Restaurant Reviews

When Worlds Collide

"Ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself" — at least according to the lyrics of Rick Nelson's 1972 song "Garden Party." But the folks at Kafe Gol appear, for better or worse, to disagree. Although Gol's goal may not be to please diners from absolutely every nation, its menu covers a sizeable spectrum of the world's various cuisines. The concentration is on Latin American dishes, with offerings from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Cuba, but there are also Buffalo wings, pizzas, tuna salads, pastas, and even a teriyaki sub.

The variety of nationalities to which Kafe caters is less obvious now than last year, when the eatery opened and clearly sectioned its menu according to country of origin. This facilitated multicultural taste-testing for, say, fried-chicken lovers curious about the difference between Brazil's frango à passarinho, Cuba's chicharrón de pollo, and the United States' chicken tenders. (Quick answer is garlic, in descending order.) Listings have since evolved — or devolved — into the typical Miami menu mess in which cuisines from many countries are jumbled together without any national identification. It's therefore difficult for diners to compare each country's treatment and decide which is best.

So I'll tell you: At Kafe Gol, the winning preparations are Argentine (and Italian, via Argentina) — not surprising, considering the owners hail from Argentina. Other nations might be equally represented in the display of national soccer flags on the tiny restaurant's walls but not in the menu's offering of typical national dishes.

Cubans, for instance, will find no ropa vieja, no lechón asado, nor any pork at all (blasphemy). There's only the aforementioned chicharrón de pollo and bistec de palomilla. The steak was served with no rice or black bean side dishes (double blasphemy!), and the meat was cardboard-dry, as very thin, unmarbled cuts of quick-sautéed beef are when cooked well-done. Its topping of tangy sautéed onions would have enlivened the petrified beef considerably if only there had been a heap of them rather than a half-teaspoonful.

Brazil is also represented more meagerly than one would expect, judging by the stack of postcards self-billing Gol as "The Brazilian Stop." The menu boasts nothing like Brazil's elaborate national specialty, feijoada, for instance — only the same choice of fried chicken chunks or beef. But a Brazilian picanha steak, juicier than the Cuban cut, was far superior in quality. The obligatory accompaniment of farofa (toasted manioc flour) is an acquired taste; dipping steak into dry meal baffles most non-Brazilians. But the side dish of homemade mashed potatoes we chose was rich, silky-smooth, and all-around fabulous.

Lomo saltado (the classic chifa — Peruvian-Chinese — stir-fry of beef, onions, tomatoes, and French fries) was a respectable version, thanks to sirloin strips that were not terminally tough and fries superior to the ubiquitous frozen crinkle-cuts. Seasoning, however, was bland, without even a hint of the sillau (soy sauce) that typically makes chifa food taste Latin-Chinese rather than just Latin.

Much more typical of their home country were the Argentine offerings, such as chorizo gol, two grilled choripans (soft South American-style ground-meat links, not the chunky Spanish version). Sadly this starter came unadorned by even a tomato wedge, but a signature Gol salad (romaine, hearts of palm, shrimp, pickled red peppers, and — supposedly, but not — shredded carrots, dressed in an Argentine "Golf" mayo/ketchup sauce) complemented the savory sausages well.

Best was an Argentine-Italian entrée of shrimp sautéed with lots of fresh garlic and olive oil. Mixed with a generously sized side portion of al dente spaghetti coated in a lovely, creamy-rich white sauce, the $11.95 dish was enough to please not one but two starvation-budget diners.

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Pamela Robin Brandt

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