnished with fries and salad, bistro-style, why bother with appetizers? In this main-course milieu, Azul better make the appetizers especially good, and it does. While the free side salad goes underdressed, the paid-for appetizer salad comes with individual carafes of red-wine vinegar, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Use the first two and add a shake of salt. Three other starters are even better: a Patagonian baby-octopus stew ($8) laced with garlic and red beans, a tower of breaded-and-fried eggplant discs glued together with goat cheese called eggplant milanesa, and an open-faced toasted provolone-and-tomato sandwich that soaks the bread with delicious juices. All three are heartily recommended—even though none involves meat.

 
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