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Caminito Grill blends Argentine, Euro fare with gusto

The “parrillpardos personas” is grill feast for two people CaminiArgentinian Grill thboasts spicy chorizo Argentinian blood sausage flap meshort ribs

The “parrilla para dos personas” is a grill feast for two people at Caminito Argentinian Grill that boasts spicy chorizo, Argentinian blood sausage, flap meat, short ribs and grilled peppers. | Al podgorski~sun-times photos

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Caminito Argentinian Grill ★★

1629 N. Halsted(312) 846-6911

Hours: Open for dinner at 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

Prices: Appetizers, $6-$9; salads, $10-$12; pasta, $17-$19; grills and fish, $18-$24.

Try: Empanadas, spinach salad, gnocchi, mixed grill for two, bread pudding.

Wheels: Not wheelchair accessible.

In a bite: Low-key yet big-time authentic Argentinian grill. Colorful murals are splashed across the walls. Intimate setting (seating for about 35). Small bar. BYOB wine only, limit of two bottles per table (no hard liquor allowed). The laid-back atmosphere gets amped up on Saturday night with live music (tango, anyone?). Service is very dedicated. Not good for children. Reservations suggested.

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary;

★★★ Excellent;

★★ Very Good; ★ Good;

Zero stars: Poor

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Updated: April 21, 2011 4:46AM

Though I have never met them, I know for a fact that I have some relatives in Argentina. A few of my father’s brothers migrated to Buenos Aires from Calabria, Italy, way back when. In fact, many Argentinians are fluent in Italian, and there is no mistaking the influence that Italy (among other countries) has had on the cuisine of Argentina.

In fact, Caminito is a picturesque street located in the neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires. This neighborhood was built mostly by immigrants from Italy, Spain and Greece.

So case in point is Caminito Argentinian Grill, a new restaurant on Chicago’s North Side. The menu sports dishes like gnocchi (three ways), risotto, calamari, canelones (cannelloni) and pizza. Woven into that ethnic tapestry are some classy empanadas, a couple of fish dishes (tilapia, salmon) that get jazzed up with a Provencal sauce here and a medley of tomatoes and olives there. And then there is the requisite, all-important Argentinian mixed grill known as parrilla.

Overall, the menu at Caminito, though not page after page long, is a good read; there are dishes that beg to be tried, and it was fun straddling a couple of culinary continents.

First up were the empanadas, which I always equate as the Latin-American version of the Italian panzerotti (a half-moon-shaped filled pastry). Caminito got it right. There are three empanadas to an order, and the $6 price was as alluring as those empanadas were delicious.

While meat takes center stage at Caminito, the salads take their turn in the spotlight. For example, the spinach salad was quite delicious in every aspect. A fluff of tender leaves of fresh spinach was in the good company of chips of crispy pancetta, crumbles of aged Gorgonzola cheese, cherry tomatoes and walnuts. All that was dressed (not drowned) with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette.

For a pasta course, I went for the “gnocchi de la casa.” And a good choice it was (though the gnocchi with seafood was in the running). The pasta (potato dumplings) had just the right bite (soft but not too soft) with a pleasant after-chew. The sauce coating the gnocchi was a romero sauce, a creamy tomato sauce perked up with pancetta. It was decadently delicious in every way.

Caminito also offers what might be called a monthly special: “Gnocchi del 29,” an Argentinian tradition that relates to eating gnocchi of some sort on the 29th of every month, the day most people are a bit short on cash (it was the day before payday), and it was hoped this inexpensive dish with a peso underneath the plate would bring money and prosperity.

On to the meat of the matter, the highlight of which was the “parrilla para dos personas.” In short, a mixed grill of meats — spicy chorizo, Argentinian blood sausage (morcilla), flap meat (vacio) and short ribs (costillas) along with crispy-tender sweetbreads and grilled peppers. A side of chimichurri sauce was included for added pleasure if needed. The price for this grill-o-rama was $48, but the menu notes this serves two, so $24 per person is quite a good deal, considering that the portion was so impressive that you might end up taking some home (we finished the whole blooming thing).

To wind things up, there were three choices for dessert: flan; dulce le leche (ice cream drizzled with a delicious dulce de leche sauce [milky caramel] and slivers of almonds), and budin de pan, which by any other name is bread pudding, but here it becomes a hefty, cushy slab resting on a strawberry sauce and topped with a cloud of whipped cream.

Pat Bruno is a local free-lance critic and author. Listen to Pat Bruno talk about food and wine at 6:23 and 10:23 p.m. Tuesdays and 7:53 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on WBBM-AM (780) News Radio.

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