Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Search of the King of Brazil's National Dish-Delicious Meat and Black Bean Stew(or, the Feijoada Throwdown!)

Feijoada completa at a popular spot in Rio, with two bowls for different types of meats.

Written by: Streetgourmetla & Exile Kiss

One might be surprised to learn that the National Dish of Brazil isn’t something from the ever-popular Churrascaria (Brazilian Steakhouse/BBQ), but rather, something far less flashy: Feijoada (Beef, Pork and Black Bean Stew). For the uninitiated, seeing Feijoada for the first time, it’s easy to mistakenly think that it’s merely a “Side of Black Beans” meant to complement something grander. After all, it *is* a Black Bean-based Stew, and the meats that are slow-cooked within are coated with the dark colored liquid, which makes the dish look a bit ominous or underwhelming for some.

But a fantastic Feijoada is something far more than just a “Side of Black Beans”: It’s a beautiful, hearty Stew of slow-cooked goodness with intense cuts of Beef (such as Carne do Sol (Sun Dried Beef)) and Pork (Costela (Ribs), Pe (Pig’s Feet), Linguica Sausage, etc.), Herbs and Black Beans that meld together to form something truly soul-warming and delicious. (^_^) Add to that, the traditional sides of Farofa (Toasted Manioc (Cassava) Flour) and Couve (Sauteed / Fried Collard Greens) and Rice, and you have the makings of a savory, nourishing, humble dining experience with spans a wide range of flavors and enticing textures.

After the geographically challenging (but, oh so fun) Pescado Zarandeado (Special Open-Grilled Fish) Throwdown that took us all over Los Angeles and Orange Counties, we thought we were prepared for anything that this new search would throw at us. But a new set of challenges arose that were far different than anything we were expecting (more on this later).

This 2009 Feijoada Crawl took place over the span of 2 months, with a few guest foodies and Hounds joining us throughout. Besides Streetgourmetla and Exile Kiss, our dear friends Joanna, Mynor and Teenage Glutster were on hand to help with the judging.

(Note: For this Feijoada Throwdown, the restaurants are being rated solely on their Feijoada Completa (Complete Feijoada), any other factors or additional dishes were not factored into the ranking or scoring.)

* 6th Place *
Brasa Brasil Grill

Sitting along a busy stretch of Venice Boulevard, Brasa Brasil Grill may have served some decent cuts of meat for its Churrascaria Buffet, but its Feijoada was a shocker. We arrived on a quiet evening, and were eager to see what their Feijoada was like. Taking the first bite, it tasted like a restaurant that didn’t *care* about its food. The Black Beans tasted like they were quick-cooked, lacking any real flavor infusion from the meats. Brasa uses regular Bacon, Chorizo (which tasted like Hot Dogs, no joke) and Pork Loin, which was so dry and chunky that we literally had to spit it out.

To add insult to injury, their Farofa (Toasted Manioc Flour) tasted stale and really musty. The Couve (Sauteed Collard Greens) was overcooked, and Joanna wisely noted that the Pork Loin was nearly pure white on the inside (compared to the better Feijoada preparations we had where the meats were saturated with the deep, velvety colors of the Stew).

The Feijoada at Brasa really tasted like a dish made from a restaurant that didn’t care or was about to close down. Little did we realize that, unfortunately, it closed down a few weeks after we dined there. Price was $12 for the Feijoada.

*** Rating: 1.0 (out of 10.0) ***

Brasa Brasil Grill (CLOSED)
10022 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Tel: (310) 558-3287

* 5th Place *
By Brazil

Heading down to the South Bay, we were very curious about By Brazil’s Feijoada. By Brazil even makes a handsome full-color, glossy postcard that they hand out to advertise their Feijoada, available only on Weekends. This showed promise. :)

Like the 6th Place entry, By Brazil is a Churrascaria Buffet, and the Feijoada is included in the set price. We started off with a classic pairing with Feijoada: A Caipirinha (Cachaca (Sugarcane Alcohol), Lime and Sugar). By Brazil’s version is made from Sagatiba Pura Cachaca, and the flavors were spot on: A really impressive balance of the Cachaca, the tartness from the Lime and the sweetness from the Sugar.

