Let’s cut to the chase. When the subject is Argentina, the conversation typically focuses on beef, Malbec, seafood and tango. And yes, the beef in Argentina is good, and so is the beef at Artango Bar & Steakhouse, an Argentine restaurant in Lincoln Square. In fact, Artango does a good job with virtually everything I loved about the food in Buenos Aires. The only thing missing is the city itself.
Buenos Aires is a "European" city, complete with Parisian-style architecture and a population mix dominated by immigrants from Italy, Spain and various other parts of Europe. Argentina is second only to the United States in the number of immigrants it has absorbed. Make that a distant second. Even so, that puts Argentina ahead of Canada, Australia and Brazil. On the other hand, Argentina’s indigenous Indians account for less than 5% of the country’s total population, and very few of them live in Buenos Aires.
Argentina is the 5th largest producer of wine in the world. The first cuttings were brought to the area in 1557, but until the 1990s, most of the wine produced in Argentina was consumed locally. More than half of Argentina's wines are produced in Mendoza, an area west of Buenos Aires.
While Malbec is Argentina's best known variety, the country does produce wines made with other grapes. Artango's wine list includes a good selection of Malbecs, in addition to several other Argentine varieties. French and Italian wines round out the list.
Deciding which of Artango's steaks to order was difficult. Leaner cuts, while tasty, are tougher than a well-marbled steak. That was certainly the case with the steak (tasty and tough) I ordered at the tango show in Buenos Aires. After weighing the options, we opted for the well-marbled ribeye.(tasty and tender). It was a good choice.
Buenos Aires is on the Atlantic coast, so it’s no surprise that seafood plays a major role in what people eat, both at home and in restaurants. Artango menus paella made with a variety of seafood, ceviches made with ahi tuna, langostinos, and a good selection of whatever fish are market fresh.
The paella we enjoyed in both Chile and Argentina was made with an impressive array of seafood, as is Artango's Paella del Sur. Expect shrimp, scallops, calamari, and mussels, all served on a bed of saffron rice. The “small” serves 1-2, the large 3-4.
In general, “aji” is all about hot peppers, and if it’s used to describe a marinade, sauce, or condiment, it’s safe to assume that the marinade, sauce or condiment is “hot.” Used correctly, a touch of heat gives food a kick without obliterating the other flavors in a dish. That was certainly the case with Artango's langostines marinated in “aji-adobe” and served with an “aji panco aioli.”
Dulche de Leche is a caramelized mix of sugar and milk, and in Buenos Aires, it's ubiquitous. The flavor is intense, and like a good chocolate, it's meant to be savored. At Artango, we ended the meal with a muffin-sized cake filled with dulche de leche and garnished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Think molten lava cake, only caramel.
Good as they are, it wasn't the beef, or the Malbec, or the seafood that brought Artango's owners, Maria Alferov and Sebastian Casanova, together: it was the tango. Sebastian, an artist born in Buenos Aires, decided to take tango lessons. Maria, a native of Ukraine who'd fallen in love with the tango during a visit to Buenos Aires, was the instructor. A lot of classes later, the couple were married.
Sebastian and Maria, who just happens to be a graduate of The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, opened Artango Bistro in Ravenswood in 2013. Two years later, the space on Lincoln Avenue became available.
One more thing: the name of the restaurant is a union of art and tango.
Artango Bar & Steakhouse, 4767 N. Lincoln Avenue 872.208.7441
Information about Artango's tango lessons, along with a list of upcoming events, is available at artangosteakhouse.com
Phat Phat Chinese Eatery
Dishes inspired by the "culinary scenes in Southeast Asia" are the focus at Phat Phat, a soon-to-open restaurant in Schaumburg. The newcomer is a second Chicago-area venture for the team behind Imperial Lamian.
Expect dim sum, dishes cooked in clay pots, fried rice and sharable options, such as soy chicken, black pepper beef, and coconut-chili shrimp. Popular dishes from Imperial Lamian will also be featured, including the signature Shanghai soup dumplings.
Phat Phat will be a full-service restaurant, and, according to current plans, it will be open for brunch.
Phat Phat, 17 S. Roselle Road Schaumburg, IL 60193
Every neighborhood restaurant has its own unique personality. Laid back and family friendly, they soon become an integral part of the community. Newcomer Dakota 94 is named for the highway that connects owners Peter and Kayla Lardakis' childhood homes, his in Chicago and hers in North Dakota. The couple, who are the operating partners of Kanela Breakfast Club, live in the Sauganash Park neighborhood, which is close to the 88-seat restaurant's location in Edgebrook.
Dakota 94 serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Entrees, such as bison burgers, fish and chips, and skirt steak done with a Greek-style marinade, typically top out at $15. The full-service, 15-seat bar features wine, cocktails and beer, with an emphasis on craft beers.
Dakota 94, 5304 W. Devon Ave.
Semi-retired French Chef Didier Durand is celebrating Bastille Day (the French equivalent of July 4th) two days early. On Friday, July 12, he'll be hosting a four-course dinner and a cabaret performance by Claudia Hommel and friends at Marchesa, 535 N. Wells St. The dinner and show are $60, and the event begins at 6pm.
On Sunday, July 14 (Bastille Day), Durand will be featuring Coq au Vin to- go in small and large portions from 10 am-3pm at the Logan Square Farmers Market, 3107 W. Logan Blvd.
Pilsen Fest 2019
Mark your calendar for two days of nonstop entertainment at the 9th annual Pilsen Fest on August 17th and 18th. Expect performances by international, national and local musicians, theater and performance artists, poets, and visual artists. The Food & Spirit Pavillon will feature food from neighborhood restaurants, food trucks and street vendors.
Pilsen Fest 2019, Blue Island Ave. from 18th Street to 21st Street , noon to 10 pm, $5 donation.