Why did it take us so long to come here? Friendly kitchen, check. Addictive food, check. Wildly floral interior with wood-plank ceiling, check. Ridiculously charming Brazilian-themed motel next door, check.
Plant life and the sounds of an acoustic guitar beckon. We order at the counter, gaze longingly at the items beneath the glass, find a weatherbeaten wooden table, and wait.
The featured part of our dinner is euphoria-inducing. The catfish, in particular, is on. It's brushed with seasoning and seared to a gritty red and black, the inside a perfectly pale fawn color. It tears gently apart on the fork. It causes wars.
The Chicken Milanesa is pounded to a thickness slightly greater than a CD jewel case, lightly breaded and fried almost as tender as the fish; a tangle of seared cheese caps it.
The main courses are not alone. Café Brasil does the holy duo of white rice and black beans, the latter kept separate in a bowl. The pico de gallo is infused with a tangy green dressing that makes it almost a salad, and the plantains are grilled and firm rather than sweet and soft like at Bossa Nova. The soups, such as spicy black bean or lentil, are thin but mouth-fillingly robust.
There are bottles of murky red hot sauce, which delivers a solid impact like a too-enthusiastic hug from your avó.
To drink I zero in on iced mochas when I can, and theirs is foamy, richly chocolate, and comes in a tall glass with an honest-to-goodness rock candy stick.
Don't park in the parking lot that you think belongs to the restaurant, because it belongs to the hotel. Consider, however, that you can eat yourself silly and then check yourself into the hotel.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, Santa Monica/Culver City )
The locations in West Hollywood and Encino are closed, so we can concentrate on the original, shaking its tailfeathers on the dingy corner of Virgil and Melrose. Every square inch is saucily colored; one wall is on fire, another draped with faux cannabis leaves. Virgin Mary altars and prayer candles gaze serenely over the diners. It's a party place steeped in its own invented traditions.
We tend to get the tapas-style dishes that end up stuffing the hell out of us. The Ceviche Guadalupe is a rich, seafoody salsa, all swordfish, salmon, and shrimp all swimming together in a samba spa, and other insane alliteration I can't avoid when dipping my chips into this stuff.
The Black Bean Tamales are smoooooth, the cornmeal infused with the unique scent and taste of black bean and golden caviar.
The Jerk Pork is a tenderloin powerhouse on a crisped tortilla, drenched in a dark spicy sauce bent on revenge. It's not especially Jamaican--it's more like a mole sauce that's spent some time in prison--but it commands attention.
Some aren't our favorites but are worth trying, and go well with particular drinks. The Guava and Goat Cheese Quesadilla is almost like a stuffed pita, and the guacamole is necessary to ease off on the goat cheese tang. The Crispy Shrimp Cakes are like a mutant crab cake fought a box of Rice Krispies, except a lot better than that particular simile sounds; the shrimp is subdued and not overly battery. The tartar sauce helps.
Their tropical punch is grapefruity rather than a saccharine red, and if I retained hold of the menu I could tell you what was in Bianca's "Voodoo Spiced Cocktail."
Parking is a five-buck valet investment, but street parking is a little nervous.
There's a pair of Cha Cha Chas in San Francisco (on Haight and on Mission) that are highly acclaimed, and I'm unsure if they're related.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Brazilian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Jamaican )
The decor and the clientele encapsulate more of a "urbane international coffee house" appearance than rootsy Brazilian, but it has a vibe like seus amigos brasilian might accept its authenticity. Perhaps it's the TV flashing soap operas in Portuguese.
The tables are small and square and almost all provide a view of the brightly lit kitchen. Out of this kitchen comes large plates with salivation-inducing creations. Let's get to them.
The Sopa de Feijao is black bean soup, smooth like a samba, with salsa campanha hidden underneath a small white spoonful of queijo minero. Share this with whomever came with you tonight.
Tropicalia does seafood, chicken and pork equally well. The Brazipork is red and sultry in a deep iron skillet; the Salmaõ ao Molho de Mostarda is a long way to say Atlantic salmon in a creamy mustard sauce more zesty than tart, with brown rice and roasted vegetables somehow made shiny and beautiful.
If you like breaded & fried chicken without having it too breaded & fried, the Frango a Milanesa is your friend: chicken pounded and lightly pan-roasted into glistening planks, with thick black beans, a berm of white rice, and far too few slices of plantain (is Bossa Nova the only place that gives you more than two?).
The specialty is the Moqueca de Peixe, a choice of white fish, shrimp or both (of course you should get both) in dende oil and coconut milk sauce, with a few shreds of cilantro, tomatoes and onions for texture. Brazilian rice helps to keep it on the plate.
You probably won't have room for dessert, but... Brazilian Tiramisu? What's that about?
Parking is not restricted along the streets of Los Feliz, it's just unlikely. There's valet, though, if you want to hold up traffic on Hillhurst.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park )
Another strip mall prize, thanks to Heather P.
JP is tiny, a square space with well-considered color: walls of clay, mustard and aluminum, woven chairs, perpetual surfing on TV and a myriad of colors on the chalkboard menu. A blues guitar repents overhead, or southern rock. A casual island spot in the midst of sunblasted midwestern Valley.
