We were on our way back from a bike ride when we came across FRÍO Gelato (517 Dempster St, Evanston, IL 60201), an answer to our secret hopes for a cold treat. We are always up for gelato, and FRÍO does gelato with an Argentine twist. Gelato is huge in Argentina, due to the massive Italian immigration to the country. We remarked upon a mysterious (long gone) Argentine ice cream store in Chicago many years ago, so short of a trip to Argentina, we were excited to try some Argentine icy treats.Alongside the typical gelato flavors you might expect, there was also dulce de leche, avocado and malbec. You can also get fresh-fruit sorbet flavors, tasty coffee drinks and the classic Argentine mate drink. We were there for gelato, however, so we sampled the dulce de leche and the marsala wine sambayon, an Argentine riff on zabaglione, an Italian custard desert. The gelato was light and creamy, with bold flavors. Though it tasted pretty similar to the Italian-style gelato we’ve had, we really appreciated the fresh ingredients and unique flavor combinations on offer at FRÍO. Plus, if you really want a unique Argentine spin on dessert you can get the gelato between two alfajor cookies!
Tag Archives: Argentina
5411 Empanadas (175 N. Franklin, Chicago) started out as a food truck in Chicago, but now they are a mini empire, with locations in Wicker Park, Lakeview and now the Loop. 5411 is a perfect example of a place that does only one thing, but they do it really well: in this case, empanadas. 5411 serves up Argentine-style empanadas (the name comes from the international dialing code for Buenos Aires, Argentina), with a variety of meat and vegetarian fillings. I was actually pretty impressed by the amount of different vegetarian fillings they had, which made it a perfect place to go with Veggie co-workers! The Loop store itself is pretty tiny, and many people were taking their orders to go. In the summer, the patio is pretty nice, too.
The empanadas at 5411 are baked, not fried, and for me, three is enough to make a meal. I have had the cheese and spinach, chorizo and patatas bravas (Spanish-style potatoes with spicy sauce), caramelized onion and Parmesan cheese, mushroom and blue cheese, and the BBQ chicken, and all have been excellent. My favorites are probably the varieties that include cheese, which I consider essential to the empanada experience. It is also essential to get a side of chimichurri sauce on the side! The empanadas at 5411 are not greasy at all, which is so great, especially to munch on the go. For those who want empanadas at another time than lunch, there are also breakfast options with egg and even a sweet Nutella option. 5411 Empanadas is a great new option for lunch in the loop, but be ready for a line out the door (see below!).
Chimichurri, perhaps the famous Argentinian sauce, is definitely our favorite use for parsely. In a country that is obsessed with grilling, everyone has their own version of chimichurri. Some people prefer no red pepper, lime instead of lemon, more vinegar, less vinegar. Of the versions we made, this is the combination that has worked out the best for us, though of course any chimichurri recipe is designed for tweaking.
Adapted from Chimichurri Recipe | Leite’s Culinaria
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley – no stems
6 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
Juice of one large lemon
Combine all ingredients and pulse in food processor – simple as that.
The eaters are Italian – so we pretty much avoid Italian food out unless it is something special. We heard that Pollaio’s chicken was indeed special. We headed up to North Beach, a long-standing Italian enclave that borders Chinatown in SF. The signs literally turn from Chinese characters to Italian in the course of one block. The streets are lined with Italian and Italian-American Trattorias and Cafes catering to locals and a fair share of tourists.
We arrived at Pollaio on a Friday night with no reservation (potentially dangerous) – but were welcomed right in. The ambiance is that of a cozy neighborhood cafe, and the service should not have been friendlier. It is truly a mix of Argentine and Italian in there (not surprising since many Argentines have Italian heritage) with Italian advertising and Argentine soccer paraphernalia.
