Get a taste of Argentina in Sunny Isles at New San Telmo (St. Elmo), named for a trendy neighborhood of Buenos Aries. The warm, inviting space is hung with photos of famous Argentines who have dined here, but the main draw is the solid food ranging from empanadas and matambre (pounded veal rolled up and stuffed with vegetables and hard cooked egg , steamed and served cold cut in slices with Russian salad) to pastas with a choice of sauces, steaks and mixed grill with chimichurri sauce and choice of sides from rice and baked potato to creamed spinach and grilled onions. Specials include mahi mahi cooked in white wine with olives and chicken Dijon.
My Argentine friend Edgar discovered San Telmo while scouting for a place near his fiancée's home for their wedding reception. There are plenty of Argentine restaurants in Sunny Isles Beach, but when I went with Edgar to check out this cozy spot, we were both won over.
The charming owners, Mario and Laura Szwarc, bought New San Telmo from a fellow Argentine two years ago, re-did the design and menu and hired Jose Luis Aguilar as chef.
Mario's Russian grandmother emigrated to Uruguay after World War II along with boatloads of other Jewish ex-communists. She rented rooms to fellow immigrants, and married a Polish boarder, Mario's grandfather, who was a rabbi.
Mario was born in neighboring Argentina, as was Laura, who is of Polish descent. The couple met when Mario needed a model for the women's clothing he was making at the time.
The restaurant business seemed a better bet after they relocated to South Florida six years ago with their three children. They work hard, but always take time to sit and chat with customers, welcoming both regulars and newcomers over glasses of wine.
Argentina's food is an amalgam of many cultures, with its one true cuisine the parrillada, or mixed grill. Find this and more at New San Telmo, named for a neighborhood in Buenos Aries famous for tango and antique shops. (San Telmo is another name for St. Peter Gonzales, also know as St. Elmo, patron saint to sailors.
The restaurant is an Argentine hangout, but any carnivore will feel at home here, and non-meat eaters will be pleased with the wide selection of vegetable, salads and pastas.
Start the meat fiesta with grilled chorizo, sweetbreads, crispy chinchulines (small intestine) or morcilla (blood sausage). Other typical starters are campfire mozzarella (fried on the grill) and Russian potato salad.
Meat is the main event for Argentines, simply sprinkled in salt, grilled over wood charcoal and served with chimichurri sauce. Cuts to try here are tira de asado (thin-cut short ribs), vacio (similar to flank), entrana (rich-flavored outer skirt steak) and bife de chorizo (unrelated to the sausage, this is thick sirloin strip steak). There are also mixed grills -- samplers of most of the above -- for one or two people.
As for that wedding reception, more than 50 guests enjoyed a modified mixed grill. Mario and Laura were gracious hosts, warmly welcoming the crowd of strangers and even dancing with the bride and groom.