Feb 28, 2009

Chef Alex Atala bans foie gras and truffles at D.O.M. restaurant

Chef Alex Atala is not one to shy away from controversy. Last week he decided to write on every one of his menus, by hand, the following statement:

O D.O.M. assume sua primeira vocação: ser brasileiro! Por este motivo renuncia ao uso de foie gras e trufas.

Translation: D.O.M. restaurant assumes its prime vocation: to be Brazilian! For that reason, it rennounces the use of foie gras and truffles.

My blog in Portuguese, Boa Vida
, was the first to report this, and within hours the news got picked up by many other Brazilian websites and caused quite a stir.

Some applaud the effort, others accuse him of playing a marketing stunt. What do you think?

Feb 27, 2009

P.J. Clarke's set to open a second São Paulo outpost

The São Paulo outpost of famed New York burguer joint P.J.Clarke's (pictured above) has been so hugely successful since opening last November that the owners have decided to expand. The new P.J.'s will be in the Jardins district, and the partners are actively searching for the perfect address. Even Patrick Boyle, part-owner of the U.S. P.J. Clarke's flagship and branches, will come to São Paulo to help in the hunt. The opening is planned for late 2009.

P.J.Clarke's Itaim: rua Dr. Mario Ferraz, 568, Itaim, tel. (55-11) 3078-2965

Chef Bel Coelho opens new restaurant in São Paulo

Bel Coelho is a young talent who made a name for herself when she opened Sabuji restaurant, in São Paulo - it quickly garnered several awards and pushed her to the forefront of the city's gastronomic scene. This Alex Atala protegée, who's classically trained but aligns herself with the tecnoemotional movement as well, hasn't found her stride ever since she left Sabuji to open a Brazilian restaurant in London which never took off.

Now, after a puzzling stint as the chef at São Paulo's Buddha Bar outpost, she's back. She's opening in May a new restaurant called Dui (pictured above) in the Jardins district. Less ambitious and less expensive than Sabuji ever was, Dui aims to be a casual place with a tapas-like menu, albeit with a contemporary twist. There will be an extensive wine by-the-glass list and heavy Spanish influence throughout.

Feb 25, 2009

Rio Carnival 09: winners of samba school parades to be announced today

Today at 3:45 p.m. the winners of the Rio Carnival parades will be announced. Forty judges give marks to 10 different criteria, such as drumming, flag-bearers (below), costumes, theme song, etc.

Frontrunners are Salgueiro, Beija Flor and Grande Rio.

All parades concluded yesterday, with a few mishaps along the way. Globo TV station crew dropped a video camera, hurting 6 people on the bleechers .

To see photos, hear the samba songs for each of the escolas de samba (samba schools representing different Rio districts) and more, just click here.

Feb 24, 2009

The best photos of Carnival in Rio and São Paulo

Photo: Wish Report Online

At this time of the year the web is overflowing with carnival photos, most of them of sweaty near-nude beauties (or near-beauties) showing of their samba steps on the avenue, glitter and sequins galore.

The smaller, more exclusive parties - which usually take place in private homes or in camarotes (VIP lounges) overlooking the revellers, are documented mainly by 3 sites, listed below (simply click on the logos to access the sites). This year, the talk of the town are Mathew McConaughey and his Brazilian girlfried Camila Alves, who stayed at the Fasano Rio hotel and left today. For more on that, click here.

The Glamurama website is owned by Joyce Pascowitch, who had, for many years, a Page Six-like column in Folha de São Paulo, Brazil's largest daily newspaper. Fun lifestyle snippets, loads of photos, hot news items. The biggest of the three.

Wish Report is a luxe fashion and lifestyle magazine widely read by the Brazilian high-society circles and the ultra-rich . Its website, aside from great fashion, travel, shopping and restaurant tips, has some Carnival coverage, including photos of their brand new camarote in Salvador, Bahia.

RG is the name of an offshoot of Vogue that covers parties and celebrities. The monthly magazine now has a revamped website with extensive Carnival coverage, including of its own Carnival party, which took place about 10 days ago in São Paulo.