Our Feijoada Completa arrived at this point: This Black Bean Stew is made with Porco (Pork), Carne Seca (Dried Beef), Carne do Sol (Sun Dried Beef), Linguica (Portugese Pork Sausage), and Pe de Porco (Pig’s Feet).

The Black Beans were decently cooked, but lacked flavor and were really salty. Sadly, most of the meats were really tough as well. The Carne Seca and Carne do Sol had a bad funk about them, tasting like they were sitting around for too long. The Pe (Pig’s Feet) was also disappointing, with the skin being really rubbery and inedible.

The Couve (Collard Greens) was pretty decent, solidly cooked, still having some structure while being tender at the same time. The Farofa (Toasted Manioc Flour) tasted OK, but nothing standout. Price was $15 (before tax and tip). For a place specifically advertising their Feijoada, By Brazil’s version turned out to be a big disappointment.

*** Rating: 3.5 (out of 10.0) ***

(Feijoada served on Weekends Only, with their Buffet)

By Brazil
1615 Cabrillo Avenue
Torrance, CA 90502
Tel: (310) 787-7520

Hours: [Lunch] Mon – Thurs, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon – Thurs, 5:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Fri – Sun, 12:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Feijoada made by friends Renni and Ilma, it's a dish to pass the day with laughter and good drink.

Just like in Brazil, a separate plate for meats. Actually, this was also neceassary to ensure none of us would hog all the tail and feet!

* 4th Place *
Café Brasil

Walking into Café Brasil, seeing the Brazilian soccer matches playing on their TVs and hearing the sounds of fresh Sugarcane being turned into Sugarcane Juice, it’s hard not to get excited about what the kitchen might turn out.

We began with Fresh-Squeezed Sugarcane Juice, which was just spot-on in its light sweet, simplicity, and Maracuja (Passion Fruit), which was delightfully tropical, naturally sweet with flavors that danced the line between Pineapple, Mango and its own inherent flavor profile. Both juices are reasons alone to go visit Café Brasil.

Café Brasil’s Feijoada uses only 3 types of meat: Linguica (Portugese Pork Sausage), Lomo (Pork Tenderloin) and Carne Seca (Dried Beef). There’s a Garlic note in the Black Beans, and the overall taste is something smooth and mild. The flavors of the Linguica, Lomo and Carne Seca taste like they’re faintly echoing in the Black Beans, but it’s a bit too shallow and straightforward. It tastes more like “Beans with Meat,” instead of a nice, slow-cooked melding of different flavors and components together.

Their Couve (Collard Greens) and Farofa (Toasted Manioc Flour) matched the Feijoada: Decently executed, but it wasn’t singing. Price was $16 (before tax and tip). They have great Fresh-Squeezed Juices and nice Prato Feito (Complete Meals), but not a destination for Feijoada.

*** Rating: 5.0 (out of 10.0) ***

Café Brasil
10831 Venice Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (310) 837-8957

Hours: 7 Days A Week, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

* 3rd Place *
Taste of Brazil

While some of the surrounding areas may be dilapidated, pulling up to Taste of Brazil in El Sereno just brings a smile to your face: Surrounded with tall plants and a giant Brazilian Flag emblazoned on its roof, with simple, bright outdoor lights and Brazilian Jazz pouring out onto the street, it’s immediately inviting. :)

We start with a Caju (Cashew Fruit Juice) drink. The flavor of this Caju drink is wonderful in its mild, lightly sweet, slightly fruity, nutty and tropical taste. For this summer evening, it’s completely refreshing.

The Feijoada at Taste of Brazil is prepared by Sao Paulo native, Chef Edilene. The first thing to strike us is the smoky, complex, deep porkiness of the Stew. This was definitely a step up from the lackluster / mild versions we had from the other restaurants. Chef Edilene uses Carne Seca (Dried Beef), Top Sirloin, Pork Butt, Costelas (Ribs), and the reason for the smokiness: 2 types of Smoked Sausage, Paio and Linguica Calabresa.

