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Nor should one carry with them too staid an attitude upon entering Zuperpollo. Located on Coral Way for seventeen years, the real appeal of this Uruguayan/Argentine restaurant is more the buoyant, boisterous atmosphere than any gastronomic finesse. One of my guests, a longtime friend from New York, surveyed the room and noted similarities to certain haunts we used to frequent in Little Italy: the tables cramped, the walls plastered in semicelebrity photos, dusty clusters of plastic grapes dangling from the rafters, service slap-on-the-back informal, and live music loud (accordion on this particular Friday evening; tango on Saturdays). And like those old Italian restaurants, Zuperpollo is an unpretentious neighborhood joint filled with families having fun.
If only the food was as ebullient as the ambiance. One item that did impress was an appetizer combo for two that can easily feed twice that many. The favorite pick was a pile of pickled eggplant, green peppers, and red onions, as well as creamy "potato salad" with green peas and diced carrots, which is really "ensalada Rusa" or "Russian salad"-- curiously a Uruguayan and Argentine specialty. Cow's tongue, on the other hand, wasn't for everyone, though I'm familiar with it by way of having grown up eating pickled pink slices on rye bread -- naturally with a smattering of mustard. The tongue here is thicker, and browner, than I'd had at delis, but deftly marinated in vinegar and tender as a tongue can be.
Hearts of palm, a slice of cold-cut ham, and a thicker slice of veal rolled around spinach and hard-boiled egg were also piled atop the platter, which actually contains just about every starter on the menu.
As you might expect from an establishment whose name translates to "superchicken," poultry treatments are aplenty. The specialty of the house, "famous rotisserie chicken," was zatisfactory, not zuper: no bold spicing, no crisped skin, no better than discount birds available from Publix to Pollo Tropical. Then again, it was also no more expensive; $7.95 for a half-chicken with choice of either salad topped with ruby ripe tomatoes, or one of any number of starches -- rice, French fries, baked potato, the aforementioned potato salad, or a floppy puddle of mashed potatoes.
"Pamplona de pollo" offers a more compelling take on chicken, a double breast pounded and rolled around ham, provolone cheese, and pimientos, presented as a plump, voluminous package criss-crossed with barely browned bacon.
Mad cow mania didn't frighten me away from meat, but did put a damper on my enthusiasm for blood sausage. And I've never been much of a fan of chitlins, so I merely nibbled on these parts of Zuperpollo's "mixed BBQ" (the former was fat and juicy, the latter tasted like a thick liver noodle), focusing instead on adding plenty of tart, wet chimichurri sauce to a dry flank steak, dry sweetbreads, and chewy beef short ribs. A spicy chorizo sausage was the perkiest pick of this "parillada," which comes for one or two, though unless you've got the appetite (and palate) of a genuine gaucho, the one for one should be plenty for two.
On a second trip here I tried the flank steak á la carte, a one-pound slab that this time was more moisteningly cooked to medium rare. Unfortunately the "chivito," a thin steak prepared Uruguayan style, was another study in desiccation, the cap of ham, bacon, hard-boiled egg, tomato, and darkly browned mozzarella contributing flavor, but not much juice.
Pastas and seafood round out the menu, the former including such standards as fettucine alfredo, lasagna, and petite squares of bright green spinach ravioli afloat in a punchless pink tomato sauce. Fish dishes are mostly variations on shrimp or catch of the day, both available fried or sautéed with white wine and garlic.
Our dessert options were limited to flan, chocolate mousse, tres leches, and "chaja," a Uruguayan sponge cake shaped into a dome, filled with cream and jam, and frosted in a crunchy pastillage that seemingly contained only slightly less sugar than might be found in a Twinkies factory. Zuperpollo is sweet as well, in a better way, but needs to inject the same heat and passion into its food as it does to the tango.