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ARTango Center Serves Up Tango and Empanadas

By Janet Rausa Fuller | August 21, 2013 9:14am
 ARTango Center opens a South American bistro.
ARTango South American Bistro opens
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RAVENSWOOD — Dancing the tango makes you hungry.

If there is one gripe the students at Maria Alferov's tango school, ARTango, have had, this is it. Classes start at 6 p.m. and run into the night.

"They were hungry all the time, so I would send them to Cafe 28 [a Cuban restaurant at 1800 W. Irving Park Rd.] and some pizza places. There's not much else around," said Alferov, who runs the studio at 4217 N. Ravenswood Ave. with her Argentine husband, Sebastian Casanova, and his brother, Guston Casanova.

But in February, Cafe 28 closed after 17 years in business. Alferov — who has a degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago and has long wanted to open a restaurant — saw an opportunity to step up.

Last week, she and the Casanovas opened the ARTango South American Bistro inside the dance center.

"Finally, the two things I love in my life," said Alferov, a Ukraine native.

"This place is combining all our passions and talents," said Sebastian Casanova, whose mixed media artwork hangs throughout the space.

The counter-service bistro is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with seating along the walls of the loft-like dance room and on the sidewalk patio.

This still doesn't address her students' dining dilemmas after evening lessons. But twice a week, Alferov and her husband offer a limited menu to students during classes. And they plan to expand service, starting with weekend brunch in October and dinner after that.

Alferov isn't the one cooking — she hired a chef and full-time kitchen staff — but she developed the menu and is using some recipes from her husband's  mother and aunt. The couple spent the past few months slowly refining the menu and testing out dishes on students.

The menu does offer plenty of pre-tango fuel, including four types of arepas (Colombian corn flour buns) and three types of empanadas, the quintessential Argentinian street snack.

The empanadas are baked, not fried, and come three to an order, stuffed with traditional fillings such as ground beef, eggs and olives or ham and cheese. Quiche-like tartas are dotted with mushrooms and other vegetables, cheese and herbs.

Ensalada de quinoa, rich with Parmesan and goat cheese, shows the Spanish and Italian influences in Argentinian cuisine. It is creamy like risotto but made with the ancient grain quinoa instead of rice.

The breakfast menu consists of a few savory pastries, some sweets, coffee and tea. Alferov said Argentines typically greet the morning with just coffee and a pastry or alfajores, dulce de leche-filled sandwich cookies. The bistro makes those inhouse, too.

ARTango bistro is open to the public. An interest in tango isn't required, but it is encouraged.

"This is our idea," Alferov said. "People come to eat and then take a lesson."