Category Archives: Argentine

Andes Cafe

I continue to be impressed with Houston’s EaDo neighborhood’s quirky nightlife offerings and counter-culture sentiment. When surveying the choices for Restaurant Weeks I was curious about Andes Cafe not only for their EaDo location but for the fact that they bill themselves as pan South American.

Atmosphere
Located on the ground floor of a building that looks like an adult rehab center, the atmosphere inside is surprisingly lively and colourful. I wasn’t convinced I needed a reservation for this place but did so since our group was large. Glad about that since there were no free tables in the small space from 8-11p. It is loud, densely-packed and given the open kitchen, the smells of grilled meat and corn are in constant pursuit of your attention. I liked it, it reminded me of NYC. Looking for quiet conversation and romance? Keep looking.

Food
The menu annotates the dishes with their country of origin – the majority from Columbia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. I went Restaurant Weeks menu for dinner but back to the regular menu for an additional Peruvian appetizer since it was recommended from a friend who is from Peru. For me, all of the items were a win, however several people were not happy with their grilled meats – too tough and dry. Maybe an artifact of too many patrons, not enough chefs.

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Antichucos: Grilled beef heart kebabs. I think the last time I had organ meat the X Files was still on the air. They were extremely flavourful, mostly picking up garlic, salt and the inherent gaminess of the meat. Served with choclo (big corn kernels) and huacatay sauce (black peppermint).

Causita de Camerones: Potato mash, molded then served with an interesting combination of amarillo aji, olives, shrimp, avocado, queso fresco and a side of mild salsa. The flavours were unexpected but delicious; the experience is up to you and how you decide to mix the potato cake with the other ingredients. The glue here is definitely the amarillo aji sauce; a creamy yellow pepper sauce with a little bit of heat.

Sudado de Pescado: I wasn’t clear what type of fish fillet was used in this stew but its was light and flaky. The stock for the stew was tomato based but with an inherent sweetness, from a good dose of caramelized onion and acidity, from a good dose of fresh lime. I liked. While I didn’t use any of the steamed white rice on the side, it was a nice touch for those wanting a more starchy consistency.

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Drink
Andes does not yet have a liquor license but you can BYOB for the standard corking fee. You could churn butter about EaDo looking for a last minute liquor store to purchase wine – good luck with that – or you could just bring what you have.

Service
There were two guys waiting on 10 tables and about 35 people. That said, service was good. We were not in any hurry anyway. When one from our table complained about the toughness of the meat, that meal was deleted from the bill without further conversation.

Price
Reasonable from what I’ve seen in other comparable South American venues. Small plates, $5-10. Large plates, $10-15.

Dinner: August 2014

Andes Cafe | 2311 Canal | HTX 77003

Tango y Malbec

IMG_2332At the half-way mark through Restaurant Weeks, our work-lunch crew investigated this Galleria-area Argentine steakhouse, Tango y Malbec, an across-board win.

Its no secret to Houstonians that a sizable portion of Galleria-area residential is owned by wealthy Central and South Americans who either work or play in Houston. That said, you’d assume good Central and South American fare would run amok in the neighbourhood. Sadly, not so, which makes the few good choices, like Tango, all the more obvious.

Atmosphere
Black and Red dominate the large interior which contrasts starkly with the innocuous strip mall setting. I asked a tango dancer in Argentina why they typically dress in black and red. His response – ‘el fuego y el misterio’ – the fire and mystery. I suppose that pairs well with Tango. And also Malbec. Inside is 4 spaces; a large dining area, a private wine table room, a bar and a private dining room. I found out from server than on Saturday night the spaces are dramatically re-configured to host demonstration tango dancers. Definitely a romantic if not sexy setting for date night.

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Food
From the Restaurant Weeks lunch menu I chose

Empanadas: Its the national dish, of course I tried it. One spinach, one beef, both good  with crispy, flaky pastry, but the beef was much more flavorful with distinct overtones of green olive and possibly dried currants or raisins. Both paired exceptionally well with the odd but appealing creamy version of chimichurri sauce.

