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Tierras Argentinas: Charming, authentic bistro

Unlike most of South America, Argentina — the land of tango, gauchos and great wine — had virtually no indigenous population when the Europeans arrived. Italian and Spanish settlers were the cuisine’s major influence, although the French, German, Swiss and Eastern Europeans have left their culinary stamp as well.

It’s a cuisine that never tempts you to ask, “Where’s the beef?” because in Argentine cuisine it’s everywhere. For you spice−adverse meat−and−potatoes types, it’s an ideal. Even Argentina’s famed chimichurri sauce, a chiffonade of parsley and other herbs steeped in olive and vinegar, doesn’t produce much of an afterburn. It’s used as both a marinade and dipping sauce for grilled meats.

Tierras Argentinas in Fresh Meadows is a charming and authentic place to sample the flavors of Argentina. The ambiance is cozy European bistro, punctuated with Argentine artifacts. The owners and wait staff are native Argentines, as, it seemed, were a large proportion of our fellow diners. To further the mood, there was a singer⁄guitarist performing romantic Argentine ballads. His patter to the audience was in Spanish, and, with the exception of our table, they responded in kind.

The comprehensive appetizer selection here covers all the Argentine faves. Croquetas de espinaca (spinach croquettes) bespeak the Greek contribution to the cuisine, with the pronounced flavor of feta cheese most prominent in this hors d’oeuvre.

Hearts of palm in golf sauce is de rigeur on Argentine menus. Golf sauce is what most Americans would call Russian dressing. Why “golf” sauce? The only explanation I’ve ever gotten is that it originated in Argentina in golf clubs.

Every Latin country seems to have a version of empanadas, and Argentina is no exception. Tierras offers a choice of beef or chicken, baked or fried. We went with the baked beef ones. The filling was tasty, but the limp texture of the pastry betrayed reheating.

Berenjenas en escabeche (pickled eggplant) is a standout of their cold appetizers. The well−marinated eggplant is served with a dollop of ensalata rusa, a cubed potato salad studded with carrots and peas. The creamy mayo dressing offsets the tartness of the eggplant nicely.

Argentine BBQ is sometimes known as parillada, after the name of the grill on which it’s prepared. Here they stick with tradition, offering a parillada completa which includes sausage, blood sausage, short ribs, skirt steak, sweetbreads and chitterlings. The salty, garlicky chorizo has great character. The short ribs and skirt steak had excellent flavor, but was not as tender as we would have liked. The sweetbreads were rich and delicate. The blood pudding and chitterlings were more of an acquired taste. We didn’t like that the blood pudding had visible chunks of fat, and the chitterlings were disconcertingly chewy. If you aren’t a lover of offal, you might be better to stick with the individual grilled meat(s) of your choice instead of the completa.

The “Argentinean Home Cooking” selections feature mostly Italian−inspired dishes. Milanesa Napolitana is an “Italian” dish invented at Napoli restaurant in Buenos Aires. It’s a breaded cutlet (beef in this case) with a slice of cheese and ham covered with tomato sauce and put in the oven until the cheese melts. Estofada de ternera con arroz is a heartily satisfying veal stew, not dissimilar from a goulash, served with rice. Be forewarned, though, that the veal used here is fatty. It tastes great, but so many of us have a fear of fat.

All the entrees are served with a choice of French fries or mixed salad. We would recommend spending a little extra for both. The mixed salad of tomatoes, onion, cucumber, radish and lettuce dressed with an excellent vinaigrette makes a worthy starter. The French fries we were served were French fry perfection — crisp on the outside without being overdone, and creamy on the inside. Don’t miss them. Another thing not to miss is the excellent and reasonably priced Argentine wines, like a robust Vinas Balboa.

The desserts are typical of those found throughout South America. We finished our meal with a creamy flan topped by dulce de leche. Gilding the lily? Maybe, but it’s a great combination.

The Bottom Line

Tierras Argentinas offers a delightful change of pace, especially for meat lovers who don’t like their food too highly seasoned. The setting is inviting. The service is solicitous. Prices are affordable.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Tierras Argentinas Restaurant

158−15 Horace Harding Blvd.

Flushing, NY 11365

718−661−4262

Cuisine: Argentinean

Setting: Small bistro−like

Service: Friendly, efficient

Hours: Dinner Tues.—Sun.

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Wine & Beer

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: No menu

Music: Live music. Call for schedule

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Yes

A SAMPLE FROM THE MENU

Empanadas (beef or chicken)…$1.75

Croquetas espinaca…$5.90

Berenjenas en escabeche…$6.90

Milanesa a la Napolitana…$14.90

Parillada completa…$24.00

Shell steak⁄skirt steak combo grill…$19.90

Estofa de terna con arroz…$14.90

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