Don't Tempt Me, Argentina
Sure, there's meat aplenty to be found at this Argentine gourmet market and café, which has a location in Aventura only several months old and another, newly opened, in the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables. You can order garlicky, thinly sliced matambre (roasted and rolled flank steak stuffed with spinach, parsley, eggs, and carrots) or raw lomo (tenderloin) from the butcher counter to take home and grill yourself. You can even buy the wood for the fire here. Or you can sample items like roast beef wraps garnished with lettuce, tomato, and chimichurri; or tender beef milanesa, made to order on the premises.
But the handsome La Estancia Argentina, which loosely translates as "country estate" (think manor house with a staff of servants overseeing your every comfort), offers many more items certain to tempt those who practice self-denial or insist on propriety. Everything from the bakery items -- dulce de leche cannoli, anyone? Chocolate tres leches? -- to the frozen-food section in the market boasts homemade quality. It's all too easy to stop in for flaky, tender chicken or beef empanadas; the ham-and-cheese and spinach versions, which can be bland when made by lesser hands, are especially savory. Sandwiches are also terrific, especially the Serrano ham-and-manchego-cheese-stuffed baguettes and the traditional miga (tea sandwiches) layered with combinations such as thinly sliced tomatoes and prosciutto.
If you don't want to eat at one of the cherry-wood, bar-style tables or the community counter, you can always take out a trio of rotating plats du jours: a bowl of the soup, which might be a rich cream of mushroom; a salad, which could be crisp romaine topped with boiled corn, sliced hearts of palm, and sautéed chicken; and the entrée, which if you're lucky will be a meltingly good beef Stroganoff braised in beer and served over herb-inflected mashed potatoes.
The market stocks a pleasant if not exceptional variety of South American and Italian wines to go along with the hearty foodstuffs (a liquor license is forthcoming so diners can have a glass or two on site). But the real beverage treats, from sparkling pink lemonade to Belgian trappiste ales, are less obvious, hidden in the refrigerated cases. As for the canned and jarred products, they have international flair, with Bhutanese red rice perched next to Portuguese skipjack tuna steak preserved in salt and water. What's notable is the price range, which can be downright inexpensive (a buck or two for a tube of sea salt mixed with basil) to truly audacious (upward of $100 for a set of truffled olive oils and balsamic vinegars).
But for the most part, tags are not only justified but judicious. (Hit the nearby Fresh Market in Aventura for a splash of culinary reality.) For higher-end items, certainly epicures should reasonably expect to dish out a ten-spot for a jar of wild boar tomato sauce, and equal currency for a bag of frozen black truffle-filled lunettes (moon-shaped pasta). Just as they should anticipate being completely satisfied with any of their purchases, no matter where they are to be consumed.
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