Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of 2009: Big Night in Sao Paulo, Brasil-Mocoto Restaurante e Cachaçeria, Gastronomia Urbana in Vila Medeiros

Sao Paulo is a world class fine dining city.Lavish restaurants line its avenues in the upscale neighborhoods of Jardims,Pinheiros, and Itaim Bibi.Bars with cutting edge local gastronomy and crowded luncheonettes favor the historic city center. Every neighborhood is full of all types of eateries featuring delicious and savory eats.But, perhaps the best regional restaurant in Sao Paulo is in the northern reaches of the 3rd largest city on the planet, in Vila Medeiros.Vila Medeiros is a working class neighborhood that includes a favela(slum) just outside the municipality of Sao Paulo.

I had been reading local Sao Paulo press about the restaurant Mocoto featuring the northeastern Brazilian cuisine of Pernambuco, and was dying to make it out on my trip back in March of 2009.The state of Pernambuco is known for its unique culinary traditions and the popular oceanside capital of Recife.

I took the subway to its northern limit, and then cabbed it up to Vila Medeiros,arriving full a anticipation.

This night turned out to be the best meal of 2009, and one of the best in my life. My five hour Mocoto experience started with putting my name on the wait list for a table. While taking some photos outside the restaurant, I was playfully distracted by some locals who insisted I take their picture. Leandro Antonio, the gentleman in red on the far right, introduced himself and asked why I was taking pictures.

I told him I was a blogger and would be writing about my dining experience at Mocoto. He instantly started introducing me to his friends, the local samba school instructor, and other random people on the street. These fantastic residents of Vila Medeiros kept me busy the whole 45 minutes I waited for a table.I was even invited to visit the local samba school for a rehearsal.

Leandro is an outgoing person,full of warmth, but he took a moment to reflect on the restaurant. His pride was palpable. "All people ever say about Vila Medeiros is about the drug dealers and murders", he paused, " but this special for us". I looked at him and said,"Vila Medeiros is a center of gastronomy." His eyes widened and he grinned at this revelation. At that point I almost got lifted upon their shoulders, the 45 minutes passed in a matter of seconds, and when my number was called I was a little sad to have to head in.

Mocoto Restaurante e Cachaçeria is akin to a Brazilian gastro-pub. It's a boteco, a bar with food.

Its story is a romantic tale.Started by Jose Olveira de Almeida in '74, it was just a typical bar, selling booze, typical foods, and a to-die-for calves foot soup known as Mocoto.Mocoto is a Brazilian calves foot and tripe stew flavored by tomatoes and the spicy malagueta pepper.In those days the soup was served in cups, the perfect splash of spicy sobriety at 3AM.

Jose's son, Rodrigo Olveira de Almeida, who had worked every job imagineable at Mocoto in his youth,and was studing engineering at the time, had always begged his dad to expand the menu.While his dad had to attend to a family farm in Pernambuco, Rodrigo seized the opportunity to renovate the outdated restaurant.He expanded the menu and not knowing what the word gastronomy really meant, went to culinary school to learn cooking techniques and about other cuisines and ingredients.Later he traveled all over Brasil to learn more about cachaça, a passion of his, and spent sabbaticals in his family's home state of Pernambuco studying the cuisine.His father had no other choice but to go with the flow.

Rodrigo has become known worldwide and still has the same whimisical fascination with mis native cuisine that first set him to dream. I happened to read about him in an Aeromexico magazine on a recent flight to Mexico City. He was visiting Mexico City and expressed wonder and by the gastronomy of Mexico City and how the people interacted with food.

It's known that Michellin starred chefs come here,world famous chefs come here,the elite of Sao Paulo come here, but this is a locals joint, a boteco, not a pretense to be found.

It's a mission to get up here for those just passing through, but the reward is immeasurable.

This place is a cachaca lovers paradise. Hundreds of fine cachacas line the bar, and the cachaca list gives you the region, tasting notes, and other helpful information to better understand and enjoy cachaca.

There's even a cachaca club, where you can buy a bottle to keep at the bar.Nothing exclusive about it, just put your name tag on it and you're all set for your next visits.

After lustily flipping through the cachaca list I settled on Fabulosa from the state of Minas Gerais, the Bordeaux of cachaca. It's made in Salinas, where the finest cachaças in Brasil are born.It's aged in balsam for 6 years with intense flavors of fennel, a characteristic of Salinas cachaças.

I had been drinking beer and cachaca all day but simply had to sample the stylings of this boteco. My chaser was a garapa doida,unrefined sugar, pineapple and lime juices, and cachaça.This translates to a "drunken sugar".It strikes a wonderful balance between sweet and tart.

My second cocktail was a mamulengo, pure decadence, with cachaça, chocolate liqueur,chocolate, and condensed milk. It's like a cachaca and chocolate shake.

The cocktail menu is original, creative,but you can also order traditional caipirinhas.They have a full bar, but you want to indulge in the cachaça here.

