Argento chef Lucas Zitrinovich prepares an empanada.
(photo credit: LAVI HOFFMANN/COURTESY ARGENTO)
“I’m going back to my roots,” says master chef Lukas Zitrinovich as he deftly prepares a spicy and delicious meat and vegetable-filled empanada in his brand-new hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Iraqi Shuk at the Mahane Yehuda Market.
“I want to introduce the food of my childhood to the people of Jerusalem,” asserts Argentinian-born Zitrinovich, formerly chief chef and partner at the prestigious Sadna restaurant behind the city’s old railway station.
“At the same time, I want to get way from the pretentious, over-priced establishments that charge 200 shekels for a meal and where you have to book a week in advance. At Argento, you can pop in anytime and enjoy a tasty simple meal with a drink for up to 50 shekels.”
Zitrinovich arrived in Israel in 2005 aged 27 as a lone immigrant. He didn’t remain that way for long as he met his wife-to-be Georgi at Ben-Gurion Airport, after they had been on the same flight from Buenos Aires.
After a spell at a Hebrew ulpan he enrolled at a chef’s course at Hadassah College. He has always been charmed by the Mahane Yehuda market and started working at a small restaurant there, eventually landing a job at Mahaneyuda restaurant soon after it opened seven years ago.
The Mahaneyuda phenomenon boomed and became a network of related high-cuisine establishments [including the Sadna] that even attracts sophisticated Tel Avivians to Jerusalem for fine dining.
Zitrinovich opted out of haute cuisine, chose to go back to his “roots” and open an empanada eatery. He searched in the shuk and found a little place, parallel to the main Mahane Yehuda Street, nestling between stalls selling vegetables and nuts.
Here he fashions by hand his empanadas, which are made by folding dough over a stuffing, which may consist of meat or vegetable ingredients. He serves the empanadas with grilled vegetables and also offers sandwiches and a variety of drinks, including Spanish Estrella draught beer.
Argento [a home-grown Argentinian, equivalent to the Israeli “sabra”] opened this week and business hours are from the afternoon until “the last customer leaves at night.” It is kosher and not open on Shabbat. It appears to me that after searching for 50 years for an inexpensive, convivial and tasty place to eat in the capital, this might just be it.