Take a stroll down Lincoln Road, and though you might not think it's exactly Anywhere, U.S.A. (Victoria's Secret hasn't moved into the Miami City Ballet's former space yet), you could be justified in calling it Anywhere, Europe. That's because the hosts of the various restaurants have begun doing what the eateries in the more tourist-ridden areas of Europe, like Barcelona, Florence, and Nice, have been practicing for years. They're leaping out at passing foot traffic, thrusting menus in our hands, and accosting our appetites with lists of not-so-virtuous virtues. (We serve pasta!)
I thought I'd left solicitation behind when I scorned the Beach for Biscayne Boulevard, and a quiet dinner at the two-year-old Argentine restaurant Alfredo's, an office-building eatery northeast of the Design District in the newly designated "Arts & Media District." But as we were searching for a parking spot (choices are limited to two lots, both of which are gated) a man came running out of the restaurant. "Are you dining here tonight?" he asked. When we nodded he directed us to a space in one of the lots at the back of the eatery.
Either the guy was really bored, looking for customers for his otherwise empty dining room, set with tablecloths and wine glasses and hung with cowhides, or really observant. I prefer to think the latter. He turned out to be chef-owner Alfredo's brother Rafael, and after he'd seated us, and after we asked him what was the best steak in the house, he quizzed us about our ethnicity. "Are you Argentine?"
4770 Biscayne Blvd; 305-576-2400.
Open weekdays for lunch and dinner 10:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m., Saturdays from 6:00 p.m. to midnight. Closed on Sundays.
No, we told him, but we love Argentine restaurants.
"Ah," he said. "Are you Jewish?"
"Then you'll want the skirt steak ($8.95). The bife, that's just a sirloin. And the flank steak, that's like pot roast. Good, but a little chewier. You want the one with the fat on it."
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We sure did. That skirt steak, marbled but not lumpy with tasty fat, was one of the finest cuts of meat I've had in some time. Oozing juice, the flavorful steak didn't even need the tremendously garlicky chimichurri that accompanied it, a sauce that was so yummy in its own right we consumed it on bread. A mound of thin French fries that came with the steak were crisp and light, like pommes frites.
Aside from steaks and fries, Alfredo's serves a number of pastas, including big, fluffy gnocchi, with the customer's choice of marinara, Alfredo, or a combo of the two sauces into one pink one. The only pasta that's homemade, however, is the cannelloni: three large tubes stuffed with ground beef, spinach, and cheese, spiked with a little ham, and baked ($4.95). The ham concerned Rafael for a moment, who thought we were not just Jewish but kosher. As soon as we assured him pigs were fine with us, he brightened considerably and practically ordered me to have the pink sauce over it. "That is the best!" he beamed.
Tío Rafa, as he suggested we call him, must be, like my mother, used to being right. The cannelloni were plump with stuffing, exuding steam as we cut into them. As for the pink sauce, it was more like straight Alfredo, albeit dotted with a few minced tomatoes here and there. Sinful, I'd call it. Am I glad Jews don't have to confess, 'cause I plan on committing this sin again soon.
Alfredo's menu is limited, but you can glean some homemade empanadas ($1.50), stuffed with ground beef, hard-boiled eggs, and whole green olives, as an appetizer. Or slice into a grilled chorizo, thick as your wrist. And definitely indulge in a crêpe filled with creamy-sticky dulce de leche for dessert ($3.95). During lunch, when the eatery serves an average of 200 meals to the local business folk, both Alfredo and Tío Rafa are too busy to talk. But on weekday evenings, when the restaurant is slow, one of them just might sit down with you over your sweet and regale you with tales of New York, where they grew up in the same neighborhood as Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. And if someone flags you down while you're driving on Biscayne Boulevard past Alfredo's place, be open to it. It's not a holdup, or a car-jacking, or a prostitute offering services. It's simply Tío Rafa, trying to be a helpful guy.