Milanesa sandwich, morcilla and cream of asparagus soup are star items at Patagonia.

Patagonia Grill & Cafe opened in December of last year, so I realize that May is a bit late for a so-called "first look." But in all fairness, I didn't know that Patagonia Grill & Cafe even existed until I stumbled upon it last week in the same sort of happy accident that brings with it thrilling discoveries, such as the fact that Glamour Shots—which has a portrait studio directly next door to Patagonia—still exists.

Patagonia Grill & Cafe
8408 Katy Fwy., Ste. 220
713-468-8408
patagoniagrillhouston.com

I was intending to try the recently opened Buff Burger when I headed west down the Katy Freeway, past the new thicket of strip malls that have been erected on the north side of the freeway to serve the ever-growing population in both Spring Branch and the Memorial Villages on the south side. Everything in this little concentration of hastily-erected brick boxes looks the same to me, so I ended up driving right past Buff Burger and past Wirt, where I pulled into a parking lot to turn around and regain my bearings. And then I saw that I'd pulled into a parking spot directly in front of a place called Patagonia Grill & Cafe, which suddenly sounded a lot more interesting than a cheeseburger, no matter how sustainable those cheeseburgers may be.

From the outside, Patagonia looked like the sort of down-home South American joint you'd find a little further north on Long Point, like Pampa Grill & Market or Tinto Grill. Instead, I was surprised to find an elegant, semi-upscale restaurant with a long bar and an equally long wine list. Being there for lunch, however, I stuck to iced tea and instead indulged in a plump link of morcilla, Argentinean black pudding with the comforting flavor of warm spices like nutmeg against the hearty, sweet, boiled blood that makes up much of the sausage.

After polishing that off, I began to regret having ordered two more courses of food, but I couldn't help myself. Patagonia lists a cream of asparagus soup as a house favorite, and with asparagus in season I couldn't resist; the silky soup with a bright, vegetal snap was complemented well by the small plate of diced bacon and fried chicken meant to be tossed in right before eating. Between the sausage and the soup, I could have been perfectly satisfied, but there was still one more dish to come.

The handsome dining room

When the milanesa sandwich came out, I was shocked to see how large it was; this was definitely coming home with me. The thin veal cutlet, breaded and fried, was under a blanket of sliced ham and slightly melted Swiss cheese, with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle rounding it all out. Reviews I read later on Yelp complained that the milanesa was too greasy; I didn't find this to be the case at all, so perhaps Patagonia's cooks have lightened their touch. That said, the sandwich was heavy in its own way—listed on the lunch menu for $10, this is a sandwich that should ideally be split between two people, especially considering the generous portion of Russian salad that comes on the side.

As far as discoveries go, I'm certainly the last in a long line of people who've stumbled upon Patagonia judging by the lunchtime crowd last week, which kept the dining room busy throughout service. And it looks like the neighborhood has embraced their new restaurant with open arms too, probably eager to welcome a non-chain option into the area; as I left that day, the waitress handed me a flyer for an upcoming dinner by a guest chef—and not just any guest chef, but Sgt. Robert Moore of the Spring Valley Village Police Department. On Sgt. Moore's menu this past Monday was an array of hybrid Argentinean-Texan dishes—both areas love their beef, so overlap is natural—while dessert came from Sgt. Moore's wife, a tres leches cake.

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