- SPICED RIGHT: Buenos Aires' grilled bratwurst.
Few family-owned-and-operated restaurants scream "family" louder than Buenos Aires Grill and Cafe, newly opened in the River Market district in the former Juanita's space, just east of the Museum of Discovery.
On both recent visits — one at lunch and one at happy hour — Guillermo Bruzatori, the patriarch, was standing on the sidewalk near the top of the stairs leading down to the restaurant, greeting patrons and would-be patrons, a stack of menus in hand. Daughter Flo, the general manager, was, well, everywhere — behind the bar mixing drinks, working the floor, greeting and informing, supervising the waitstaff. As we sat at the bar sipping one of Flo's fabulous mojitos, little sister Camila became our new best friend, telling us which drinks and menu items she liked best — and why.
When we bragged to Flo on her mojito-making skills — it was potent, not too sweet, with pulverized mint swimming throughout — she said her twin brother, Willy, would have jumped behind the bar and done the honors, convinced his mojitos are superior to hers. Willy is gainfully employed elsewhere, but clearly he's comfortable in the family business. We've seen matriarch Graciela behind the bar as well, and even when she isn't there, "Graciela's famous chimichurri sauce" is, the menu proclaims. And we're pretty confident the Jose of "Jose's homemade gelato" is an uncle or a cousin or something.
As we hear it, Guillermo, who traveled from the family's native Argentina on several occasions to work with a North Little Rock company, decided 14 years ago to move the whole clan here. The dream of opening an authentic Argentinian restaurant here has been alive about that long, and now it's happened.
- LIGHTER DOUGH, BIG DOUGH: The dough is pleasantly light, but at $3 each the empanadas are pricy.
We love the vibe of Buenos Aires, particularly our warm spring lunch spent on the subterranean patio, soaking up the sun and serenaded by just-loud-enough upbeat Argentinian music. We started our lunch with empanadas, which can be ordered solo ($3) or in increments of up to 12 ($30). We went for the six-pack ($16): two onion and cheese, two ham and cheese and two beef (caprese and chicken are also available).
The dough on the empanadas was lighter and more pliable than what we've had before, both good things, and a delightfully salty cheese paired perfectly with both the green onion and the ham. The filling-to-dough ratio was decidedly higher with the beef empanada, a well-herbed ground beef mixture that included mint. We liked all varieties, though at $3 or almost $3 a whack, they're a little expensive.
Argentinian cuisine is meat-centric and that shows on the Buenos Aires lunch menu. Featured items include an Argentinian burger (ham and a fried egg atop a cheeseburger for $13 with fries or a salad), flank steak ($14) and our choice, Choripan ($8.50), a meaty grilled bratwurst on baguette with that wonderful chimichurri sauce. The signature sauce is just-right oily with a good dose of green herbs and not at all spicy. Our only quibble was with the fries, which were a little limp.
Our Good Friday lunch party included one no-red-meat-on-Fridays-during-Lent devotee, so she was glad to see grilled shrimp on the menu ($10). The nine medium-sized shrimp were cooked perfectly, firm but not tough, with just enough herbs. The chimichurri was a nice alternative to more common shrimp accompaniments.
Save room for dessert at Buenos Aires. The flan ($7) was rich, served with a side of caramel that wasn't really needed but still appreciated. We also loved the moist Cuatro Leches cake ($6), a thin ribbon of dolce (caramel) converting the more common tres leches to cuatro.
Everything on the lunch menu is available at dinner at Buenos Aires, as are three pasta dishes ($14.50-$16), pizza, veal and chicken Milanesa, owing to the great Italian influence on Argentinian culture and cuisine; more entrees from the grill; and three mixed-grill options for sharing ($22 for vegetarian to $55 for flank steak, skirt steak, beef ribs, bratwurst, sweetbreads, chicken and blood sausage).
We'll get back with a group for some of that — and the hopes of learning whether or not Willy's mojito is really superior to his twin sister's.
Buenos Aires Grill and Cafe
614 President Clinton Ave.
There's much on the menu to recommend Buenos Aires. But don't overlook it as a great place to catch some rays, enjoy upbeat Latin music and sip on a refreshing beverage on the subterranean patio.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted.