Review: Latino Doha
My eyes strain to see, my ears are assaulted by the musical racket from the loudspeakers, and I walk away slightly overstimulated but quite satisfied.
It’s been at least half a year since my last visit to Latino, and I’ve been invited to a new concept they’re introducing: the chef’s tasting table. Each month, a special menu is designed to pair some items from the kitchen with certain bottles from the cellar. It should be noted that each course comes with a full-sized adult beverage (the regional term for booze because anything too overtly alcoholic sounding is banned on print). And if, like me, you abstain, then tough noogies, toots. You get a choice of still water, sparkling water or soda. Which isn’t exactly good value considering the experience costs close to QR500, but I digress.
This evening, the chefs start with a bang. Well, a bang on a dainty plate, in the form of guacamole. The avocados used are beautifully ripened and mashed with respect so the dip is distinctly lumpy (nothing worse than overworked green mush). Moreover, there’s a polite balance of piquancy and spiciness from lime juice and peppers. Overall, everyone in my party agrees it’s pretty textbook, and the polished plates speak either of the sheer goodness of the guacamole, or our rapacious appetites. I’d like to think the former.
From highlight, it quickly descends into lowlight. The beef tartare that follows can only be diplomatically described as displeasing. I am not fond of its marinade and try to mask the pungency of the meat with pico de gallo. Alas, no amount of onion can help; two bites is all I muster. I enquire and am told the spicing is intentional. I have to put it down to a difference in opinion.
Still, redemption is swift. Empanadas quickly make up for the previous shortfall. The herbed beef and lamb fillings are encased in light pastry that glisten with egg wash. They’re served with a sweet, tomato based sauce, which complements the bread parcels but could easily be omitted by purists. Steaming and comforting, a good stuffing-to-skin ratio, these little beauties make my evening.
Meat is the name of the game here, and if there’s room for only one, I recommend the grilled picanha, a cut of meat forming the cornerstone of Brazilian churrascarias. Here, the top sirloin cap is marinated in a honey-like sauce which adds a charred sweetness once kissed by flames. The first slice I’m served is beyond well done. I squirm in my seat but hold my tongue because I’m enchanted by the robust flavours. I call the server back for a slice of medium rare. The best they can do on this occasion is medium, which I take with glee. And what a difference 15 degrees Fahrenheit makes. Not only is this delicious, it’s crucially also tender.
Medium rare beef ought to be the default for any meat lover. Then again, I’m reminded that in this part of the world, well done is the norm. Regional eating habits dictate that meat – even luxury cuts of Wagyu beef — be burnt to a stage worthy of competing with crocodile leather and then chomped on with ketchup for maximum effect. If that is what customers demand, restaurants really have no choice but to acquiesce. Business is business. Different strokes for different folks, eh?
While waiting for the final course, I again remark on how dark and loud the restaurant is. My dining companion doesn’t seem to mind. I’m accused of being precious, nay, a fogey who can’t appreciate mood lighting or vibrant salsa sounds. I object, naturally. I would like to say the banter is spirited and lively, but the truth is I can hardly hear a word she utters over Enrigue Iglesias belting at the top of his lungs. The overzealous DJ needs to be reined in.
Towards the meal’s end, my complaining ceases. For on the table are fried, rolled pancakes oozing with berry compote and dulce de leche. The tubes sit on a luminescent green sauce, which turn out to be nondescript and non-essential. They really have no role on this plate, unlike the the accompanying bowl of melted orange chocolate. This liquid pot of joy is the perfect ally to an already decadent dessert.
And in my world, decadence is always welcome.
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