Mirazur in Rio de Janeiro

30 Nov

High-end gastronomy has been quite away from me, usually nothing more than a dream, for two main reasons: (1) I live in a small town, more than a few hundred kilometers from any restaurant that could be considered “high-end” and, (2) I usually don’t have the money to afford such a luxury.

Thus, it was with great enthusiasm I received an invitation from my brother-in-law Rodolfo to travel to Rio de Janeiro (around 1,800 km from my home) and meet the with the chef “Mauro Colagreco“, from “Mirazur” in Menton/Cotê D`Azur/France to what would be my first top class meal. No, I wasn`t invited for my cooking or blogging abilities (which in fact suck), but because Mauro and my niece Julia live together and they all know of my love for food.  So, there I went.

Mauro prepared a chef`s menu, with some of the creations that made the Michelin Guide recognize his talent and attribute a star to his cuisine. The dinner took place at “Olympe“, one of the best restaurants in Brazil and headed by the chef Claude Troisgros and his son Thomas.

Claude Troisgros (left) and Mauro Colagreco ready to start their work of art

This was the menu:

Colagreco's menu at the "Olympe"

Sorry, but I just can’t highlight any item of this superb menu, as all dishes were simply amazing. Every bite had a hidden surprise to my freshman taste buds. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites. Yes, I do. The first and the third courses.

Huitre

The first course was composed by fresh oysters that, by coincidence, were shipped from my home state, Santa Catarina, and are considered the best in the country. Every oyster was delicately wrapped by a thin pear sheet and laid over a pear cream with diced pears and onions and watercress sprouts.  You could taste the sea, the same sea I used to swim into during my childhood.  Of course this had to be one of my favorites, after all a real dinning experience is much more than just chewing.

My second favorite? The third course, a grilled jumbo shrimp served with 3 brazilian roots (sweet potato, cassava and the less known arracachaArracacia xanthorrhiza), some petals and watercress sprouts.  The sauce was simply fantastic, based on bone marrow. I could have eaten this all night.

Grosses Crevettes

These were my favorites. But let`s go back a bit, to the second course, a composition of asparagus in three different ways: green, white and sliced in a yogurt and orange sauce with lime and grapefruit.  I`m not a huge fan of salads, but this was light and the sauce dripped from heaven.

Salade D`Asperge

Fourth course was a stripped bass with yam pure and a foam of smoked clams.  Some of my friends elected this as the best course.

Poisson Sauvage

Than, it was time for the duck breast, with caramelized radish and sesame seed sauce. The breast was cooked to perfection and matched well with all other components, including a small package of confit (sorry, I was not able to identify the leaf wrapping – have to ask the chef next time I meet him).

Canard

A top chef is someone not always cooking his/her meals to perfection, but always trying to please and surprise his/her guests.  And Mauro did that by present a dish not on the menu, truffles on an egg yolk sauce.  I had tried black truffles before but, let me assure, it has little to do with these Alba babies.  The smell is pungent and unmistakable, as it is the taste. Only between you and me…I was not ready for that. I`ll have to train my palate much more before going into such delicacies (guess you understand what I mean).

White truffles

Time for dessert. The first was an almond foam with saffron cream and orange sorbet, and the second a cold chocolate truffle and glazed cashew nuts in a chocolate sauce with “mate” tea ice cream. Both out of this world.  The first was delicate and refreshing, the second with marked flavors, openly influenced by the chef`s birthplace, Argentina. I was much pleased by the second one, as mate is also a common drink in the southern regions of Brazil, where I happen to live.

Espuma D`Amande

Terre de Manjari

Overall an unforgetable experience.  Chef Mauro Colagreco demonstrated his skills and versatility, incorporating in almost all the courses typical Brazilian products, what coupled with the most unblemished technique, ends up in a festival of sensations I could hardly imagine.

Many thanks to Mauro for bringing Mirazur to Brazil.

Lunch with the Troisgros

22 Nov

I came to the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro to meet the Michelin stared chef Mauro Colagreco of “Le Mirazur” in Menton/France.  Last Friday night (Nov 19th) we had a fantastic dinner at the “Olympe” , owned by the great and mostly widely known “brazilian” (he is in fact French) chef Claude Troigros. He was not present, but I had the opportunity of meeting two other great personalities of the Troigros clan, his son Thomas (of the “66 Bistrô” and who was in fact running the Olymp kitchen) and his nephew, Cesar Troisgros, who was also with hands on the kitchen. If you want to know more about this family and their over 50 years of tradition in the culinary world take a look here. The chef Ricardo Santoro, from Venezuela, who works with Mauro in Menton, joined us later.

I’m not going to write about this dinner right now, which, by the way, was amazing. I just want to mention that Mauro was invited to have a Sunday lunch with the Troisgros family at the “Aconchego Carioca”, a typical and most acclaimed bar/restaurant in Rio.  Well, to make a long story short, Mauro got sick with a relatively high fever spending the last 3 days in bed and was not able to go.  Who went? Chef Ricardo and myself. For those who know the Troisgros I could stop this post right here, as enough has been said.  For those who don’t I’ll share some pictures and impressions.

