Manioc Root Amuse-Bouche at D.O.M.
My meal at D.O.M. began with a tiny square of manioc root, laced with rich Brazilian butter, and served atop a dollop of creamy cheese. This amuse-bouche was deceptively simple, for the golden-hued manioc root seemed to reveal new levels of rich saltiness with every bite. This was well-balanced by a drizzle of port reduction, and tempered by the milky cream cheese.
Oyster in Pane with Tapioca at D.O.M.
Tapioca made frequent sweet appearances in Sao Paulo, but its savory interpretation at D.O.M. left a truly lasting impression. The tapioca is mixed with roe, and served on top of a briny, lightly breaded oyster. Every bite of this dish resulted in an explosion of flavor and serious textural contrasts: The exceptionally tender oyster which nearly melted from its buttery quality, was well balanced by the chewiness of the tapioca and the bursts of flavor from the roe. Salty, pungent, and remarkably satisfying, this is a dish I won't soon forget.
Aligot (Cheese Course) at D.O.M.
I in no way mean to discredit the other thoughtful and well-executed dishes at D.O.M. when I say, unequivocally, I would be happy spending every day of my life eating aligot, chef Alex Atala's version of a cheese course. Even to call it a cheese course feels misleading. The stretchy, chewy blend of mashed potatoes, Gruyère, and queijo minas is wound, spool-like, around wooden spoons, and placed in a plump dollop on every eater's plate. This is certainly impressive, but it's the taste—like the middle of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich—that had me close to losing my composure. I focused all my energies on trying not to wolf it down, again, wishing I could eat this every single day. By the bowlful.
Chef Alex Atalla of D.O.M.
Manioc Gnocchi in Tucupí Broth at Maní
I ate a lot of manioc in Sao Paulo. But none was quite as revelatory as the gnocchi at Maní. Light, creamy, and mouth-meltingly tender, the pillows of gnocchi were made from manioc flour, and served with a pour of tucupi broth. The broth, which is extracted from manioc leaves and cooked down to extract the poison, is the base of Amazonian tacaca soup. Here, the broth was wonderfully savory and almost ramen-like in its richness. The flavors of the dish tasted classic ("this evokes every good memory of perfect chicken broth I've ever had," was scrawled hastily in my notebook), but unique thanks to the incredibly distinct fermented taste of the tucupi.
Ovo "Perfecto" at Maní
The Ovo "Perfecto" at Maní isn't messing around, what with a name like that. But you'll hear no arguments from me—the egg is slow cooked (over an hour and a half) in a rich, custard-like "foam" of hearts of palm. The blend of runny yolk and silken hearts of palm was a decadent treat in itself—topped with a sprinkle of salt and a pour of excellent olive oil, it was a dish to inspire bowl-licking (or swiping the edges of one's bowl with bread).
Feijoada at Maní
Perhaps feijoada's ubiquity in Brazilian cuisine inspires chefs to seriously turn it on its head. At Maní, every ingredient is reinterpreted, and in a way, recreated. The black beans are puréed, and reformed into dainty pearls that burst with hearty bean flavor. The sausage is substituted for a pig's feet carpaccio which, in miniscule cubes, has the meaty, smokey flavor of excellent pancetta. Collard greens are dried and shredded, lending them the salty flavor and texture of seaweed. And yet, the classic flavors are all there, well-balanced and satisfying as in the humblest bowl of classic feijoada.
Duck Breast with Tucupí Broth and Jambú at Clandestino
At Clandestino, I tried another completely different combination of "solid" manioc and tucupi broth. Here, the broth had a much stronger fermented flavor than at Maní, and is poured over puréed manioc, manioc popcorn (!), and ruby-red, fatty slices of duck. I loved the creamy-crunchy blend of the manioc purée and popcorn, and the richness of both was a nice match for the funky tang of the tucupi. Another great touch were little dabs of jambú "pesto," the tiny green buds responsible for the numbing sensation in traditional tacapa.
Upstairs, at Dui Restaurant, Alameda Franca,1590 Sao Paulo, 01422-001, Brazil (map) 11 2649 7952
Feijoada at Clandestino
Clandestino's feijoada is similar to the ovo perfecto at Maní in execution, but again sticks close to the original dish in terms of flavor combinations. An egg is slow-cooked in bean "foam" (again, more of a creamy, custardy purée than foam), topped with dried, shredded kale, and served with a pile of linguica-laced farofa. The textures and presentation scream high-end, but every mouthful suggests the feijoada's real intention: to be the utimate flavorful, rib-sticking comfort food.
Camarões Grelhados sobre Lâminas de Abóra do Leite de Coco e Verdes at Tordesilhas
The dishes I tried at Tordesilhas often represented traditional Brazilian foods very closely. The camarões grelhados sobre lâminas de abóra do leite de coco e verdes—or, grilled shrimp with thinly-sliced pumpkin cooked in coconut milk on greens—deviated from the classic presentation, and with wonderful results. Chef Mera Solles was inspired by the traditional preparation of pumpkin cooked in coconut milk; she adds springy sweet shrimp and an excellent citrus vinaigrette to really brighten the flavor profile of the dish. The pumpkin, sliced razor thin, has a subtle richness from the coconut milk, and a nice, slightly al dente consistency. The vinaigrette, a seemingly simple combination of orange, vinegar, and mustard, accentuated every flavor in the dish; its tangy freshness made this a meal for a balmy Brazilian day.