Saturday, October 8, 2011

Celebrating Brasil - Crossing Religion & Culinary Experiences

Little Brasil (note the "s" and not the "z" ) is one of the lesser known "ethnic" neighborhoods in Manhattan. Located primarily on a single block on 46th St between 5th Avenue and Avenue of the Americans, its very easy to miss this small enclave.  Compared to places like Chinatown or Arthur Avenue,  Little Brasil sports a handful of eateries , accompanied by a even small number of Brazilian-American businesses which are hidden, often situated off of street level.  But they are there. Trust me.

Among the restaurants, the there is one that the fan club and I keep going back to: Via Brasil. I would not consider myself  and family regulars, but we do go there at least 4-5 times a year.  And there is one time during the year that we are likely to visit the restaurantL each year after mass at St. Patricks Cathedral in NYC, celebrating Brazil's patron saint Nossa Senhora Aparecida. Going to Via Brasil always turns out to be a great way to end an evening of religious contemplation.  This year's visit, on a beautiful October night will be remembered fondly. All the stars were definitely aligned for us.


After a short walk from the cathedral, we arrived at the restaurant. Outdoor seating is limited, not more than four small tables, but that is not a problem. At Via Brasil. the action is all inside, especially on Saturday nights  when a great live band blasts out - with no ear drum damage - great sounds of  Brazil.  I suspect one of the band members is a partial owner. I might be wrong, but he definitely adds character to the place both during the performance with his tambourine driven rhythms and,  after the performance ,  when in typical Brazilian manner, he mingles and engages on with the guests on their way out side,  puffing on what seemed like  stronger than usual imported cigarettes.

Besides the music, the premises are nicely arranged. A small bar, sits in the front area surrounded by a few tables,  Its a good spot especially on summer nights when the front doors are open and also during cold cozy winter evenings, when it feels good to look out windows on to the street from the temperate comfort of your meal.  Inside, if you look down at the floor, you will notice a tile pattern that is distinctly associated with Brasil. It is a reproduction of the wavy, mosaic that covers the walkway in Copacabana beach in Rio De Janeiro.  Take a look at the original wavy tiles along this mythical sidewalk to get a better idea of what to find in the restaurant.


The bulk of the tables, in the posterior part of the restaurant , just after the white grand piano. The arrangement works both for couples, as well as groups that intend bringing in some lively celebratory spirits.

Via Brasil Restaurant Facade




And then, of course,  there is the food, the reason why this Italian-American patron keeps going back to Via Brasil. So let's talk about it  a bit.

Frango com Quiabo - Chicken stew with Okra &  polenta


I used to have a simple rule. Don't mix tomato based sauces with veggies. This dish, and its cooking technique proves me wrong. The flavors are complex and textures work perfectly together. Chicken meat is the star, but the Okra , herbs and spices complex steal the show. And then the side of silky corn polenta, combines texture and subtle corn flavor.  This is a hearty dish , but not one that  does not leave you feeling wobbly with a jello-filled tummy. Polenta, in my book, is always a welcome addition,

Bacalhau Cozido - Broiled Cod fish in a garlic sauce
Bacalhau comes to Brazil from its Portuguese roots. This dish is especially flavorful ,and yet at its heart, extremely simple. The salt cod is baked, then covered with a garlic sauce that is made of just garlic slivers, perfectly  toasted in EVOO and  pinch a cilantro.   Let me be blunt: Via Brasil has this dish down!  There is not an extra hint of salt in the fish;  they mastered the soaking time for the dry cod, resurrecting it to edible status.

Out evening menu selection also included included two starters.


- Linguica Frita c/Mandioca - Fried Brazilian sausage served w/manioc fries, a finger food delight , always works well with an appetizing flute of Prosecco wine.  This is a classic.

- Casquinha de Siri - Crab cake topped w/melted cheese, a crab based dish, with no resemblance to the great stuff out of Maryland. This is not fried patty , but a dish of tropical and West African influence.  I will try to reproduce my own version of this one day , once I find the high quality lump crab. Now that's a compliment.

Eating at a Brazilian restaurant would not be complete without sampling some of the traditional drinks. The Queen went for a Caipirinha de Maracujá,  a variant of this famous drink that includes Passion Fruit juice to a strong dose of good Cachaça, Brazil's "national rum, made from sugarcane. Hint, hint, the perfect drink to get the romantic juices flowing. While I was tempted to go for a Xingu, beer, one of my favorites, it would have been a mismatch for my dinner.. Xingu. is a brand of a Brazilian black bee based on the Schwarzbier recipe with a slightly sweet , cola-hinted flavour, and almost know residual burnt accents characteristic of stouts and porters. I went instead for a glass of  Reisiling , after my initial glass of sparkling white wine - thought I had ordered Prosecco.- ouch.

Via Brasil , is a happening place. I can't remember of a visit when somebody was not celebrating a birthday party there, especially on Saturday nights. We've thrown parties there too - birthdays, and farewell parties for Japanese friends.   If you feel you've got some Brazilian energy in you, then stop by , and enjoy the music, enjoy the food. Rarely you will run into shy, reserved American couples, that have difficultly in letting the Bossa Nova and Samba-inspired musica and the culinary aromas lift you from the moment you step foot inside. Oh, almost forgot, the mythical  Carmen Miranda , lives there too, Don't forget to say hi, as you make your way downstairs to the powder rooms.

Parabens !  With Via Brasil, every day can be your birthday.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking me through this culinary excursion. I'll be taking my boyfriend here this weekend to experience what sounds like bliss on a plate.

    ReplyDelete