Regional fare of whatever country I think is the main fuel of most food enthusiasts. How food changes via the climate, the terrain, the beliefs, etc. never fails to endlessly fascinate me. Oh, how great it feels to discover a sub-cuisine within a wider known cuisine that caters to your edible whims!
My personal whims happen to be those of the tropical persuasion, EXOTIC, I guess is the more accepted food adjective. Bold, rich, pungent, intense! Things with coconut, fish byproducts, obscure vegetables, exclusive fruits, rare fats…for some reason the food from humid places by the sea. Again, this proved true with the exciting food of the Rio De Janeiro region of Brazil. The preeminent use of the unique-tasting Dende oil (palm seed) is commonplace thorough out its cuisine, along with an elevated love of salt, the food here is definitely not like that of a Churasqueria, the stereotyped Brazilian food here in the U.S.
Rio Brazil Café is located in the newly burgeoning “Little Brazil” district of West L.A, a little area that spans between Culver City and Santa Monica and a little neighborhood known as Palms. In a strip mall, it is actually the 3rd reincarnation of a Brazilian restaurant in the same place and hopefully the last…
Luciene Peck offers her specialty dishes daily but even the foodiest of eyes would have trouble spotting the meek whiteboard outside that nonchalantly flaunts these extrinsic dishes.
Inside, a tropic hue of green welcomes you in, and it’s only a matter of time until your head starts to bob to the easygoing beats of the Samba dancers tooting on the widescreen TV.
To start off, Salgadiñhos are the Brazilian answer to convenience foods, fried savory pouches filled with things that range from spiced shredded chicken (Coxinha) to straight up fried molten cheese (Boliño’s), when moderated, all the better to vastly enjoy with some of that palate stimulating Malagueta Pepper sauce that she makes in house. Now is the perfect time to introduce the drinks, Jugo de Caju (Cashew Apple Juice) is sometimes a bit bland but the tart and zippy Jugo de Maracuya will do just fine.
Aside from the best restaurant rendition I’ve had of Brazil’s more acquainted national dish of Feijoada, a thick stew full with al dente black beans, various salted pig parts and Lincuica sausage, Luciene prepares other Rio standards such as Muqueca, the coconut milk and Dende oil concoction with sweet peppers, onions, garlic and always a little extra love. Here she makes two versions, one with wide flaked Red Snapper fillets and another with tender, bright-tasting Hearts of Palm, both rich in their significant ways.
Heart of Palm Muqueca
She serves all three of these with another personal favorite staple: Farofa, dehydrated Yucca (Cassava) meal that is lightly fried up…starch in its purest, no-frills form. It adds a humble crunch.
Farofa, Rice, Collard Greens & Oranges: Traditional accouterments to Feijoada
Bobo de Camarao is another rare dish, plump shrimp braised with a dende and herbs enhanced puree of that super creamy Cassava root.
Abobora con Carne is another home-style typical plate amongst Carioca families, an exceptionally salty mash up of pumpkin, salt-cured Carne Seca (dried beef) that she prepares herself and more of that illustrious Lincuica sausage. Here, she adapts it by using Butternut squash in place of Brazilian pumpkin unavailable in the U.S. A compromise I don't mind.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot Casquinha de siri scribbled on the whiteboard, if you do…GET IT. Who would pass up a Carioca version of a Crab casserole baked in a clay dish?
Sweets get an equal amount of love. A silky, sharp Passionfruit Mousse is presented beautifully, dotted with a couple of crisp whole encased seeds on top and served on a shot cup angled on the bias.
Her Flan de Coco topped with Blackberries would rival even the smoothest of Panna Cota’s, droopy and creamy in texture unlike the more Angeleno-associated molded and stable Mexican Flan, nonetheless equally satiating for the sweet tooth inclined.
And if that still is not enough…she makes her own Brigadeiro, milk chocolate truffles.
A few month’s ago, Rio Brazil Cafe was about to close its doors. But thanks to a steady stream of coverage due to the efforts of the Brazilian enamored Street Gourmet LA, who even started a Twitter account for them, this place has been able to slowly turn around.
And I surely hope that it stays like that.
*Call before for availability of Feijoada, might only be on weekends.
Rio Brazil Cafe
3300 Overland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90034