At This Argentinian Restaurant in Detroit, Food Gets Flavored by Flames
There is no official embassy of Argentina in Detroit, but chef Javier Bardauil and Ignacio Gerson, co-owners of Barda, consider their restaurant the unofficial one.
The pair—whose relationship traces back to their shared childhood in Argentina—had long dreamed of opening a restaurant together. Gerson’s move to Detroit in 2019 lit the fuse. “Detroit was blooming, but there was no representation of Latin American culture here,” he says. “So we decided that we needed to do it.” He encouraged Bardauil, who was living in Miami at the time, to join him in Michigan. They opened Barda last June, and the spot has drawn an influx of crowds and glowing reviews ever since.
Barda is a restaurant of the hearth. There’s no gas grill—in fact, the location doesn’t have any gas lines at all. Instead, in Argentinian style, Bardauil and his team cook with flames, using only a wood-fired oven and grill in an open kitchen, a feat that the 2022 James Beard Awards named a finalist for its Best New Restaurant category. While Barda has mastered an ancient concept—gathering around a fire to dine together—and enhanced it with the finesse of fine dining, the setting is unpretentious and casual: With cerulean-glazed tiles lining the floor, walls, and countertops, you’d think you were at a friend’s dinner party at the bottom of a swimming pool.
When it comes to the food and drinks, Barda continues to shine. Traditional Argentinian dishes are served with a twist, as apparent in the tira de asado’s (grilled beef short ribs) inventive pepper-coriander crust, and the eclectic wine list, centered around bottles from Argentina. Some items are an amalgam of foods from Latin America: Dishes such as Peruvian tiradito (made with scallop, corn, and habanero tiger milk) and arroz con mariscos (a seafood paella–like dish) come from the country’s neighbor to the north, and the caviar hails from San Gregorio de Polanco, a small peninsula region in Uruguay. For dessert, diners can choose between Mexican flan, a deconstructed pavlova, or a “burnt alaska,” a play on the American classic “baked alaska.”
Ultimately, Bardauil and Gerson want diners to mingle, feel relaxed, and at home. The casual ambience is a team effort. “Being outgoing is the number one trait for any employee at Barda,” says Rob Wilson, the restaurant’s bar manager. “We always have a smile on our face.” Even in the kitchen, there’s no room for hierarchy or stress. “We love each other and respect each other,” Bardauil says of his team. “There is no ‘Yes, chef,’ in this kitchen.” Beyond its faithful menu, Barda’s warm, communal atmosphere, the staffers say, is where its Argentinian roots burn brightest.