Most cultures have a dish that is basically a dough-wrapped meat, cheese or vegetable mixture. The Italians have calzones, the Polish have pierogies, Indians have samosas and Argentinians have empanadas. Now Boiseans also have empanadas—Monica and Louis Bremmer opened Tango's, the city's first empanada restaurant, on Orchard Street about nine months ago.
An empanada, Louis explained one weekend evening, is a flaky pastry folded and pinched together around desired fillings, such as meat or vegetables or ever desserts. It's then deep fried or baked and served ready to eat, "like a Hot Pocket," Louis joked.
Yeah, like a Hot Pocket but like a million times better. Actually, so much better that it isn't anything like the tasteless, microwavable sodium sack.
On the evening my date I went to Tango's, we were the only patrons in the joint. So we got a lot of attention, and a lot of schooling on the empanada. Louis brought out a plastic example and recommended that people order two or three for dinner (each empanada is $2).
Tango's also offers subs, but we were in an empanada state of mind, so we asked Louis to suggest a starting point because he offers about 20 different empanadas—and he's slowly adding more options to the menu; he eventually wants to have 40.
The most popular and most traditional of the options are the gaucho, a meat-based filling, and the Cuzco, a vegetarian option with corn.
Along with the Cuzco, my date and I ordered a del mar (tuna), a mozzarella cheese, and a mole (chicken with a not-sweet chocolate and peanut sauce). We sat and chatted a bit with Louis and waited just a few minutes while the prepared-to-order meal was arranged. The empanadas were significantly larger than the plastic demo model and looked and smelled significantly richer and more exciting.
Though deep fried, the pastry doesn't absorb much of the oil and instead of being greasy, it is flaky and delicate. Louis included a small container of herbed oil for dipping.
We started with the Cuzco, which was sweet and tangy. As Louis watched our first taste and waited for a response, I was nervous I might not like it and I'd have to fake enjoying it and eat the whole thing. It turned out to be a fruitless worry because the empanada was terrific. I liked the tuna, ground with peppers and spices. My date also liked it but not as much as the mole, which was also my favorite.
The cheese, too, was delicious, though not as distinctive or exciting as the more exotic blends.
We scarfed all the empanadas and were satisfied, perhaps even stuffed. But then Louis asked if I knew what dulce de leche was. "Yeah, it's creamy caramel, right?"
"Right, and I'll give you some to taste," he said.
He handed us each two spoons with phenomenally gooey caramel. "You can get the dulce de leche in an empanada," he said. "And with coconut and with bananas and with chocolate." My date and I looked at each other, both unsure if we could actually eat any more food. But how could we resist Louis and his dulce de leche? We ordered la nona, an empanada with dulce de leche and bananas, fried golden and topped with powdered sugar.
It might be the best dessert I've ever had. It was certainly the best $2 dessert I've ever had.
My date and I thanked Louis and promised we'd be back. And we will.
—Jennifer Gelband is writing a book titled, Dough-Wrapped Meats of the World.