When I stayed in Buenos Aires for an extended period in 2005, the U.S., and especially the midwest, still hadn't shaken itself out of its decades-long industrial food nightmare that prioritized low cost over quality. That was especially true for the beef industry, which forced the vast majority of its cattle to live a tightly packed, indoor, antibiotic-fueled, grain-fed existence that can leave meat tough, not especially flavorful, and not particularly healthy.
In Argentina, ranchers pamper their cows, allowing them to graze free in Las Pampas, the country's rich agricultural heartland, and chow on flavor-boosting grasses packed with omega-3s and minerals. Antibiotics and additives are widely considered a cardinal sin, and the result is far more flavorful, tender, and natural beef than I had ever known existed.
However, American beef has improved leaps and bounds since then. Though it's tough to beat that good Pampan grass, the striploin that's featured by Barda, the new Argentinian steakhouse that took over the former Magnet space in Detroit's Core City neighborhood this summer, shows us that some Texas beef can hang with its Argentinian counterparts.
That also likely owes heavy to Chef Javier Bardauil's preparation that leaves his bife, or striploin, rich and smoky. He first quickly cooks the meat over high heat and open flame to build a light char crust around the edges, then lets it sit so the muscle can relax before it's cooked again. During the second round, the juice is distributed across the meat, which tenderizes it and ensures even flavor. The 14-oz. cut is sliced into eight pieces and the meat's richness is doubled with the addition of butter studded with chimichurri, a zesty Argentinian steak sauce driven by parsley, garlic, cilantro, onions, vinegar, and more. Charred scallions laid out next to the meat add another aromatic component.
One should of course head for the bife or short rib, but what puts Barda over the top is that Bardauil didn't phone it in on the secondary or vegetarian dishes, as sometimes happens at steakhouses, and the deep and thoughtful cocktail menu built around South American flavor profiles is, as far as I can tell, dud-free.
Beyond the beef, Barda's chorizo, made from his recipe at Farm Field Table, is a smoky sausage topped with shavings of pickled fennel, dill, and parsley. Cumin and garlic stand out in the pork, which are packed with chili flakes, white wine, paprika, and other flavors. The fennel is first blanched, then quick-pickled with lemon and salt, leaving it crisp and acidic, which cuts across the pork and offers a refreshing contrast in flavor and texture.
The carne y hueso is a plate of hot bone marrow and cold beef tartare. The marrow is as it should be: viscous, rich, and fatty, while the tartare's striploin is mixed with capers, garlic, onion, jalapeño, whole grain mustard seed, lemon, olive oil, plenty of salt, and a smear of horseradish — intense. Even the bread is amped up and meaty as Barda makes tallow that's brushed on the toast.
The zucchini ceviche is a refreshing change of pace. Barda cures thin slices of zucchini in a super bright, sharp, citrus-driven Peruvin marinade called leche de tigre. The marinade is usually made with fish stock and flesh, but this vegetarian version is composed of lime and lemon juice, lemon and lime zest, jalapeño, celery, onions, garlic, and more, all of which is enhanced with big hunks of mint.
The portobello is an umami-intensive dish with two big mushroom caps that are cooked sous vide and served drenched in a puddle of its own jus and truffle oil, and atop a creamy white bean mix. Bardauil said the dish was designed to have a big flavor that appeals to vegetarians and carnivores, and he succeeded.
- Tom Perkins
- The Bennie's Plan cocktail has Navy Strength Rum, Chinese Rhubarb Amaro, falernum, lime, and mulled wine.
The cocktail menu manages not to stand in the food's shadow. In the luna roja, a drink that bartender Rob Wilson describes as spirit-forward and refreshing, the tartness in cured sumac is employed to bring down the bitterness of the strawberry Campari. That's combined with a floral rooibos tea blend from Germack, a Bonal fortified wine that offers fig notes, and Dolin dry vermouth, and the package is crowned with dashes of mole bitters and flamed lemon peel. Don't let the "strawberry" fool you — it's far more complex and brooding than your favorite margarita.
I'm normally not a brandy drinker but wanted to get outside of my comfort zone with the Avant-Wanderer and was rewarded with a far more refreshing-than-expected experience. The cocktail is built around Bolivian singani brandy, which is much chiller and cleaner than its American cousin. That's mixed with Genepi, an herbal liquor that's similar to chartreuse, which Wilson said plays well with the rosemary hop syrup made in house. The latter is a blend of east coast IPA, chili, cava, and Peychaud's bitters to give it an anise ring.
We enjoyed the cocktails so much that we went with another for dessert, one that isn't on the menu but was recommended by bartender Roger Fruin, formerly of Takoi. It was a perfect, frothy meal cap with a tequila reposado base, sweet vermouth, Cynar amaro, coffee liqueur, and egg white. Beyond the cocktails, Barda offers a solid selection of Malbecs and other wines.