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Date Night: Cozy Argentinian at Porteño in Chelsea

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Empanadas [Photographs: Garrett Ziegler]

The word porteño means "of or from Buenos Aires." Not surprisingly, the restaurant Porteño serves Argentinian specialties. It's located where Chelsea turns industrial, where art galleries start to give way to body shops and "gentlemen's" clubs. The space, evenly split between bar and dining area, features a brick wall and framed black-and-white photos of infrastructure. What could be austere is not; instead, it's inviting.

We began with a trio of empanadas ($3.50 for one, $10 for three). The first pleasure was tactile: each hand-held pastry featured a braided ridge. The second pleasure was aural: the fried dough broke audibly. And the third pleasure was taste. The salteña featured beef, scallions, red pepper, and slivers of eggs; better was the sanjuanina, a mixture of spinach and milky Manchego cheese. But best was the jujeña, jam-packed with corn kernels, Manchego, red pepper, zucchini, and onions.

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Pollo a la paprika

The pollo a la paprika ($18) was a half-roasted chicken breast with skin thoroughly immersed in paprika. Inside the chicken had stayed moist, no small feat when you're trying so hard to crunchify the exterior. Alongside was an ample helping of lemony kale, a little like chewing bark of a citrus tree.

We also tried the rigate con chorizo ($12). Argentina certainly has a way with meat, and the sausage in this dish came in shapes that mimicked phases of the moon, from round coins to half-circles to slivers. Taken together, they produced the kind of heat that warmed one's chest, rather than set one's mouth aflame. The pasta was good too, al dente and daubed, rather than doused, in tomato sauce.

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Rigate con chorizo

At some point, our server became a tornado of meanness, slapping dishes down and sulking in the corner. Was she mad that we didn't order wine? That we were taking photos? That we didn't want more bread and peppered olive oil? We can't rightly say, but mad she was. According to its website, Porteño seeks to re-create a family atmosphere, so perhaps our server only sought to echo the tensions that throb through so many family get-togethers.

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Budin de pan

We finished with budin de pan ($8). A scoop of dulce de leche gelato rested precariously on the crown-shaped bread pudding, surrounded by thick goops of dulce de leche spread. Despite the double dose of dulce de leche, the dessert evidenced a restrained sweetness.

Resting our elbows on tables that might have once been butchers' blocks, we watched someone's soccer practice through Porteño's huge front windows. As the streetlights came on, the restaurant's lights got lower, until the candles on every table almost matched the streetlights, glow for glow. Nestled beneath the High Line, the restaurant felt as cozy on the outside as on the inside. It's best for: a snuggled in date.

Porteño

299 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10001 (map)
212-695-9694
portenonyc.com

About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.

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