As previously stated, Pollaio specializes in chicken, so we barely had to hesitate with the menu. I suppose you could order other things, but WHY would you?!? We ordered a whole chicken ($13) along with a side order of fries. The chickens, which seemed to account for most of the orders in restaurant, came out of the kitchen quickly. The whole chicken that arrived at our table had an amazing char and a delicious but not overpowering flavor of garlic and oregano. Even the white meat was tender and juicy. These people were truly experts. M and I polished off the entire chicken – save one drumstick. The fries were good, but paled in comparison to the chicken.The entire meal topped only $20, and we were really pleased with our meal. While Pollaio may not be a single menu-item restaurant, it might as well be one since it does this single item so well!
I was inspired to write this post by a photo I stumbled upon on Flickr, by Katherine of Chicago (seen below). This intriguing photo showcases a shuttered Argentine Ice Cream store on the North Side of Chicago, named the Penguin.Apparently Argentina is quite known for its delicious ice cream, which has a style of its own. Ice cream arrived in Argentina with the many Italian immigrants, and is a direct descendent of the famous Italian gelato. Today in Buenos Aires, the streets are apparently filled with Heladerias, and dulce de leche is a popular flavor. I was eager to try some in Chicago, but The Penguin is no more. Apparently, this helado has even found its way to London. Short of going to Buenos Aires, do you know of anywhere in Chicago to try it? If I only had an ice cream maker I could make some myself.
120 E Wilson
On May 31, I walked up to the door of Restaurant Magnus in Madison, hoping to sample some of my favorites from its South American-inspired menu before the restaurant’s dramatic shift the next day (signaled by the Norwegian flag fluttering over the canopy). It was locked. An employee eating outside quickly walked up to me, saying – with a wide smile – that the restaurant was closed to the evening to prepare for their exciting new menu the next day. But all the dishes I wanted were on the old menu, and when Magnus got rid of them on June 1, both L and I were disappointed and frankly a little angry.
We’ve had great experiences at Magnus before – in fact, it is L’s official birthday place. The funky interior always got things rolling: live soft bossa nova or Spanish guitar music playing in the background formed a strange, but ultimately satisfying romance with deer antler chandeliers and brown leather seats. But as always, we come for the food. We start with an order of chimichurri ($3.00) paired with light and fluffy foccacia (the tomato-flavored was our favorite). The chimichurri was unlike any we had seen: parsley, red wine vinegar, coriander, and honey made for a creamy dip that was nothing short of the perfect appetizer.
For main dishes, we tended to migrate toward the ever-changing tapas menu, but there were some old favorites that kept bringing us back (and Magnus knew it, because they kept putting them on. The Peruvian bay scallop ceviche ($12) was an interesting take on an old classic, with diced scallops placed in a makeshift bowl of cucumber slices, garnished with minced mixed sweet peppers, avocado, and drizzled with mango-habanero (M’s favorite combo) vinaigrette. It was smaller than similarly priced ceviches but the inventiveness was worth it.
Same with the Cana de Oveja ($14). Spanish cheese in phyllo dough, garnished with figs (another of M’s favorites), pistachios (OK, so that was a bit confusing), sherry butter sauce, and habanero syrup. This is a dish we didn’t really know how to classify, most because the multitude of flavor options on any given bite always kept us guessing – and that is what made it good.
And then there was the Xinxim. Take a Brazilian staple and create the hell out of it, and you get Magnus’ Xinxim. It sounds simple enough on the menu: chorizo verde, blackened chicken, blackened beef all in a bowl, sitting in a special cream sauce of habanero and coconut milk and cashews. But this seemingly simple dish was, unquestionably, my favorite meal of all time. The coconut milk worked to take down the habanero’s heat enough to let its fruity tropical flavor beam through, and combined with the cashews, the effect was deliriously perfect. The chorizo was always spiced to perfection, and the chicken, beef, and shrimp provided a wide set of texture and flavor options that always worked in tandem with what I am sure will remain the best cream sauce I have ever eaten.
