Steak is the national obsession of Argentina, and for the last six years grilling steaks the Argentine way has been the calling of Jared Ralls, chef and partner at La Boca (857 Fulton St., 525-8205; www.labocasteaks.com). A New Orleans native, Ralls got his start in the restaurant business at age 15 at Teddy's Grill, a long-gone po-boy joint his uncle ran in Gentilly. He later worked as a general manager for Sun Ray Grill and was chef at Vega Tapas Cafe before joining business partners Adolfo Garcia and Nicolas Bazan to open La Boca in June 2006.
How is the cooking at La Boca different from what you'd find at an American-style steakhouse?
Ralls: The idea here is not to mess with the meat at all, just add salt and pepper. Let it speak for itself. If you buy good meat, it's not necessary to put butter and bordelaise all over it. And it's about the type of cuts we use and the intensity of the heat. For instance, the skirt steak, we put it on indirect heat and it might cook for half an hour like that. You can't just slap it on the grill and expect it to come out right.
Do customers ever need a little coaching with this style of steak?
R: The staff is trained on how to work with the customer and explain our menu. It starts with finding out what they usually eat at a steakhouse and then guiding them accordingly. If you like filet mignon, they might say, "Get the teres major," which is the most tender cut in the house. We just try to keep them in their comfort zone. That's part of the identity of this restaurant, not forcing something on them but showing them something else in our style.
The Warehouse District has become a hotbed for restaurants. What's it like to work in this part of town these days?
R: It's great, it really is. People eat with us and they say, "We like what you do, so tell us where to go next." And we love being able to send them to other restaurants right here in our neighborhood. — IAN MCNULTY