With 6 types of meats used to cook the stew and Chef Edilene’s cooking skills, the Feijoada comes out pretty authentic and better than average. While the Black Beans are excellent, unfortunately each serving of Feijoada is a bit inconsistent in terms of what you get for meat: Unlike the better places in Brazil that actually serve each of the distinct cuts of meat with each serving, here, it’s whatever’s ladled into the bowl. So for this visit, we got to try a sparse piece of Top Sirloin (which was a bit undercooked and chewy), a bit of the Paio (which was nice and smoky), and some Pork Butt, but nothing else.

Their Couve (Collard Greens) had a vibrant, fresh garlic flavor, while the Farofa and Rice were par for the course. But as an added bonus, they served the Feijoada with Torresmo (Fried Pork Rind), Orange Slices, Salsa de Tomate, and Banana Frita (Fried Bananas).

This was the most expensive of the Feijoada restaurants we visited, with it being priced at $17.40 (before tax and tip), but with the nice ambiance, free-flowing, mellow Live Brazilian Jazz, interesting menu of Brazilian classics, refreshing Caju drink, and above average Feijoada (albeit sparse on meat), Taste of Brazil is one place I wouldn’t mind revisiting from time-to-time. :)

*** Rating: 6.5 (out of 10.0) ***

Taste of Brazil
4838 S. Huntington Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90032
Tel: (323) 342-9422

Hours: Mon *and* Thurs, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. / 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Fri, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. / 5:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Sat, 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Sun, 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rio Brasil Cafe

Luciene Peck's top notch feijoada, Rio style, Rio Brasil Cafe.

Luci's delicious sides round out the completa.

Cozinha da Nalva at Zabumba

Nalva's brilliant feijoada, Bahia style, Zabumba.

Rustic cooking and love from Nalva, Zabumba

* 1st Place (TIE) *

One might find it odd that some of the best Feijoada in L.A. is at a Latin Night Club, but it’s all due to one simple reason: Chef Nalva of Bahia, Brazil, who has taken over the kitchen and transformed the menu.

As soon as our Feijoada arrived, we could tell that it was different from the others already: Distinctive, rustic cuts of meat, a gorgeous consistency to the Stew and the fragrant smell of the entire dish. Chef Nalva makes her Feijoada with Perna (Pork Leg), Top Sirloin, Homemade Carne Seca (Dried Beef), Pe de Porco (Pig’s Feet), Linguica (Portugese Pork Sausage) and Bacon, all slow-cooked with the Black Beans for a minimum of 3 hours.

The Black Beans and Stew itself were outstanding! There’s this velvety, lightly viscous mouthfeel, with the Beans and the Stew really capturing the beautiful flavors of all the different cuts: It’s so rich, deep and earthy.

The meats on a whole are melt-in-your-mouth tender, with the Perna (Pork Leg) meat tasting so fresh and pure, arguably the best of the cuts. The only one slight misstep would be the Linguica, which had a slightly metallic taste, but otherwise, the rest of the cuts tasted like they were lovingly stewed together for hours, all suspended in this wonderful, medium-thick consistency Stew.

But in addition to the great Stew, are the freshly made sides: The rough cut Couve (Sauteed Collard Greens) taste vibrant and has a light Garlic note, and the Farofa (Roasted Cassava Flour) is wonderful with some Butter and Onions, the best Farofa of the restaurants we tried. Add in the fluffy Rice and Oranges and it’s easy to see why it took the top spot.

The price is $13 for this amazing dish. Chef Nalva jokingly says that besides Bay Leaf and her proprietary recipe, the most important ingredient is “love.” (^_^) After trying her Feijoada, I would have to say it’s absolutely true. Highly recommended.

(Note: Zabumba is a Night Club that hosts Live Music and/or Dance Classes at various times throughout the week. Arrive early to avoid the Music and Dance Classes, or just sit back and enjoy while eating. :)

(Note 2: Be sure to call ahead and confirm if they have Feijoada that night. Sometimes they sell out early.)