Grilled Flank Steak: Good quality cut, basted with chimichurri, grilled to order, served with additional chimichurri and roasted root vegetables. Very good and reminiscent of the many meals I had in Buenos Aires.

Coconut Flan: Dense, incredibly rich, almost the consistency of cream cheese. The coconut flavour in this dessert is very intense. The side of dulce de leche, while obligatory for almost all Argentine desserts, is not necessary. However,  for those wanting extra sweetness and creaminess, its available.

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Service
There were some hiccups with the reservation. Since I factor in 20% no-show, the ten people who responded ‘yes’ translated into me making a reservation for 8. However they received a reservation for 6. We had zero no-shows so the nice wine-room table they set up for us wasn’t sufficient. They quickly reconfigured other tables and relocated us, not even their mumblings in Spanish were complaints.  Otherwise, dishes came out in perfect succession; it was exactly one hour from start to finish.

Price
Of course, the 3-course, $20 lunch is a great value. The regular dinner menu is on-par with their high-rent digs and the quality of the offerings : apps hover about $15, entrees, $25-30.

Lunch: August 2014

Tango y Malbec | 2800 Sage @ Alabama | HTX 77056

 

 

 

Empamundo

Th-upI always associate empanadas with Argentina. However, I don’t know if their origins are from Argentina and if you ask anyone from Latin America you will get the same answer as asking someone from the Middle East about the country specific origins of hummus. Don’t ask, its a black hole from which a definitive answer will never emerge. Just enjoy your food and move on!

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this empanada house in Irving, Texas – of all places. The empanadas I had in Buenos Aires were rolled thick by hand, 2 tablespoons of filling placed on half the round which was IMG_1066hand closed and crimped. They were absolutely delicious but the focus is on the buttery crunchy crust; the filling is merely an accessory. At Empamundo, they are machine rolled, thin, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filling is placed into the center, then they are mechanically sealed. The focus is on the filling, the crust is an accessory. The effect is undeniably enjoyable.

The owners are a couple: He is from Buenos Aires, She is from Indonesia. They are both extremely warm and good at business; the combination is rare. Like any ethnic food venue in Texas, its important to acknowledge the local demographics. They have done so by keeping a portion of their empanada offerings true to Argentine standards, while extending the menu for local tastes – witness the Brisket Empanada and the Cheesesteak Empanada. Their approach has been wildly successful and we’ll see if my subliminal message of “Houston, Houston, Houston” will precipitate an expansion southward.

Atmosphere

None, don’t come here for atmosphere. Its located in a scruffy, ubiquitous strip mall and has limited seating. Better to order to go, chat with the owners during the wait, then consume elsewhere.

Service

Fantastic. They are both very personable and like chatting with customers. Some of it is business courtesy, however they also seem genuinely interested in knowing the people walking through their doors. My wait was only 15 minutes but during that time I chatted with He and She, learning more about His history in Argentina and His prowess at being on the sharp end of the business stick.

Food

All wins

  • Criolla : Beef, onions, green olives, raisins with chopped egg. The raisins and green olives, while strong, actually work together in a successful flavor balance. Toothy and filling, this was easily my favorite.
  • Ham & Cheese : Strips of juicy ham and a salty yellow cheese with the visual and taste surprise of red bell strips and mushrooms. The flavors were good but I used too much of the included Chimichurri sauce, which drowned out the most everything but the salty aspect. Next time, no Chimichurri with this one.
  • Brisket: How could I not try this? Delicious. Texas standard brisket – smoky and sweet – manages to stay inside in the empanada, however I don’t know how, considering its fall-to-pieces tender. Worthy of a redux.

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Price

Inexpensive. You can easily be pleasantly full for less than $8.

Sucky photos courtesy of my dirty-lensed iPhone — you’re welcome!

Dinner: 10 May 2013

Empamundo | 3977 N. Belt Line Rd. | Irving TX 75038