It was fitting that I just had the cachaça shake because the waiter informed me that we would be starting with dessert.That's the way we do it in Pernambuco, he informed me.Course number one would be the notable street food of Olinda and Recife in Pernambuco.

Rodrigo has transformed the traditional street tapioca into a masterpiece of flavor and presentation. A tapioca envelope gently comforts fried yucca strips,greenonions, cheese from Pernambuco, and carne seca(Brazilian beef jerky). A strawberry sauce and some cherry tomatoes round out this sweet and savory delicacy. It's salt, sweet, soft, crunch, and undeniable pleasure.

Torresmo is the Brazilian version of chicharron, or cracklin'.This torresmo had grapefruit colored chunks of meat attached, not the usual brown and crunchy bites served as part of a meal.This was achieved using sous-vide.That's right, sous-vide in Vila Medeiros. This torresmo deserves your undivided attention, the best I've ever had.

You must order the mocoto here, a small cup will do. Jose's son is the celebrity chef, but Jose still makes the mocoto, and is active in helping run the restaurant.

The meal could have ended here, what a fantastic soup.This is the hangover cure and a revitalizing aid for many a bebado(drunk)trying to make it home after a mild pickling.Every family in Brazil has someone that makes a superb mocoto, but you would be hard pressed to outdo this 40+ year old recipe, unchanged after all these years.

The tripe and foot melts in your mouth and the malagueta peppers just nip at your taste buds, the perfect amount of heat.

Rodrigo does his own version called mocofava,given an added textural sensation by the use of fava beans in the stock as a thickening agent.

The next cachaça I had was a suggestion of the waiter, quite the cachacier,from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.Cachaça Dom Braga came chilled, aged for 3 year in oak, with smooth vegetal and fruit flavors.

At this point a nearby table started waiving me to come over. I had been eating and drinking away and my odd, food-blogger behavior had aroused their curiosity.

After meeting Claudio, Silvia, Rosana, and Nana, I began to head back to my table but they sternly insisted that I join them. Eventhough they had finished their meal and I had my main course coming, they hung with me 'til we closed the place down.

We sat and talked about food and drank for hours. I had ordered the atolado de bode, which set the group to carrying on about this coveted dish.It was a new item on the menu.

Atolado de bode(ahto-lahdo gee bodgee)is tender goat marnated in cachaça and apple vinegar, roasted for twelve hours in a bath of manioc puree flavored by peppers, cumin,paprika, and tomato extract.It's served in a country cooking pan.

The supple pieces of goat cascade into the manioc puree upon penetration by your eager fork. Bliss, one bite at a time.

Rodrigo has taken the working man's cuisine and transformed it into a cuisine that the garbage collector and investment banker can both agree upon.

He also has sarapatel(pig offal and blood stewed with vegetables),the famous baião-de-dois(beans,rice and beef jerky in a mold), and bar snacks, called petiscos, like joelho de porco(pork knees).

I was introduced to the francesinha by Nana. There isn't much in this world that doesn't call for a francesinha, according to Nana.It's a delightful liqueur, and we extolled its virtues, we toasted the francesinha, we toasted some more, we talked, and the restaurant slowly emptied into oblivion.

After such a command performance, Rodrigo came out to talk with us and party a little. He is humble and a true devotee to Brazilian gastronomy,a chef for all walks and talks.

He's refused to move the restaurant out of the blue collar neighborhood of Vila Medeiros.While a favela does lie down the hill from Mocoto, the intersection where the restaurant is located is a bustling, lively, and safe area.

It was now after 2AM and the subway was closed.Cabs from Vila Madeiros at 2AM, forget about it! Claudio, Silvia, Rosana, and Nana drove me to a safer neighborhood to catch a cab,as I was all the way over in Jardims.

I was way to stuffed from the days eating to finish my atolado, sugar drunk from eight hours of cachaça "tasting", so I offered my atolado de bode to some police officers on patrol while I waited for a cab.It seemed fitting to share my meal with fellow proles.

My night wouldn't end 'til about 5:30AM, when I went home after hooking up with my good friend in Sao Paulo, and the evenings debauchery, day long cachaca festival in which I was the sole attendee, walking and metroing all over this metropolis,and trying to try as many Brazilian bites as I could, completely debilitated me the next day. I couldn't eat nor drink anything 'til I got to the airport.

I wish every night could be like that, where strangers embrace you like their lifelong friend, the food is rapturous, and alcohol intrigues conversation and passion.

Restaurante e Cachaceiria
Av. Nossa Senhora do Loreto, No 1100
Vila Mederiros, SP


MyLastBite said...

digging the sous vide Torresmo!!!!

streetgourmetla said...

Hey Jo, right up our alley. Pork skin and sous vide!!! Let's go to Brazil!

Food GPS said...

Bill, this is an absolutely epic post. Great report on a meal that was clearly more than just about the food. On your next trip to Brazil, can you bring back some of that goat?