*** Rating: 8.7 (out of 10.0) ***

Zabumba (with Chef Nalva)
10717 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (424) 652-0077 (Direct Line, Chef Nalva)
(310) 841-6525 (Zabumba Info Line)

Hours: Wed – Sun, 7:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.(!)
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

* 1st Place (TIE) *
Rio Brasil Café

The other top tier Feijoada restaurant is so new, they haven’t even installed their proper sign yet. From the street, be on the lookout for “Delicias Do Brazil” (see picture below), and when you enter the mini-mall, look for the generic “Brazilian Food” placeholder sign. :) Rio Brasil Café is serving some excellent Brazilian cuisine thanks to Chef Luciene Peck, who prepares her Feijoada Rio Style, home of the most famous Feijoada tradition in Brazil.

Like Chef Nalva’s version at Zabumba, when Chef Luciene brings out the Feijoada, it’s immediately apparent just how different it looks and smells compared to the previous restaurants. The Feijoada here is made with Homemade Carne Seca (Dried Beef), Homemade Costela (Salted Pork Ribs), Linguica (Portugese Pork Sausage), and Pe de Porco (Pig’s Feet).

While there were only 4 cuts of meat, it shows just how deft Chef Luciene’s cooking skills are: The result is this thick, rich and utterly *savory* Feijoada Stew. The Black Beans are cooked to a great consistency, and the Costela (Pork Ribs) are mouth-wateringly succulent, so tender and fresh! The Pe (Pig’s Feet) are also fresh with a nice tenderness and good porkiness.

The Couve (Sauteed Collard Greens) and Farofa (Roasted Cassava Flour) are nicely executed, but Zabumba’s version was better (more flavors coming through in both items). The Rice and Oranges are fine as well.

One other standout item at Rio Brasil Café is their Pimenta Sauce (Malagueta Pepper Sauce): This homemade version by Chef Luciene is excellent! Made with Caju (Cashew), Olive Oil, Vinegar and Malagueta Peppers, there’s a sweet, tangy, slow burning heat. It’s fruity and nutty as well. We couldn’t stop eating it. :)

Rio Brasil Café has only just opened, and they are serving this delicious version of Feijoada only on Weekends – Friday and Saturday Only, for $15. Hopefully they put up their signs soon and start to advertise their excellent Brazilian dishes. We know we’ll be back again and again for their Feijoada.

*** Rating: 8.7 (out of 10.0) ***

(Note: Feijoada served on Fridays and Saturdays Only. Call ahead to confirm as they sell out quickly.)

Rio Brasil Café
3300 Overland Avenue, Suite 103
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (310) 558-3338

Hours: Mon – Sat, 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. / 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Closed Sundays.

Taste of Brazil delivers a worthy feijoada, available every day they're open

Taste's sides include a little torresmo(cracklin'), nice

Cafe Brazil's feijoada completa could stand to raise the stakes

* Reference *
Homemade Feijoada

To cap off this adventure, several months in the making, we dined at the house of our Baiana friends, Renni and Ilma, who were gracious enough to cook up a true homemade version of Feijoada. In driving all over town to prepare their beautiful dish, we were lucky enough to experience “Feijoada” in its truest state: In the hospitable home of Brazilians as a Lunch / Aftenoon event, drinking Caipirinhas while conversing in the kitchen, with family and friends laughing and joking lovingly. The best Feijoadas are usually found in homes, with recipes passed from generation to generation, and this afternoon’s meal was no exception.

To kick things off with a bang, we started with some STRONG Caipirinhas (Cachaca, Lime, Sugar) courtesy of Streetgourmetla and some authentic Cachaca, 51. :)

But even the strong drinks couldn’t impede our growing hunger as the amazing smell of the slow-cooked Feijoada was pouring out of the kitchen. This Feijoada was made with Rabo (Pig Tail), Costela (Pork Ribs), Carne Seca (Dried Beef), Carne de Boi (Beef), Pe de Porco (Pig’s Feet), Paio (Smoked Pork Sausage), Calabresa (Smoked Pork Sausage), and Kielbasa (Polish Sausage); an impressive (and very traditional) catalog of ingredients.

