Metrô bus Cobal do Humaitá
On a drizzly Tuesday night, the packed dining room of Tragga is testament to the impact of a sleek new restaurant in Humaitá, a neighbourhood better known for late-night bars and clubs than fancy foods. Indeed, the dark wood interior and gentle jazz piano music sits in stark contrast to the trendy Meza bar opposite, but our fellow diners aren’t lacking in their own brand of (admittedly slightly older) brouhaha.
Which is good, because Tragga looks to bring the essence of the Argentine steakhouse to Rio, and the essence of our Latin American neighbour’s approach to their beef is simplicity, with a flat chunk of wood instead of a serving dish, abundant red wine infusing the atmosphere. The wine list here houses a healthy but not unnecessarily lengthy selection of reds, the vast majority from Mendoza (R$69-$252) supplemented by a handful of interesting-sounding Patagonian, Brazilian and Uruguaian offerings, but Europe also gets a look in and half bottles start at R$38.
Seizing a Nieto Senetiner Malbec (R$72) and an Empananda Salteña (R$7), the small pie bore a striking resemblance to a good, honest Cornish pasty, right down to the buttery pastry and small chunks of (not minced) meat. Good between two, the Chorizo especiales (R$36) selection would go nicely between four, combining what was essentially a very juicy pork banger, two unmistakable picanha efforts and a triumvirate of skinny lamb sausages, but definitely nothing resembling chorizo in the paprika-red European sense.
The meat options are spelt out by cut (Argentine version) and weight, running from sirloin (Bife de Chorizo) to flank (Vacio) and lamb shank (Carré de Cordeiro), but sadly the traditional wooden board is jettisoned in favour of china plate. Finally opting for the Assada de tira, a ‘special’ cut of rib over the Prime rib, the way the steak is butchered made for a less satisfying and fiddly eat rather than the meat falling from around the bone, but the flavour wasn't to be faulted.
More successful was the house cut, the Bife Tragga, an intriguingly presented chunk of knife-scored sirloin, considerably more tender with the traces of fat melted into the meat. Sides run from Brazilian classics like farofa (manioc flour) to more typical Argentine accompaniments like creamed spinach (R$11) and seared vegetables (R$12), attractive enough in their griddle-lined finish but not given long enough on our visit.
Tragga undoubtedly goes for a more refined take on Argentina’s strong culinary heritage, but, as is commonplace to appeal to the local palette, giving them a gentle Brazilian twist. For many that will come as a welcome touch, for others it might seem to slightly miss the point.