Buenos Aires' Recoleta neighborhood is studded with ritzy hotels, luxury leather accessory shops, and frantic dog-walkers who trudge along its many sloped cobblestone streets. Across the tony area in Argentina's capital are many restaurants that peddle the country's meat-centric epicurean fare. There are empanadas, ñoquis in cream sauce, lots of ojo de bife, and plenty of Malbec. Service is provided by one or two proud waiters — the kind of porteños who sneer when chicken isn't pronounced posho (a sound that replicates air escaping a tire) or an asado appetizer is ordered without chinchulines (small intestines of typically beef or pig).
In Miami, Argentine restaurants also conform. Novecento, which has locations from Argentina to Key Biscayne to New York, and Graziano's, the locally owned group with outposts in Coral Gables and Brickell, feature formulaic menus of traditional steak-house fare. Grilled sweetbreads, caesar salads, and dulce de leche crepes are the norm.
Doma Polo Bistro, a downtown eatery that opened in August 2012, is in certain ways like these two groups. The menu lists classic dishes, such as salpicón and milanesa. Its pages are filled with erroneous translations from Spanish to English. (If you think the "wiped" cream on the panqueques de dulce de leche is some experiment in molecular gastronomy, think again.)
Doma Polo Bistro
Monday through Friday noon to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to midnight.
Mahi-mahi al horno $24
Milanesa de pollo $17
Ravioli de ricotta y hongos $18
Panqueques de dulce de leche $7
Despite the similarities, Doma sets itself apart. The eatery overlooks the American Airlines Arena and is next door to the appropriately named sports bar Hoops. For diners, the location indicates two things: Dinner on the patio on game night can be rowdy, and arriving at the restaurant is sometimes impossible. But it's worth it. The food is quite enjoyable.
The bistro's owner is Diego Verzino, a Buenos Aires native who previously worked as a consultant for Argentina's Buller Brewing Company. After a stint in brand development, he opened Doma Polo with the aim of serving straightforward, classic Argentine bistro fare in Miami.
His ambition is evident in many things, including the polo-inspired décor. Handsome wooden booths resemble horse stables. Walls are printed with words from the polo lexicon, such as backhander and four riders and their mounts.
Among the best dishes is the entraña, a hefty nine-ounce portion of perfectly grilled skirt steak, served with an astringent salsa criolla — a mix of chopped tomatoes, peppers, vinegar, and onions — and a smooth purée of carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squash. Also tops is the oven-roasted mahi-mahi, paired with thick-cut slices of boiled beets, a dome of jasmine rice, and a scarlet vinaigrette composed of roasted red bell peppers and tomatoes. There's also the ravioli, stuffed with ricotta cheese and ham, topped with an array of mushrooms — including portobello, shiitake, champignon, and oyster — and finished with a generous dousing of truffle oil.
Then there are the empanadas, fried pockets of delectable dough offered with stuffings of beef, chicken, spinach, or corn. The first features rich ground beef studded with chopped green olives and soft potatoes. Together, these traditional components represent everything one could possibly want in an Argentine savory pastry. The corn variety, which pairs maize with a thick, creamy béchamel filling, oozes with the slightly sweet flavor of the tender golden grain. When it comes to empanadas at Doma Polo Bistro, corn trumps the beef.
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Some plates, however, aren't worth the wait in traffic. One of them is the locro, a hearty, traditional Andean stew comprising pork, beef, grains, squash, white beans, and corn. The thick soup is served in a mini cast-iron pot alongside grilled country-style bread. Typically this combination is flawless, but Doma's version is pasty and greasy.
Most entrées are priced in the $20 to $30 range, but portions can easily feed two. Some plates — such as the chicken Milanese, composed of two breaded and fried chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes and tossed salad greens for $17 — could feed three with an appetizer.
Poor service contrasts the generous portions and delectable fare. One Saturday at nearly 10 p.m., a waiter incessantly insisted on taking our order just seconds after we were seated. The kitchen was closing soon, he said with quite a bit of attitude. But according to the eatery's schedule, hours extend until 2 a.m. that day. On a separate evening, our table — which was laden with dirty plates and empty water glasses — was neglected for more than 20 minutes.
Slow service didn't seem to bother diners, though. Most patrons were speaking with rambunctious porteño accents and wearing La Martina polo shirts while eating matambritos and downing bottles of Malbec. Perhaps for them, dining at Doma Polo Bistro was like a taste of home.