Claude Troisgros

Claude Troisgros (right) and myself in front of "Aconchego Carioca". The beautiful blonde on the background is his daughter.

Cesar Troisgros

César Troisgros, Michel´s son, presently working with his uncle Claude and his cousin Thomas at "Olympe" in Rio.

Thomas Troisgros

Thomas Troisgros, Claude's son, a most vivid and captivating personality.

Let’s talk about food.

The food, which was served at “Aconchego Carioca” by one of its pleasant owners, Katia Barbosa, had its highs and lows.  Gladly mostly highs.

The highs:

1.  The beers.  “Aconchego Carioca” has over 100 different beers to choose from.  A hard task.  We had very nice ones, all Brazilians, specially 2 produced by “Colorado” and one from “Bamberg“. I recomend.

2. The appetizers

Those are, no doubt, the strongest items on the menu.  Small snacks you can eat while drinking the cold beers (they have to be relatively cold in Rio).  Below are my recommendations:

Fried black beans cake filled with kale. A must eat.

Fried breaded "Ladie's finger" pepper (Capsicum baccatum) filled with sun-dried meat and cream cheese (I believe that's the best translation to the original name - please, correct me if not))

Thinly sliced "jiló" (Solanum gilo - scarlet eggplant?) with a balsamic reduction (I believe) topped with cheese and rose pepper.

I could spend all day eating things like that  in the wonderful company of the Troisgros, specially of Thomas and his lovely wife Roberta.

3. The desserts

Two of the desserts served made me use my utensils more than twice (as a matter of fact more than a dozen times):

Fried curd cheese with guava jam. It looks like French fries and catchup, but let me assure you it's much better than that.

"Pudim de cachaça" - A "cachaça" (distilled from fermented sugar cane juice) flan, made with tapioca, "cachaça" and coconut, topped with a molasses and "cachaça" sauce. It's almost impossible to be more Brazilian than that.

The lows.

Ok, no place is perfect, and “Aconchego Carioca” is no exception. Two lows:

1. The service – Most waiters were more than good, but I’m still waiting for a dish to lay some pork ribs (the bones, of course).

2. The “winter squash with shrimp” – This is a dish you can find in restaurants along most of the Brazilian coast, even though it’s considered to be typical the northeast region of the country and one of the best dishes of  “Aconchego Carioca”.  Sorry, but I don’t agree.  The shrimp was a bit overcooked, it had not enough sauce, but what really made me dislike it was the excess of cream cheese (“requeijão”).

Over all the experience was fantastic.  Unforgettable in fact.  For an amateur blogger and food lover like me to share a meal chatting with the Troisgros family is priceless. Many thanks to chef Mauro Colagreco for making this possible (I’m sad that you were not able to be present as well), and to the Troisgros family for making me feel like an old friend.

São Paulo Municipal Market

20 Sep

In almost every city of the world, from the largest ones (like New York, London or Tokyo), to the tiny villages hidden within the Amazon jungle, local populations always set up something like a “trading fair”, a location (or occasion) where locals come to sell, buy and trade the products of their labor.  In the smaller and most remote places these posts are usually not permanent ones.  People get together by the end of harvesting season, before the beginning of the winter, or even on more regular basis, lets say once a month or once a week.  These are opportunities to meet friends, dance, sing, and specially to eat and prepare yourself for the harsh times that may be arriving soon.  As the small towns become large cities, as the population (and its needs) increases, such places become permanent, originating central markets, which up to this day play key roles in the supply of food for people who no longer knows how to plant a tomato or to kill a chicken.

In São Paulo, by the beginning of the last century, when the city that today is the largest one of the southern hemisphere (population over 20 million) had around 1 million inhabitants, the municipal administration decided to build a Central Market.  The chosen location was on the banks of the Tamanduateí River, were most of the food-producing properties were located.  The building, today in the heart of the city, with 12,600 m2, holding around 300 commercial spots with 1,600 employees, still plays a key role in the supply of food and as a meeting point for the local population, not to mention that it’s an unmissable tourist attraction.

São Paulo Municipal Market (photo from http://www.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/)

One of the corridors of the São Paulo Municipal Market

Today the market has 4 main areas:

1. A delicatessen area, where you can find first quality products from all over the world, like Parma hams, Portuguese and Spanish olives, Norwegian cod, etc.

Delicatessen at the São Paulo Municipal Market

2. A fruit and vegetable area, where you can find tropical as well as temperate climate products;

Fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

Apples, guavas, figs and other fruits at the São Paulo Municipal Market

3. A butcher area, where you can find beef, pork, chicken, and almost any product of animal origin;

Pork anyone? A butcher shop at the São Paulo Municipal Market

And 4, a food court, were two dishes simply can not be missed, the Bologna sandwich and the cod “pastel”.

