Gotta lotta empanada
Just when I'm making another attempt for the Korean place, a visitor shows up with an aversion to spicy food, so it's a quick dive into the files for some ideas. Texas Monthly comes to the rescue. (Note to self: thank double-in-laws for the subscription.)
My only previous experiences with Argentinan food were the emanadas the neighbors brought over for Thanksgiving (num-num) and those restaurants where faux gauchos wander around with skewers of meat and shave chunks off onto your plate. You know the ones, where they first lead you to the largest, most incredible and most diverse salad bar in the northern hemisphere in an attempt to maintain their profit margins by filling you up with low-cost veggies. I bet Atkins diet folks love those places! The meat just keeps on coming.
The Buenos Aires Cafe is not one of those places. It's a small building nestled between the GSM Lounge and Great American Pawn. In fact, failing to write down anything but "First and Oltorf," we completely missed it and had to call to find out where they were. The fact that it was night and a light was burned out on the sign didn't help. A less-than-auspicious location, perhaps, but brethern, I would not have you deceived, for the true gastronome looks not on the outward appearance, but upon the cuisine within. And boy, the cuisine that is within.
When I say within, I'm still not saying much. It contains 9 tables. We sat at the one in the back left corner under the round frame there in the picture. It was 7pm on a Tuesday night and about half the tables were occupied. Everyone looked very happy to be there. From the first bite there was no question why. We nibbled on some garlic bread until the empanadas came. These were great. For the uninitiated (which included me before Thanksgiving) an empanada is a flakey-crusted paramecium-shaped pastry about 4 inches long. What's inside depends on the kind of empanada. It could be meat, veggies, fruit or an iPod. (I'm just joking about the iPod.) We got two, the spinach and the chicken. Verrrrrr nice. A return trip to try the beef is indicated.
We opted for side salads. I went for the spinach, which included feta, black olives and spicy-sweet roasted pecans with sweet balsamic vinaigrette. Next time I might just do emapandas and salad, it's that good. The gals went for the house, which had hearts of palm. They didn't say much, their mouths being full most of the time, but the plates were practically licked clean, so you can draw your own conclusions.
For the entree we went family style with these three items:
- PASTEL DE PAPAS: An Argentinean style Shepherd’s pie. A combination of ground beef, green onions, raisins, green olives, herbs, and spices topped with mashed potatoes and baked until golden brown.
- POLLO AL HORNO: Half breast of chicken marinated and roasted with fresh herbs and spices, complimented by a humita (Argentinean tamale) and sautéed vegetables.
- GNOCCHI OF THE DAY: Little Double-Bubble-sized nuggets of flavored pasta including jalapeno, pumpkin and two other flavors I don't recall along with some veggies and artichoke hearts. (As you may have guessed, this isn't the menu description. It was a special and was reeled off by the server. My memory is a little sketchy on the details.)
It was absolutely incredible. All of it. Slap-your-gramma good. I kept thinking, "I'm in this little joint off First and Oltorf, eating what looks and tastes like it could have come out of a multi-star nose-bleed restaurant. And all three of the entrees under $15 each.
We finished off by splitting a flan, which officially ruined my good boy status. But every day is a fresh start, or so I hear.