The lanky saint behind the counter is John, who is a really nice guy. He's so pleasant that if I were someone's busybody old aunt I'd be introducing my nieces to him. People who come in seem to know him, and I expect that Johnny Pacific's going to be a hotly defended neighborhood treasure.
But what was I supposed to be talking about... empanadas! I scan the fingernail-chewing array of fried meat pie choices: ham and cheese, all melty and familiar. Kailua pig (which doesn't taste fried at all, and it reminds me of Hawai'i). Spinach and cheese. A pulled pork? Does anyone else do that? Damn.
The "JP Frittes" are Belgian style, in that they're seasoned and come with dipping sauces: I can recommend the Basil Aioli, the Sweet & Sour Thai, and the Chimmi-Churri that has a back-of-the-throat garlic kick.
Everything is served in boxes & paper, simply, sans frills. The drinks are various choices of freshly squeezed and homemade, such as the just-sweet-enough lemonade, but you can get a can of Inka Cola if you have a mind to.
There's even dessert empanadas... how about a "Flanada" with homemade caramel sauce? A chocolate & coconut? I'm going to have to run over to one of the Empanada's Place locations and do some comparative eating...
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, American, The Valley, Argentine, Hawaiian/Oceania )
There is a Carnaval bar and lounge at one end, a long buffet at the other, and a sea of mustard-yellow chairs between; paintings from Brazil radiate color from brick walls.
There are two ways to have a meal here, usually combined. One is to cruise the buffet that has plenty enough to eat, like white or yellow rice, red potatoes, very sweet plantains, chicken with yellow strogonoff sauce, spinach, black beans, and soft rolls. Be sparse with your selections, because while you can stuff yourself at the buffet, what you want is the meat.*
There is a wooden cylinder at your place setting, painted red at one end and green on the other. Set the green side upward and you will soon have a trim young man in brilliant flowing pantaloons sweeping by your table with a giant knife and a skewer of one of several churrasqueira delicacies: garlic beef, spicy chicken thighs, top sirloin steak, Brazilian sausage, or, to add insult to this, chicken wrapped in bacon. The gaucho will ask if you want any, and how much. He will shave off glorious slices of meat until you say stop.
(There are other things to order, too, so don't neglect them: fried yucca, salads, empanadas, and a bevy of cocktails.)
The gauchos appear sporadically, somewhat like being at Dodger Stadium and hoping the chocolate malt guy will get to your aisle soon. You eat, unable to resist new cuts of meat, knowing that you are stretching your stomach lining. When you simply cannot bear to have another young man in pantaloons stop by with protein impaled on metal, you reluctantly, sadly, painfully, slip the wooden cylinder red-side-up.** You then wait for your check, which may take a while because Brazilians know you aren't moving anywhere very quickly.
That isn't all that Gaucho's Village does. In the evening, they will accompany your meal with Brazilian musicians and Samba dancers weaving and revolving like feathered goddesses. So Gaucho's pretty much wins on the indulgence front.
Oh, it hurts to not be devouring chicken breast wrapped in bacon right now.
* Vegetarians, I apologize for this entry. While the buffet does have some items free of carbonized animal flesh, a Brazilian churrascaria is not veggie-friendly. I freely admit to occasionally being a carnivorous bastard.
** Do not make comparisons to the "Run Forrest Run" signs in a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., because I will hit you.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock )
Place yourself on Robertson Blvd., by the corner of Santa Monica across from The Abbey, and you'll see Bossa Nova tucked next to a dry cleaners. Everyone to whom I have introduced this humble Brazilian joint loves it, a place to sit outdoors, watch the cars and people, and listen to conversations. You can also wind your way inside past the busy kitchen area to sit at the benches.
This is the place I've blogged about most often, whether it be because Bianca and I begin chatting with total strangers and end up sitting together and sharing desserts, or whether I overhear the oddest conversations, or hear unexpected music, or watch absurdly rich people swerve into the dry cleaners to get their clothes. Bossa Nova is one of our top five favorite places to be, and one of the first places I'll take someone visiting Los Angeles.
The food is consistently good, specializing in flat planks of steak or chicken served with black beans and white rice, or satisfying sandwiches like the Bauru (ham with egg) or the Lambada (breaded chicken with mozzarella), with toasted Italian bread and green mayonnaise. The Bossa's Salad with chicken (romaine, chopped almonds, gorgonzola, and I usually swap the balsamic vinaigrette for their honey mustard) is a lunch favorite.
The "Willy's Favorite Burrito" is very nearly mine too, a large, comforting, eat-with-a-fork chicken/cheese/black bean affair; the Tuna Roll is simply a tortilla folded over tuna salad and tomatos, and it's about the only tuna salad I actually think about during my spare time.
I heartily recommend the plantains--sweet and fulfilling--with dashes of Cholula hot sauce (you have to ask for it) poured atop. The Bossa on Robertson does them moister and sweeter than the Bossa on Sunset.
They have four locations now; Bianca and I often visit the location on Sunset, which serves pizza, and from which you can glance across the street at the Seventh Veil and speculate on the people going into it. That one also has valet.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, West Side/West Hollywood, Late Night/24 Hours )