There were others, of course: cheese plates, small desserts, etc. too numerous to name here. But the bottom line is that they are all now gone. Replaced with cod, venison and the other staples of Norwegian cuisine that, to us, make obvious the reasons why no Scandinavian restaurant has ever really succeeded in this most Scandinavian of states. We understand the reason for the change, at least on a cultural level. The restaurant’s sous chef – of Norwegian descent – was promoted to the head spot (and there is a now a triumphant photo of him planting the Norwegian flag on the restaurant’s redesigned website). All the owners are Norwegian. The restaurant is even named for a Norwegian grandfather. But culinary, we can’t say this move makes any sense. Scandinavian restaurants have had a tough time of it in this country, and Wisconsin would seem like a logical place to start one if, well, Scandinavian food had ever succeeded here before.
The chimichurri is still on the menu, though hiked in price by a dollar and paired with rye bread instead of foccacia. Will we try the new menu? Probably. We got an email coupon for a free first course. But aquavit mussels and pickled cabbage not only sound less than appealing – they will never replace that xinxim. All we can say is they had better give us the recipe.
Puerto Rico isn’t only into local cuisine. The Caribbean in general has a long history of cultural interchange, so the Eaters weren’t really surprised at some of the interesting Puerto Rican-fusion cuisine we found while wandering about the island. Here are two of the highlights:
356 Calle Fortaleza
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Indian-Caribbean fusion? Not as crazy as you would think – a number of Caribbean islands have sizable populations of Indian immigrants, which has led to some interesting culinary creations. Tantra, an upscale bar and restaurant in Old San Juan, continues this, although it was pretty obviously created for the tourist crowd. The interior was dark and exotic, decorated with Buddha statues and colorful hookahs, all complemented by generalized Eastern music that was just a little too loud for the relaxed atmosphere they seemed to be playing off of. Sadly, this same dark interior made taking photos of the food a little difficult – but we’ll try our best to paint a good mental picture. M started off with an old classic, Chicken Tikka Masala. For $17, it definitely wasn’t worth it. The food itself was tasty (although a little less saffron would have been nice), but the portions were not any larger than servings you would find at a comparable mainland restaurant for half the price. The dish did come with free naan on the side, thus preventing Tantra from falling into one of the Eater’s big Indian Restaurant pet peeves. L got Tantra Mofongo, a supposedly Indian take on the classic Puerto Rican dish. What they claimed was mofongo had little resemblance to the chicken-filled creation we would sample a few days later. This dish was essentially a tall stack of plantains, mixed with Indian spices and fashioned into an artfully constructed column. Again, the $10 price tag was a little much. We left Tantra feeling moderately satiated, but a little put off by the hipster atmosphere and the overpriced food.
69 Calle Salud
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Later in our trip we would head to the south side of the island, hitting up Puerto Rico’s other culinary hotspot of Ponce. One of the most popular restaurants in town in Rincón Argentina, specializing in Argentinian beef (hence the big cow on the sign outside). Most of what Rincón serves are parrilladas, meaning just about anything that comes off the grill. We were seated outside under the cool Puerto Rican evening, ready to dive into our appetizer of plantain fries. Like the skirt steak we ordered later (the house specialty), the dishes came with some great Argentine chimichurri. M had the beef milanesa, which actually turned out a little thin and bland. Overall, we had a similar reaction to Rincón as we did to Tantra – the food was decent, but decidedly overpriced for what we got (about $15 a dish).
So overall, our Puerto Rican fusion experience was a little disappointing. Interesting food, but overpriced, especially considering you can get better and cheaper stuff on the mainland. If you travel to Puerto Rico, from our experience we recommend you stick to the tried-and-true local places.
Yesterday, a colleague from Argentina was kind enough to bring in a box of these little Argentine snack cakes, each individually wrapped in gold foil. Alfajores are typical Argentine (as well as much of Latin American) snacks, and Havanna is a local manufacturer that produces them. An alfajor consists of a sandwich cookie (with a cake-like consistency) filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate (other varieties had a vanilla coating). For packaged cookies they were pretty good, as anything coated in dark chocolate and filled with dulce de leche would be; kind of like a very high-class Hostess cake. I’d imagine they are available in some Latin grocery stores, but are also available online.