Wednesday, February 27, 2008


A taste of Minas Gerais from the welcoming kitchen of a real Mineira, Natália, the chef and owner of Woodspoon.

Feijão de Tropeiro(Trooper Beans)

Salada de Xuxu(Chayote salad)

Xi com Angu(Chicken with Okra accompanied by mush)

Arroz Doce com queijo(rice pudding with cheese)

Brazilian home cooking in Downtown LA.

It seems like every couple of months there is a new churrascaria opening up in the LA area.Matter of fact, the entire world is going crazy for gaúcho culture and its revolving circus of grilled meats. I've enjoyed churrasco in LA and during my many visits to Brazil. But, I must say that when I hear about another churrascaria opening in town, I feel about as inspired as a Pauly Shore movie. I long to experience the rich regional cuisines of Brazil like the Afro-Brazilian dishes of Bahia, or the earthy and sublime creations of the state of Minas Gerais. Minas Gerais, home to the best cachaça in Brazil, the sumptuous cheese used in pão de queijo(cheesebread), and a variety of regional dishes unique to Minas Gerais. It occupies a distinguished place in Brazilian gastronomy in the same way New Orleans does here in the US.

When I approached Natália about bringing my dining class to Woodspoon and discovered she was Mineira, I requested a Minas Gerais tasting menu based around one of my favorites, xi com angu, as it is known in Minas, or just frango com quiabo(Chicken with Okra served with mush).Natália came up with the rest, and what a treat for the palate and soul.
Twenty-one of us enjoyed the following tasting menu:

Coxinha de galinha(chicken croquettes)-This is a regular menu item and my personal favorite street food from Brazil.I've eaten a couple hundred of these dreamy salgadinhos(savories) at lachonetes, street stands, and bakeries during recent visits to Brazil and hadn't found a version here in LA worth mentioning until tonight's dinner at Woodspoon. Natália uses a family recipe; there are as many recipes for coxinhas as there are dancers in a Beija Flor samba parade.

Bolinhos de bacalhau(Cod Balls)-another Brazilian classic that I've enjoyed fron beach kioks in Rio. These are labor intensive deep-fried snacks not easy to pull off. Woodspoon's version is a benchmark. The bolinhos are originally from Portugal, but have been adopted without modifications by Brazilians.

Next came the mandioca frita(Fried Yuca) and linguiça-cassava is a staple in Minas Gerais and throughout Brazil. Everyone raved about the fried yuca and the linguiça was the real deal.

Salada de Xuxu(Chayote Salad)-chayote is used all over Latin America and this bright and fresh salad of tomato and boiled chayote was dressed lightly just to accentuate the inimitable taste of chayote. This was also a hit with the gang and spawned a few new converts to the virtues of chayote.

Feijão tropeiro, arroz, couve, and lombinho de porco(Trooper beans, rice, Brazilian collard greens, and pork loin)-Trooper Beans are an homage to the brave troopers that tamed the hinterlands of Minas Gerais. This dish is Minas! Strained beans with manioc meal,linguica, bacon,spring onions, and hard boiled eggs on top. Natalia gave as this amazing down home Mineiro dish with the authentic accompaniments of rice and collard greens. Her greens have an aromatic quality that was so delicious, with a hint of banana leaf. Refreshing. The pork loin was tender and bursting with simple and natural flavors.

Xi com angu(Chicken with okra served with corn mush)-This is another definitive plate found in cozinha mineira(Mineira Cuisine) that I've eaten at every opportunity in Brazil. Matter of fact, I will proably be running over to A Mineira Restaurante in Sao Paulo in a couple of weeks to have some more. The chicken was tender and the simple, yet profound flavors of tempero mineiro(Minero Seasoning mix-garlic, onions,bell peppers, spring onions, parsley and salt) meld so prefectly with the chicken and okra. Mix it all up with the angu(Brazilian polenta) and you're transported away to a magical evening in Belo Horizonte,Minas Gerais. Natália really captured the essence of cozinha mineira with this uncomplicated gem. Well, I think it's easy if you are a great chef from Minas!

Arroz Doce and cafe brasileiro(Rice Pudding and Brazilian Coffee), and a slice of cheese; the match of sweet and salt was so satisfying.The coffee was divine.

For drinks, Natália gave us her homemade limeade which was delightfully sweet and tart. Surprisingly, it tasted like a virgin caipirinha-I believe she uses the rind when to make the drink which gives it that quality. Also, there were several flavored waters served in carafes on the table, one with an orange rind, and another with cinnamon. All were enjoyed by our party and were cahrming additions to our tables.

Minas Gerais cuisine was born out of scarcity, multicultural adventurers, and the voracious appetites of the miners and farmers that first settled the region. The price hikes on salt and other supplies from the ports of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Bahia in the 18th century forced Mineiros to conserve salt in the tempero mineiro seasoning, which is the falvor base for so many regional dishes. Natália has a wonderful restaurant in Woodspoon and a true breath of fresh air in the growing Los Angeles Brazilian restaurant scene. We were blown away by her efforts to make this special night happen. The food was amazing, the service and pacing were deftly executed for having only Natália, her husband, and a waitress tend to our large group.

Can't wait to do this again. In the meantime, I will be returning for some more coxinhas and perhaps that chicken pot pie.

107 W. 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Paseo Chapin

My carne adovada was simple but delicious!

El Mercadito-the combination plate of savories.

Another look at the enchilada, chile relieno, tamalito de chipillin, rellenito & frijoles.

El gallo!!

We visited Paseo Chapin back in the fall for a passport class. This place is one of my favorite Guatemalan restaurants and the staff is always so warm and friendly.

Many in our group went with the combinations Gaute-linda, named after the previous Guatemalan restaurant that occupied this address, or the El Mercadito.I had the adovada, a classic dish that is quite scrumptious here at PC. All the antojitos were full of flavor and beautifully assembled.And, being a fan of all things frijole, I really like the frijoles volteados here.I managed to fit in a tamalito de chipilin, the aromatic herb that is the star in this tender and flavorful tamale.

My gallos, the Guatemalan beer called Famosa, were cold and clean as always.

Some complain about this part of town, MacArthur Park, but I love this place and its homey vibe. It has become much safer in this neighborhood in recent years, the only nuisance being solicited by illegal ID vendors. Plus, it's easily accessible from the MacArthur Park station on the Redline. That calls for more Gallos!Needless to say, the class enjoyed this spot.

Paseo Chapin
2220 W 7th St.
Los Angeles 90057
213 385-7420