Today we are going to introduce you to Ari Jr Alvarez, owner/chef at Tarascon Empanadas where their motto is to keep on doing their best to be as authentic as possible with every single menu item, including empanadas, desserts, drinks, sauces, and soon to be dinner options.
Take one look at these beautifully hand-crafted empanadas and the first thing you’ll see is a flavor stamp. Look a little closer and you might notice that this stamp isn’t your regular old food dye. Ari went the extra mile to create this edible red ink from beet juice, red onion and decaf coffee! He created this recipe after MANY attempts until he finally found the right viscosity that wouldn’t burn when cooked in their 500° F oven.
What’s the story behind Tarascon?
I wasn’t sure about working in restaurants until I was 18 and got my first job as a dishwasher. Ever since then I knew I wanted to bring Argentinian food to Spokane. I took to heart the phrase “ I don’t know what I don’t know”, so I was planning on working in restaurants for at least 10 years to get some kind of understanding of how everything works, from the front to the back of house. However, one day my parents were eating at Mr. Wok Restaurant and they saw that Mr. Wok was renting out half their kitchen to let someone else open up a restaurant. My family and I decided that it would be the best option to open a restaurant space because this was the fastest way for us at the moment.
We opened our doors at the end of April of 2019 and so far we’re having fun with it! We just wanted to serve Argentinian empanadas to keep things simple, but now we want to add more dinner and dessert options because we’ve reached a point where we’re comfortable expanding our menu on top of the 8 empanada flavors including Spinach, Beef, Ham & Cheese, Chicken, Mushroom.
Your education/culinary background?
After graduating from Lakeside High school in 2016, I wasn’t fully sure of what I wanted to do work-wise. Lucky for me, a family friend was neighbors with the couple who had opened Sante Restaurant and Charcuterie in downtown Spokane, and they were looking for a dishwasher. I got to work there for nearly a year, learning all about charcuterie and french cooking in general, and I got a good introduction to how tough restaurant work really is.
My family also owns BeeManiacs, a beekeeping supply store in Deer Park, and through that we met Bethe Bowman, co-Owner of Italia Trattoria, along with Chef Anna Vogel. They invited me to work for them as a brunch cook, and I finally got a line job! I worked there for a year and got to learn so many more cooking skills. In the months leading up to the opening of Tarascon, I also started to work at D’Bali Asian Bistro where I got to prep food for Mamma Jeannie. After just two and a half years of working in kitchens, we opened Tarascon, and the thing that scares me the most is still not knowing what I don’t know.
What inspired the name?
It took us forever to figure out the name! All we knew was that the name had to be unique, so we had the idea that our name had to be something in Spanish. Out of all the slang words that are used in Argentina, we chose Tarascon. In Argentina, the word Tarascon means “to take a big bite out of something that is too good to take a small bite out of”.
Most popular menu item?
Besides our empanadas, our Chimichurri fries are also very popular! This was actually an on-the-spot creation where we didn’t know what to serve as a side dish with the empanadas. It randomly popped into my head to put chimichurri on some fries, but that would make the fries too soggy. So I acquired all the ingredients to make chimichurri in powder form and it’s sprinkled on top of the fries. You get the aromatics from the herbs and the garlic, and a nice tangy flavor from the red wine vinegar powder.
Do the menu items change seasonally?
Currently, we offer 8 different flavors of empanadas, 4 have meat in them and the other 4 are vegetarian-friendly. We want to keep these 8 flavors permanently, but want to do some seasonal empanada flavors at some point. Our goal is to keep things authentic, so we won’t be making any pumpkin spice flavored empanadas for fall, but will do our best to provide flavors seasonally based on which animals and vegetables grow in Argentina.
What makes Tarascon special and unique?
We are the only Argentinian Restaurant in Spokane currently! Also, while many Mexican restaurants also serve empanadas, those are nothing like the Argentinian empanadas. Argentina in the last 150 years has had many immigrants come from Europe. These French, Spanish, Italian, German, and English immigrants brought with them their culture and food, so there is a diverse food scene in all of Argentina. When people taste our empanadas I believe they are surprised by the flavor in that it has more European influence rather than Latin flavors they may be used to.
How has running your business out of Spokane been beneficial?
It’s great here in Spokane! It’s amazing to see so many people willing to try out something new. The support we receive from the community as a whole is excellent! It really keeps us going. I hope that our success influences other people to open more rare, authentic restaurants with cuisines from around the world.
What is your favorite part about owning a business?
My favorite part about owning a restaurant is that I can make big decisions that define and create the image that people see. For instance, we are switching to eco-friendly to-go options for take out food. We’re now using compostable paper straws, compostable plant-based cups for to-go drinks, and compostable sugarcane fiber to-go boxes. Any glass bottles and aluminum cans are recycled and all kitchen vegetable scrap I take home and compost. This all takes more work to do but it’s nice to now have the option to do whatever comes to mind.
Where do you like to eat around Spokane?
My favorite Italian place in town is Italia Trattoria! That is not biased whatsoever. If you see how much work is put into each menu item, you’d want to try everything on that menu in one sitting. Another of my favorites is Fleur De Sel. This French restaurant in Post Falls is always amazing! I love getting the Ris de Boeuf Sauté au cognac, which contains beef sweetbread.
View their full menu and learn more at www.tarasconempanadas.com