Best of Both Worlds
From pastas to hearty beef dishes, Itar Bistro and Market superbly melds the flavors of Italy and Argentina.
Mariana Moya spent her life in various kitchens run by her mother in South America and Florida, and knew she wanted to have a restaurant of her own. Her brother, Juan Carlos Salvisberg, wanted to open a gourmet market. Their compromise is the cozy and airy Itar Bistro and Market in MetroWest, and we all benefit from the venture.
Itar—which stands for Italy and Argentina—echoes the fascinating culture of the land of the gaucho and the tango, where more than 60 percent of residents are of Italian descent. Immigrants from Piemonte and Veneto came in massive numbers to Argentina around the turn of the 20th century, with farmers, winemakers and merchants drawn by a climate similar to Northern Italy. They left a mark on culture and food—ice cream shops, an obsession in Argentina, serve helado in the style of gelato. There is even a strong influence of Italian in Argentinian Spanish (chau rather than adios) and the slang of Buenos Aires that spawned the language of the tango.
Moya, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, spent time as a bakery manager at Fresh Market before taking the independent restaurant plunge. Her goal is to present the food she grew up with and her mother’s recipes to a new audience. She does it admirably and with a heartfelt flair.
The appropriate description of the menu is “rich.’’ Flavors are robust, colors are vivid and appealing. Puff pastry surrounds hearty fillings for an assortment of empanadas ($3 each; three for $8) that are both delightfully light and filling: the chicken or onion options are particularly good. The robust aroma of baked Parmigiano cheese topping eggplant pasticcio ($12) draws you in before a bite is taken and complements the lasagna-like layers of eggplant and melted mozzarella, butter-rich béchamel sauce and a deep, slow-cooked tomato sauce.
Itar Bistro and Market
Some people may blanch at the thought of blood pudding, but they’d be missing out on a traditional delicacy. Sausage made from sheep, pig or cow blood is remarkably worldwide: black pudding in Scotland; blood tofu in China; the sugar-laden Italian sausage from the Marche called migliaccio. Latin American varieties add raisins, rice and even chocolate, but the traditional style from Argentina is purely blood and onions, and is served here alongside a pork and beef chorizo as Marido y mujer ($8). The name means husband and wife, picked purely because Moya thinks it’s funny (“Husbands and wives can be very different, yes?”) but these plump beauties are no joke—juicy, meaty and full-bodied, tasting of well-cooked pork and a tang of iron.
As in most South American cultures, meats are king. The featured mixed grill ($35 for two) offers Angus beef flank, short ribs and the aforementioned sausages with an aroma that makes everyone in the room stop and wonder what they’re missing. A sirloin tri-tip steak called unta de Cuadril ($18) is a simple affair, grilled splendidly and served with house-made chimichurri sauce and mashed potatoes that seem to be equal parts potato and butter, not that I’m complaining.
Moya says her childhood in South America was highlighted by gnocchi night, when the Italian pasta is eaten on the 29th of each month. She will serve it to you on any date. She’s at the restaurant from open to close and says she loves her work, as is evident in what comes from her kitchen.
Juan Carlos Salvisberg oversees the market portion of Itar, whose walls are lined by coolers and racks that reflect the Italo-Argentinian duality. Butter from Buenos Aires shares a shelf with mascarpone cheese from Milan. Artistic boxes of pasta from Gli Aironi in Piedmont face packages of yerba mate tea and the gourd cups and bombilla metal straws that are used to drink it.