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DOMINGO FAMILIAR - SUNDAY DINNER TRADITION
Sunday dinner, a meal that connotes tradition and family values, is being revived as Domingo Familiar by a team of top chefs -
Robbin Haas and Adam Votaw -
known to be on the edge of avant garde cuisine, and who are now
outdoing Latin chefs at their own culinary traditions.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
Just when you think that Chispa's spark is only for after dark happy hour crowds and dining, the beautiful Nuevo Latino restaurant which opened a little over a year go in Coral Gables has come up with more sparks. This time, they are aimed at the family set.
A wonderful alternative to brunch, Sunday dinner, a meal that connotes tradition and family values, is being successfully revived as Domingo Familiar by a team of chefs - Robbin Haas and Adam Votaw - known to be on the edge of avant garde cuisine, and who are now outdoing Latin chefs at their own culinary traditions.
Tastefully designed by Carl Myers, the restaurant has the comfy looks of a wealthy Latin American or Cuban hacienda from time back with authentic tiles, leather banquettes and huge leather lamp shades, combined with the bold chic of a huge bar and an area aglow with spiked red lanterns.
In the middle, long tables for parties of up to 8 people offer groups an opportunity to eat together. And, as the say goes, "those who eat together, stay together."
On Sundays, starting at noon - too early for those who partied till the wee hours of the same day - the ambiance is congenial with the lively patter of friends and extended families, grandparents and kids, some on high chairs, relaxing over a pitcher of sangría and eating from large plates of food served family-style in the middle and at both ends of the tables.
The price is as informal as the ambiance. The Miami Spice price, $ 20.04, will get you four selections of first platters, three selections of Main Platters and three selections of desserts.
For starters, you can go light with salads like marinated tomatoes with fresh herbs and a simple, but tasty dressing of olive oil and sherry vinegar; or a large bowl of tender spinach leaves glistening with a refreshing apple cider vinaigrette and sprinkled with large chunks of crispy bacon, slices of Granny Smith apples, candied pecans and bleu cheese.
There's also ceviche. Ours, a strong-flavored salmon ceviche, slightly bitter from too much red onion and lime, was served with a sweet deep orange root vegetable and crunchy cancha, roasted giant kernels of Peruvian corn.
Latin fare by top chefs
But who wants to go light on a Sunday afternoon? There's so much to choose from a menu of traditional Latin fare prepared by top chefs.
The Empanadas of the day were delicious, light, crispy, hot, and stuffed with shredded tasajo (dried beef) meat mixed with boniato and spices, accompanied by a staple of fast food restaurants: cole slaw, which is here freshly made and delicious.
The typically Spanish picada of Serrano ham with slices of aged Manchego cheese and olives is worth sinning for; and so are the salt cod Bacalaitos: deep-fried, mealy salt cod croquettes served in a paper cone set over a stand, with a little cup of sour orange aioli.
The food keeps coming hot at the table, and there is no waiting time. But leave some space for the hearty Spanish Cava fondue. This take of French fondue, which is traditionally made with Emmenthal and Gruyère cheeses, comes piping hot in a crock , unorthodoxically but deliciously full of melted Cabrales, Manchego and Gongonzola cheeses held together with a light béchamel sauce, topped with sofrito and served with toasted Bread and paper thin sweet and crispy root chips.
Poise for lavish main platters
Indulgence is the name of the game, and Chispa gives you many additional reasons that appear on your table, like the abundant main platters. The Lechón cazuelita with yucca, we all agreed, was the highlight of the meal. The crisp-skinned pork chunks were divinely tender inside, lacquered to a crisp perfection outside, well seasoned and accompanied by wedges of boiled yucca.
Steaming crocks of melt-in-your-mouth garbanzos with sofrito, hearty black beans and rice, and rather bland platters of grilled vegetables sprinkled with melted queso fresco, are passed from one end of the table to another.
As they pile up in the plates, huge servings of bistec Palomilla with caramelized onions and a refreshing guacamole and onion salsa on the side are passed around. The high quality beef, perfectly grilled and tender, was topped with a chimichurri sauce which it needed to give it a kick. The seared fish, or Pescado a la plancha, was a grouper pleasantly dressed with garlic and lemon.
And what's Sunday dinner without dessert? The three choices of the day were all luscious versions of comfort food, and all very good, starting with the rich, creamy, not too sweet arroz con leche sprinkled with cinnamon, which our Cuban friend - who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons - declared to be "better than my Mother's!" A memorable dessert.
Flan was light, more in the vein of the French crème renversée than the Cuban condensed and sweetened milk version, and perfectly balanced with a melted caramel sauce. Chocolate cake was dark, rich, bittersweet and layered with likewise chocolate mousse.
Maybe Domingo Familiar is a vacation from too much American-French-Asian-Caribbean and other fusion cuisines, even from the excellent dishes in the regular menu we have been accustomed to at Chispa. Chef Robbin Haas has traded finesse for basic Latin food, good food, comfort food, which paves the way for an enjoyable family tradition and is poised for many encores.