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Mystery Diner: Altiro Latin Fusion packs flavorful punch

GENEVA – If there is one restaurant that deserves to be at the top of a Fox Valley foodie’s bucket list, I can confidently say that Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva is it.

Often compared to the popular Geneva eatery Bien Trucha, and voted “Best New Restaurant” in the Kane County Chronicle’s Readers’ Choice Awards for 2013, the tapas-style enclave opened its doors in the spring and has since been presenting customers with inventive dishes fit with mostly locally-purchased, fresh, organic ingredients.

Altiro’s owners, Miguel Villanueva, Roberto Avila and Jose Trejo, pour in long hours and participate in many of the restaurant’s moving parts, including hosting, waiting tables, bartending and cooking.

Having visited Altiro twice now – once for dinner and once for lunch – the friendly service, contemporary-rustic decor and powerful punches of flavor exploding from nearly every item listed on the menu, has catapulted the Latin-infused eatery to elite status, without making it available exclusively to the financially unencumbered.

One doesn’t need to cough up two-week’s salary to enjoy a great dining experience. That’s the beauty.
With fair and honest pricing, it is a place that ANYONE can come, share and enjoy.

My first visit to Altiro Latin Fusion in Geneva was for a birthday celebration on a Saturday night. One word – packed!

Cozied up in a candle-lit corner overlooking an intimate dining room nestled with cushy, patterned pillows atop back-less benches and wooden cubes serving as seating, I noticed every table was fit with diners. And even more were crammed into a waiting area, which gave me a dose of gratification for having made a dinner reservation earlier that day.

The inventive array of cocktails are made with care, and the unique bevy of flavors swirling within synchronize together beautifully. Drinks will run about the same price as a tapas order. The Al Peppino ($9.99) cocktail, which is not something I normally would order, turned out to be a table favorite. (If food is being shared, you might as well pass the drinks as well). The Al Peppino jalapeño-infused vodka with the organic agave nectar, cucumber cilantro and fresh lime had a nice finish and perfect balance. All of Altiro’s drinks are prepared with freshly muddled organic produce, organic agave nectar and freshly-squeezed juices.

Dinner favorites, food-wise, included the Al Raviole ($9.99), which came with four large creamy-serrano, pesto-lathered, red-pepper ravioli casero topped with Basque jumbo shrimp; and the Al Camaronchizo ($10.99), which is four tacos filled with Basque shrimp and chorizo with avocado slaw and chipotle aioli.

My second visit was for lunch on Nov. 27. My dining companion and I waltzed into a vacant dining room a little after 1 p.m. People began trickling in as minutes passed, but the lunching vibe was much more laid back than at dinner. Lunch may be an optimal time to visit as it is seemingly less crowded, and no reservation is needed. Although, the lunch menu offers less options, and is slightly different.

The menu can be slightly cumbersome to maneuver, because rather than explaining what a dish is, it lists the ingredients, which tend to pop up in multiple menu items. It may behoove first-timers to ask fellow diners or the Altiro staff for recommendations.

Ask for drinks, my dining companion opted for one of the Al Limon flavor-infused fresh waters ($3.50), which came with its own carafe and slices of lime.

Now on to the food.

What is quickly becoming an Altiro specialty based on the dish’s popularity is the Al Mejillon ($9.99) – a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels with chistorra, roasted tomato chile de arbol tequila sauce served with grilled rustic points. Dip any remaining bits of bread in the smokey, tomato-based tequila reduction sauce, which I would even consider drinking on its own. (Bloody Mary mix substitute?)

The Al Fundido ($9.99) dish came with four tacos with a single sautéed garlic shrimp bathing in melted chihuahua cheese, served with escabeche red onions with a cilantro-lime oil drizzle. The fresh flavors of the cilantro teamed nicely with the cheese’s saltiness and hint of zest from the lime citrus. I found it odd, however, that each taco only came with a single piece of shrimp.

The Spanish-influenced Al Calambre ($9.99) came with a jumbled layering of grilled skirt steak, roasted peppers, pina-red onions, chihuahua cheese and tomatillo-avocado salsa atop four pieces of grilled, open-faced, buttered Italian bread. This lunch-time-only item has a seafood counterpart that comes with sautéed chipotle shrimp, melted chihuahua cheese, lettuce, avocado, grilled pina and Mayo.

The Mexican Key Lime Pie’s festive arrangement on a slender piece of slate is equal parts visually appealing and sweet. Four spoonful-sized dollops of pie were topped with a sliver of strawberry that evened out the sweetness with a morsel of tartness. In one bite, the sugary dessert immediately refreshed the palate with a cold burst of flavor.

Altiro’s menu left my dining companion, as well as my family, reeling from the innovative burst of flavors intricately spliced together in each dish. Try anything, or everything, and you will be happy with the outcome, regardless.

I have a birthday coming up soon myself, and I think I know the perfect place.

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Shaw Media. The diner’s identity is not revealed before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits different restaurants and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.

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