If more proof is needed that good things can come in small packages, try Simon's. With a mere five tables it is even smaller than Evergreen (reviewed two weeks ago), but is still a spotless, bright and cosy little place, with pumpkin-coloured walls adorned with lovely photographs (including one of tango dancers), black and white floors and black linens on the table.
It has been open since 2004, but for takeout and catering only. Takeout and catering are still available, but, with the addition of those tables and a short menu of Argentine specialties, it now offers the opportunity of eating in. And not just eating in but imbibing as well, in Argentine wines, about which more later.
Meals start with wedges of grilled bread and corn chips, and three little pots of sauce to dip them in. One of them is hot -- too hot for me, but not for one fire-eating friend -- but I loved the chunky fresh salsa and the oil-based chimichurri that was thick with parsley. And it was typical of this warm-hearted place that when those little pots were nearing empty, we were asked if we'd like more.
The baked empa±adas offer at least eight fillings, among them chicken, cheese, corn, spinach with ricotta, and -- my personal favourites -- the spicy beef seasoned with raisins and olives, and the tuna ($2.30 to $2.50). Two other terrific starters are the pascualina, kin to a quiche with spinach and onions, interspersed with a hard-boiled egg and topped by Parmesan ($5); and the sfijas, a flaky pastry filled with lemon and mint-flavoured ground beef ($2.50).
It would be easy to fill up on the starters but be sure to leave room for one of the delicious main courses -- the pollo deshuesado, for instance, chicken marinated in lemon juice, garlic and red wine, then butterflied and grilled. Ours was a tad too salty, but wonderfully juicy and flavourful, right down to the irresistible skin ($8.50 for one quarter chicken, $14 for half).
Another standout was the locro, a substantial stew of beef with chunks of chorizo, lots of little white beans plus a few big ones, and slices of squash in savoury brown gravy. For those who can't live without tang, a spiced up chimichurri comes on the side -- I tried it with and without, and loved it both ways ($10).
The Milanese is obviously a play on Italian scallopini, or on its variations for that matter (think cordon bleu, or schnitzel). It's a thin slice of breaded, crisply fried beef in a bun with lettuce, onions and tomatoes ($8) or with ham, mozzarella and two baked eggs ($12). They are available as entrees as well, but we opted for the Especial entree, a gargantuan portion that completely covered the plate it came on, and is intended for sharing by at least two, possibly more. It too was topped by ham and mozzarella, but also by tomato sauce and strips of red pepper, as well as those two baked eggs which, incidentally, were runny enough to create a sauce when forked ($25). An intimidating dish, but delicious.
Another reflection of the Italian influence is the canneloni, two huge, luscious rolls that could rival some of the city's best -- plump with a filling of spinach and ricotta, bathed in a light tomato sauce and topped by mozzarella ($9).
Argentina may be known for its beef, but Simon's Clasico 10-ounce New York steak was our only disappointment ($16). It wasn't terrible -- it was tender enough, and as rare as ordered, but so low on beefy flavour it was only partly enlivened by the tangy chimichurri topping.
Other menu listings include the New York steak with a creamy green onion sauce ($20), a filet with mushroom sauce ($18), a top sirloin steak ($12), a Milanesa of chicken ($12), meat lasagna ($11) and humita, a side dish of grated corn with vegetables and mozzarella, with a hot sauce on the side ($8).
Entrees come with a choice of potatoes -- addictive thin fried slices or mashed, which would have been better with more butter or cream. The house salad is also included -- a simple one of romaine, with a few pieces of ripe tomato and slices of onion in a light, delicate dressing. An object lesson in how good simplicity done right can be.
There are three flavours of Argentine ice cream, from Eva's Gelato, but we opted for the two house-made desserts ($6 each). The crepes that were rolled with dulce de leche were too thick, but that wonderful caramel-flavoured sauce was perfect in the torta mil hojas, a marvel of crisp, wafer-thin pastry, with walnuts added for more crunch.
The service is warm and personal -- the kind that's usually possible only in such a tiny place. There's yerba mate, or sangria for those want them, but the wines were too tempting to resist. There are only a few but they are well chosen, and such good value that we took our server's advice and decided to try, instead of our usually reliable Malbec, the Tempranillo. And it was not only delicious but, at $24, a fraction of what I've spent for plonk elsewhere. And oh yes, the coffee was good, too.
Note the early closing times: 7 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, and 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
To see the location of this restaurant and others reviewed in the Free Press, please see the map below or click here.