333-7579 or 333-9465. Atmosphere: Casual. Reservations: Not needed. Price Range: From $1.40 for an empanada to $6.95 for a T-bone steak with French Fries and salad. Credit Cards: Master Charge and Visa. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. Closed Monday. Special Facilities: No boosters or high chairs. Several steps make access difficult for patrons in wheelchairs.
Georgetown on a Friday or Saturday night would hardly seem the time or place for a family outing. Long lines of singles and young couples waiting to enter overcrowded cafes and small restaurants is the scene that comes to mind -- discouraging to families even if the streetlife is facinating.
We were, therefore, surprised to find a good, uncrowded ethnic restaurant in the heart of Georgetown which welcomes young children, even the 2-and-under set.
At Argentina 78, the regular crowd first makes its entry at about midnight and stays until 4 a.m. There's dancing in the tiny restaurant and a guitarist who sings Latin songs. The late night clientele is mostly Latin American with a sprinkling of Middle Easterners, Europeans and North Americans -- many of them waiters of Georgetown restaurants who have just gotten off work.
The tiny wood-beamed, candlelit restaurant has about 20 tables, covered with bright, flowered, cotton cloth. If you are lucky you can sit in the one bay windowed seat, perfect to amuse young children. Although there are no highchairs, the one waitress -- the owner's wife -- could not have been more receptive to young children and tried to accommodate them.
The food is good, homemade Argentine cuisine. For starters we chose empanadas, Spanish turnovers filed with meat, onions, olives, harboiled eggs and raisins, $1.40. To our surprise, our 23-month-old adored hers, although she did not follow her parents' lead in dipping them into the sausa piquanta, the oniony hot sauce. Hot crusty bread and butter were also served.
The waitress explained that the empanadas and mandango (vegetable stew with tripe, $4.50) are the most popular dishes later at night. The stew was delicious with chickpeas, sausage, tripe and potatoes. However, the ingredients, similar to those used in the Spanish cocido, were not as popular with the children as the adults.
Knowing that Argentine cuisine is noted for its steak, we tried two other entrees on this limited but hardy menu. The breaded round steak milanesa, pounded very thin like a schnitzel, was quite good. It comes either with homemade French fries and mixed salad for $5.95 or as a steak sandwich with lettuce, onions and tomatoes on French bread for $3.50.
The French fries were somewhat greasy, probably due to our being the first customers of the evening. The oil was not heated up yet. The salad dressing of vinegar and oil was also homemade.
The other steak offering was bife a caballo, a T-bone steak with two fried eggs on top. It came with potatoes and salad for $6.95. This was the least successful, the steak being overcooked and tough, although seasoned very well. The children liked the eggs.
Desserts at Argentina 78 sounded appealing. The arroz con leche -- rice pudding in cream for $1.60 -- unfortunately was not yet ready and probably would have been a success with the children.
We selected instead the flan casero, which is homemade egg custard, for the same price. It was not moist enough, but was well smothered in homemade sweetened whipped cream, as were the bab au rhum and the quince paste and cheese, both $1.50.
Another specialty of the house, cappucino served in a large soda glass and sprinkled with cinnamon for $1.75, was probably the best offering of the restaurant. The adults enjoyed a pitcher of sangria, $3.50, which was lemony, unlike the overly sweet variety usually served.
Our bill came to $42.70 including tax and tip, for four splitting portions for children. It need not have been this high, but we wanted to try different dishes. Certainly an empanada, rice pudding and milk would do well for any child at $3.60 total.
After our pleasant unhurried meal, we wandered around Georgetown for several hours with the children. It was a pleasant evening.