Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Woodspoon

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





Feijao de Tropeiro(Trooper Beans)


Salada de Xuxu(Chayote salad)


Xi com Angu(Chicken with Okra accompanied by mush)


Arroz Doce com quiejo(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 the gaucho and his panoply of grilled meats. I've enjoyed churrasco in LA and on my many visits to Brazil.It's "otimo" "beleza"!But, I must say that when I hear about another churrascaria opening, I feel about as inspired as a Pauly Shore movie. I long to experience the rich regional cuisines of Brazil like the African influenced dishes of Bahia, or the earthy and sublime creations of the Minas Gerais state.Minas Gerais, home of the best cachaca in Brazil, the sumptuous cheese that all of Brazil uses in Pao de Quiejo(cheesebread), and a variety of original creative dishes unique to Minas Gerais.Its occupies an uncommon place in Brazilian cuisine in the same manner New Orleans does here in the US.

When I approached Natalia about bringing my dining class to Woodspoon and then learned she was a Mineira, I thought, "here's my chance."I proposed a Minas Gerais tasting menu 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).Natalia 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) in lachonetes, street stands, and bakeries in Brazil in recent years and hadn't found a version here in LA worth mentioning until tonight at Woodspoon. Natalia uses a family recipe;there are as many recipes for Coxinhas as there are dancers in a Beija Flor Samba parade.

Bolinhos de Bacalhao(Cod Balls)-Another Brazilian classic that I've enjoyed form beach vendors in Rio. These are labor intensive deep-fried snacks that are 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 Linguica-Casava is an staple in Minas Gerais. Everyone raved about the fried yuca and the linguica 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 adherents to the virtues of chayote.

Feijao 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 some aromatic quality that was so delicious, almost like 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 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" 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-garlic, onions,bell peppers, spring onions, parsley and salt) meld so prefectly with the chicken and okra. Mix it all up with the Angu(mush or Brazilian polenta) and you're whisked away to a magical evening in Belo Horizonte,MS. Natalia 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)-My Brazilian wife's favorite dessert was served with a slice of cheese; the match of sweet and salt was so satisfying.The coffee was divine.

For drinks, Natalia gave us her homemade limeade which was delightfully sweet and tart.It tasted like a caipirinha without the cachaca!!! I believe she uses the rind when she makes 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. Both were enjoyed by our party and were aesthetically pleasing.

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, Sao Paulo, and Bahia in the 18th century forced Mineiros to use natural flavors like those found in Tempero Mineiro. Natalia has a wonderful restaurant 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 Natalia, 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.

Woodspoon
107 W. 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213-629-1765

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