Argentinian chef to turn on the flames at former Magnet locale with Barda
When chef Javier Bardauil first walked into the hip, new restaurant Magnet in Detroit's Core City neighborhood just after its opening, he said he "fell in love."
Now nearly a year and a half later, the Buenos Aires-born chef is preparing to introduce himself to Detroit with his own restaurant, Barda, in the very same space.
"It has a lot of personality," he says of the azure-tiled room framed by booths with a sunken bar in the middle and an open kitchen in the back of the room. "It's going to be tough for me to be something else here than Magnet, but I have my own repertoire, my own view about hosting people here."
Bardauil said when he came to Metro Detroit two years ago to open a restaurant with his friend and business partner, his plan was "an open-fire kitchen powered by wood." When he stepped into Magnet, he saw it was already being done.
"In Argentina, in general, we gather around fire," he said. "There's no way that we can skip a weekend without gathering around fire. That's why I was thinking, bring the fire here. Well, somebody already built it for me. I wouldn't change anything."
Magnet was an ambitious dining concept launched in 2019 by Takoi chef Brad Greenhill and developer Philip Kafka. Not only was all the food cooked by fire via wood-burning stove or a grill — no gas stoves — but the tip-less business model that baked the cost of gratuity into the menu prices was unique, too.
The buzz was heavy when Magnet opened around the time Bardauil visited, and it continued to be a hot spot up until COVID-19 hit. Greenhill and Kafka confirmed in August that Magnet would not reopen; Greenhill cited the pandemic, but Kafka, who still owns the building, said it was a mix of factors.
Bardauil said Barda — which is also his nickname — will offer the traditional American model of service as far as the tipping goes, but he will keep the kitchen as is. He'll serve vegetable, seafood, chicken and meat dishes at a variety of price points. The bar program will be simple, and will include Argentine wines and one of the country's favorite Italian spirits, Fernet.
As far as price points, Bardauil said he wants to be able to serve people in the nearby neighborhoods and "not be exclusive."
He's enlisted local restaurant veteran Michael Goldberg as his chef de cuisine. Goldberg is the co-owner of Allenby Detroit, which briefly served Israeli-inspired dishes out of the now-closed Fort Street Galley food hall.
"He's helping me a lot to understand what's going on here," said Bardauil.
He hopes Barda will be ready to open by April. By then, indoor dining could be allowed at 50% instead of the current 25% and he should also have his liquor license in place. In the meantime, he's been hosting private events there and has been working as a private chef in the Bloomfield Hills area throughout the pandemic.
Bardauil said one silver lining to opening a new restaurant during a pandemic is that he's been allowed to move slowly.
"It's never like this," he said. "I've opened several restaurants in Buenos Aries for companies and other people ... so when I come here, everything was slowed down because of the pandemic. For me it was a really good chance to know the customer profile, to see what is going on here. Because I came here and I didn't know anything about Detroit."
Bardauil's culinary journey started after a tragic motorcycle accident after college. He said he was working in an administrative job and had a epiphany that he should be doing something else.
He enrolled in culinary school in Buenos Aries. From there, his first job was with celebrity chef Francis Mallmann who is known for his Argentine barbecuing techniques. Bardauil said Mallmann encouraged him to travel and cook in other countries and gain experience.
"So I went to Paris to make cakes," he said, adding that he kept traveling and cooking through Europe, fell in love with Italian cuisine, and eventually made his way back to Buenos Aries where he hosted the Latin American television show "Cena y Cine” (dinner and a movie). His wife and two kids came later, causing him to want more stability.
Now he's here with his family ready to start a new journey as a Detroit chef.
"We're going to celebrate the Argentinian style of cooking," he said. "The gathering around fire with a very honest and simple approach, and it's going to be seasonal. Nothing fancy. I'm really expecting that people have fun here, as I have in the kitchen. I like to laugh. I like to enjoy what I'm doing all the time. That's my goal."
Barda, 4842 Grand River Ave. in Detroit, is set to open this spring. Find more info at javierbardauil.com or bardadetroit.com.