The food court at the São Paulo Municipal Market

The Bologna sandwich is prepared by placing, in a French style bread, thinly sliced hot or cold Bologna. It’s considered the most typical dish of the market.  Don’t leave withouth trying the hot version (along with a cold draft beer).

A Bologna sandwich (cold version) at the São Paulo Municipal Market

A cod "pastel" at the São Paulo Municipal Market

“Pastel” is fried fine pastry which may have several fillings, like cheese, ground beef, prawns and, the most famous one at the market, cod. For this preparation salted cod is left in cold water for a couple of days, boiled and then mixed with hot olive oil and spices.

Next time you go to São Paulo don’t leave without visiting the market in downtown and trying these 2 amazing dishes, the cod “pastel” and the Bologona (mortadela) sandwich.  I had both at the “Hocca Bar”, which is supposed to have the best cod “pastel” around (in fact they are the creators of this dish), and let me tell you, it’s really, really, really good.

Mortadella (Bologna) Sandwich on FoodistaMortadella (Bologna) Sandwich

Almanara – The Beacon

11 Sep

Almanara, in reality Al Manara (Arabic: المنارة‎), literally means “the beacon”, but in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, it’s synonym to Arabian food.

In 1876 the Brazilian Emperor D. Pedro II visited Lebanon resulting, among other things, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants, which was quite intense until 1890, and lasted until the mid-50′s.  Most of them were running away from the Turkish-Ottoman politics with its lack of perspective.  In Brazil, most of them started small industries and commercial establishments.

Around 1950 one of these families, which had a few years earlier disembarked at the port of Santos (to this day Brazil’s largest port), decided to spread in São Paulo one of the treasures they had brought from Lebanon – a collection of traditional Arabic recipes. The Restaurant Almanara was created.

Around 28-30 years later, by the end of the 70′s, I was in São Paulo as a graduated student (I’ve told you that already – See “The Best Chinese Food Ever“), and to have a meal at the Almanara was something I could only dream of.  Definitely, that was not a place for students.

Well, another 30 years have gone by, and now I can afford to turn some of old dream into reality, among them to have dinner at the Almanara.  So, there we went (my wife and myself and, our friends Renan and Leila).

We ordered the sampling menu composed of:

1. Antipasto

The Almara salad

The Almanara salad, nothing special about it.  A few vegetables with a rosé sauce.

2. First Courses

Babaganuche, curdled milk and homus

Babaganuche (eggplant patê), curdled milk and homus (chickpeas paste) served with pita bread, probably the best dish of the whole dinner.

Sfiha and kibbe

Sfiha, a dough folded in a triangular shape and filled with ground lamb, and kibbe (or kibbeh) a mixture of bulgur and ground beef stuffed with minced lamb.  Not bad, but you can find better ones in literally hundreds of small diners and snack bars in São Paulo.

Kibbe and tabbouleh

Kibbe  and tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, chopped parsley and mint, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Raw kibbeh

Raw kibbe, what I’ve classified as a Middle Eastern steak tartare.  Not that I’m a very good cook but, honestly, a can prepare a much better one.

3. Main Courses

Dolmas

Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.  The leaves were quite old and bitter, while the stuffing had too much rice and almost no meat at all.

Kousa mihshi

Kousa mish is a dish of Syrian origin composed of a zucchini stuffed with ground meat and rice. At Almanara it was served with a tomato sauce.  Quite tasteless, I’d say.

Kafta and michui

The kafta, grilled ground beef seasoned with Lebanese spices, and the michui, chicken breast skewers with onions and red bell peppers were way too overdone.

To finish the dinner a black coffee, which unfortunately can’t stand up to the Brazilian, and specially to the Arabian, tradition (see Some Arab Contributions)

Coffee

In conclusion, this visit to Almanara was quite a deception.  Wish I had kept my student dream undisturbed.  Will try to keep that in mind for the future.

Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook – Nailed it !!!!!

1 Sep

Cookbook Contest Winners

Foodista and Andrews McMeel Publishing are thrilled to announce the winners of The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest! From December 1, 2009 through February 28, 2010, Food bloggers worldwide were invited to submit their favorite blog posts, recipes, and photos to compete for a spot in a published cookbook. After receiving over 1,500 submissions, which were then voted on by the Foodista community, the selection process shifted into a more traditional editorial effort (informed by community votes), to choose and edit the final 100 entries.

Andrews McMeel will publish the winning blog posts and recipes in a beautiful, full-color, internationally distributed cookbook, set for release on October 19, 2010. Born out of the “Blog to Book” panel at the first International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) in 2009, the cookbook celebrates the best food bloggers worldwide.

I’m very, very, very happy for being one of the winners with “My Turkish Experience” and an “Adana Kebab” recipe.  Many thanks for the support I’ve received from all my friends and, specially to Foodista.

You can buy the book here.

Where's Wally? (Try the first pic on the 11th row).

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