When it was ready to serve, the meats were separated into bowls, taken out from the Stew (as is often the presentation in Brazil) so that you can choose your meats as you’re eating the rest of the Stew.

Taking a bite, the Black Bean Stew was... incredible. The Black Beans were so succulent, with this perfect texture, not overcooked in the least, yet still reflecting the hours of slow-cooking to meld all the flavors and ingredients together. The Rabo (Pig’s Tail) was so *fresh* and juicy and fatty. There was this luscious viscosity from the Rabo – like a slighty thicker, more buttery mouthfeel than what you’d get with Pork Belly – and the Pe (Pig’s Feet) exhibited similar qualities, with this gorgeous porkiness. Their Costela (Pork Ribs) were fall-off-the-bone, stewed-for-hours, moist and absolutely delicious! The 3 types of Sausages helped add a touch of heat and smokiness giving the Feijoada even more standout characteristics.

And then we had homemade Farofa (Roasted Manioc Flour) with Bacon(!), which just pushed this meal over the edge into “Legendary” status. We couldn’t stop eating it. (^_^) The Rice was spot-on, and the Couve (Collard Greens) were nicely sauteed, very fresh and pure (but I have to say, Chef Nalva’s version has a slight edge).

We also had a homemade Pimenta (Malagueta Peppers, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Onions, Caju (Cashew)) which was incredibly spicy, with an immediate heat, but oh so fragrant and silky. And we finished up with the traditional fresh-sliced Oranges.

Experiencing a true, homemade Feijoada with dear friends was an eye-opener and really helped give us perspective and reference for what restaurants are serving to the public. It was an honor (and it was a bit sad) to know that the best Feijoada we’ve had in L.A. comes from a family’s kitchen, better than our favorite restaurant versions.

(Reference Only)
*** Rating: 9.3 (out of 10.0) ***

This Feijoada Throwdown was difficult due to the current economic situation. Feijoada is difficult-to-make, time-consuming, and costly with the addition of the rarer, hard-to-find cuts of meat. While our friend Renni’s version was by far the best, she went to too many places to mention to find the right cuts. Woodspoon was supposed to have Feijoada but took it off the menu. They wanted to reintroduce it but have been waiting on a liquor license (to debut both things at once). We had checked back a couple of times during this quest, but they were still not able to gain the license, nor debut their Feijoada. Moqueca and Galletto's make Feijoada, but only on special occasions (Galletto’s makes it only if you have a group of ten people, minimum). It seems no restaurant wants to be stuck with a pot of unsold Feijoada. Hopefully, when the economy improves, more of these restaurants will be willing to keep Feijoada as a regular menu item, at least on weekends.

Currently, a restaurant can't really go to the lengths that our friends did for a Feijoada. After seeing the true potential of a well-made Feijoada, we’re hoping more food providers, wholesalers and markets will be able to stock all the different cuts that are traditionally used, to enable restaurants to make a better version without it getting cost- or time-prohibitive (in Brazil all the cuts of meat and sausages are readily available in any supermarket. They're even sold in kits containing all the cuts).

As a point of reference, in Brazil you can find well-made Feijoada in a full spectrum of restaurants, from fine dining establishments to hole-in-the-walls (with cooks that have been making it for the last 20+ years). Here’s to hoping that this humble Meat and Black Bean Stew in L.A. can reach the quality level and accessibility found in Brazil.

Final Thoughts: (Streetgourmetla) This was logistically hard and a little frustrating, but in the end, this was one of the best dining experiences I've had in L.A. Glad we did this, and it was the best company throughout.

(Exile Kiss) Yet another fun, interesting, and (mostly) delicious exploration of a dish that seemed so simple, but attained such greatness. Experiencing a homemade version of Feijoada with Streetgourmetla, Mynor, Joanna, and Teenage Glutster will always be an indelible memory. Can’t wait for our next one. (^_~)

Here's Anthony Bourdain doing feijoada at a locals home with good friends in Sao Paulo, passing the entire afternoon eating and drinking. The video clip says it all.

Bon Appetite!(In portuguese=bom appeteetch)

No comments: