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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.

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.

A Tirolese dinner

21 Jul

Last weekend my wife and I, along with some friends, drove around 450 km to visit a Cheese Festival (Festiqueijo) in the town of “Carlos Barbosa“, in a region colonized by Italians.  Our hotel was in “Bento Gonçalves“, the wine capital of Brazil, colonized by immigrants coming mostly from the Italian regions of Veneto and Trentino.

Looking for places to have a nice Italian dinner the restaurant “Pignatela” (no telephone, no e-mail, no web site) was recommended, and there we went on that rainy and cold night (don’t forget it’s winter here).

For those who may have the opportunity to visit the area, the restaurant is located right at the beginning of the road that gives access to one of the largest wine houses of the region, “Vinícola Salton” (everyone in town knows the place), on the right side.

The place doesn´t look or feel very comfortable, and in fact it is not, but we were greeted on the door by the owner with a smile that warmed up our bones and just made we want to get in and have our meal .

The owner (born in the Veneto) has a grape plantation and a small grape juice factory, but decided to establish this small restaurant in his own house to help spreading the Italian culture a bit more.  Since the region has already dozens of restaurants serving all kinds of pasta, pizzas and the usual stuff labeled as “Italian”, his decision was to explore the culinary of the Trentino-Alto Ádige, also known as Trentino Südtirol, and serve typical tirolese dishes, something not easily found (at least in Brazil).

Glad that no decision concerning the meal was necessary, as they only have one complete menu, displayed on a board right at the entrance door.

The menu at Pignatela, in Bento Gonçalves/RS, southern Brazil

As you can see the first dish was a Canederli soup.  Canederli are small balls prepared mainly with bread, milk, eggs, some bacon and spices cooked in a chicken broth.  This “primo piatto” was served with home-made bread.  The wine?  A Salton Cabernet Sauvignon (maybe not the best choice to go with these Tirolese dishes, but the best one available).

Canederli soup

Then follows “Bigoli al sugo”, a long pasta tube, similar to the bucatini, served with a chicken stew.

Bigoli al sugo

To be completely honest, the pasta was way overcooked and the sauce tasteless.  You won’t miss anything if you just let this one pass and save your stomach to the next one, a gnocchi con creme de Fontina.

Gnocchi with Fontina cream

This was, in my opinion, the best dish.  The gnocchi was made with tomato, what gave it quite distinctive color and taste.  Fontina is a cheese prepared from unpasteurized milk, with a wonderful earthy taste. It melts well and forms a nice cream specially due to its relatively high fat content (around 45-50%).

But that was not all.

Pork marinated in white wine and Italian lemon

This wonderful pork, marinated in white wine with some Italian lemon was not even on the menu.  A nice surprise.

Ravioli Valle d'Antiro

These ravioli (I know, the photo looks terrible as the dish was cold when it was taken – I’m trying to improve) had a most wonderful filling.  The owner defies you to figure out the main ingredients.  Some are quite easy to discover, but a few of them are just unbelievable.  I won’t tell you as I don’t want to spoil the surprise (guess you’ll have to come to go to Bento Gonçalves).

Another protein follows: steak marinated in wine and herbs served with a potato, apple and horseradish salad.

Steak marinated in wine and herbs with potato, apple and horseradish salad

Maybe this was the best dish?  Oh Lord, I just can’t make up my mind.  Guess I’ll have to start all over again. Please, bring me the Canederli.

Dessert.  Of course!   A milk custard (flan) with mollasses and tirolese (apple jam) pie.  Clearly the New World has its finger here, as I bet they don’t grow sugar cane in Südtirol.

Flan with molasses and apple jam pie

What a nice meal.  The price?  About US$ 20,00/person, including wine.  If I happen to be around, be sure I’ll visit the Pignatela again.

Earth Day – April 22 – Go Organic!

22 Apr

The Earth Day, a day founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for our environment since 1970, is celebrate on April 22 on almost every country in the world (according to the Earth Day Network).

I´m engaging in their campaign, and you can do the same at the Earth Day website.

Among the proposed activities is to shop at a farmer´s market and to buy local and organic food. Done !

Below are some pictures of one of my visits to a local farmer’s market (at Cassino Beach).  Hope they somehow inspire you to do something similar.

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Cassino farmer's market

Organic food is healthier to the environment, to your body, and to your pocket.  So, what are you waiting for?

This is why you’re fat

24 Mar

Have you visited the website “This is why you’re fat“?  Well, they sure do have some wonderful ideas on how to turn dreams into heart attacks.

Although my heart has already shown some signs of complaint, after seeing some of the wonderful pictures they have on the site I’ve decided to take my shot on the subject.

To tell you the whole story I have to confess that the final inspiration came from a show by Bobby Flay I happen to have watched on the net a few weeks ago, as he is not presenting his skills on Brazilian television.  That was the first, as well as the one and only show by Bobby Flay I have ever watched (please, don’t ask me for the season and episode number, as I don’t have the slightest idea).  On that show, Mr. Flay and a female guest (famous???????, not on this side of the world) each prepared his/her own version of an American classic:  hamburgers.  Here is my version (clearly inspired on theirs):

1.  A homemade bun. I used a classical and rustic bread recipe – take a look at “Our Daily Bread“. They didn’t mention, but I bet the production bought theirs on a supermarket just around the corner – not as good though;

2.  Butter fried onions to which I added my secret BBQ sauce recipe.  I say “secret” because it seems every American man (and I bet quite a few women too) seems to have his own secret recipe.  Mine is simple: catchup, some water, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chilli sauce and some Kentucky Bourbon (after all it’s an American sauce);

3.  Pork and beef hamburgers (1:1) seasoned with some salt and chopped spring onions;

4. Slices of cheddar cheese;

5.  Fried slices of bacon;

6. Lettuce;

7. Tomatoes;

8. Homemade onion rings (flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, 1 well beaten egg with some milk)

8. Freshly prepared mayonese (2 egg yolks – one raw and one boiled – Dijon mustard to taste, few drops of lemon, pinch of salt, whisk oil into the mixture a few drops at a time – keep it smooth).

This is why you're fat - My version of an American classic

Man, let me tell you…that was good, specially considering it was eaten with some cold Mexican beer with a slice of lime.

Hamburgers on FoodistaHamburgers

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