Ex-Sheraton Mofarrej Hotel reopens as Tivoli São Paulo Mofarrej

At long last, the tired old hotel that became famous in its incarnation as Sheraton Mofarrej was closed down and renovated, and just reopened completely transformed. The new name is Tivoli São Paulo-Mofarrej and it's now owned by the Portuguese group Espírito Santo. It's currently only in soft opening, so the rates are lower than they will be after the official inauguration on March 26.
After six months of renovations helmed by architect Patricia Anastassiadis, the Mofarrej is hardly recognizeable - in a good way. Lines are clean, colours are few - think lots of black and white, straight lines, long geometric counters in the rooms doubling as work desks.

I wasn't able to book a room online, so I called them directly. That's how I found out that the less expensive rooms cost 460 reais per night on the weekend (including breakfast) or 1008 during the week. HUGE diference in price! That tells me that the hotel is fully geared to businessmen.
Although the hotel seems elegant, the décor is a bit déjà vu...

I'm so over this standard boutiquey look...
They'll soon open the rooftop restaurant, which is guaranteed to have one of the best views in town, and the bar-lounge off the lobby, which faces the nifty orange pool.

The huge spa carries the Banyan Tree stamp of approval.

Tivoli São Paulo - Mofarrej
Alameda Santos, 1437
Tel: (55) 11 3146 5900
Email: reservas.htsp@tivolihotels.com

Quintal do Bráz: the best pizza in São Paulo

São Paulo's restaurant scene is known for two things: amazing pizza

and amazing sushi. There are literally thousands of sushi and pizza joints all over town, many of them absolutely world-class. In the last few years, however, only a few have been able to emerge as the clear frontrunners: Kinoshita and Jun Sakamoto for sushi, and the three branches of Bráz as the top places for pizza.

I've long been a fan of the Bráz flagship, in a nondescript street of the Pinheiros district.

I simply love it: the retro décor, the super efficient service, the impeccable draft beers served in mini glasses so they don't have time to warm up in the summer heat.

But last week I finally went to the newest Bráz, actually called Quintal do Bráz, in Vila Mariana. WOW. It has been racking up prizes, the most important one being "best pizza" in Veja magazine's annual Comer e Beber guide - and now I know why.

First of all, the place is beautiful, as are the pizza ovens themselves.

The best tables, by far, are the ones in the "Quintal", or backyard, which is actually a beautifully landscaped outdoor dining area sheltered from summer rainstorms by gigantic ombrellones.

I tasted the house specialty, a pizza made with aspargus spears, taleggio cheese and

raw eggs that are cooked in the brick oven, with yolks that come out of the infernal heat still deliciously runny.

Even the desserts won top marks. There is a tartlet of guava paste topped with

a dollop of Catupiry cheese - one of the greatest pairings ever invented, and a

classic that can be found nearly everywhere, albeit not so well executed.

The pannacotta was incredibly velvety, truly delightful.

Quintal do Bráz
447 Gandavo Street, Vila Mariana, São Paulo
tel: (55-11) 5082-3800
MondaysThurs, 18h30/0h30, Fridays and Saturdays, 18h30/1h30, Sundays 18h30/0h30

Feb 23, 2009

First impressions of Vito restaurant, in São Paulo

Vito. Strangely enough, this casual and tiny restaurant in the Vila Beatriz district of São Paulo is making huge waves in the restaurant scene. The chef André Mifano aims to serve simple Italian fare in a very dressed-down ambiance, and, to some extent, suceeds.

The restaurant is quite spare: one brick-covered wall, one burgundy wall, one mammoth mirror and not much else.

The specialty here is pork belly - which he serves with a Granny Smith risotto. Considering the temperatures in the city have been reaching scorching highs, I could not bring myself to order it.

Instead, I started with polenta with blue cheese. Or was it blue cheese with polenta? Either way, I found it quite heavy and salty.

My friend ordered a simple salad of greens and squid which was much better and suited to the season:

I had a taste of a great seafood risotto said to be prepared in the manner of Neapolitan prostitutes (!). My spaghetti bolognese was very tasty, also, but the meat was on the chewy side.

The rib-eye marinated in olive oil and garlic and then grilled was pleasant enough, but was partly spoiled by the eggplant parmegiana that had soaked up too much of the oil it was fried in.

A curious tidbit: the chef has never been to Italy but chooses to write his menu in Italian.

Lunch ended with two simple desserts. A cheese tartlet topped with an orange gelee, with chocolate in the crust, and a pannacotta with a wine-flavoured coulis of sorts.

In short, Vito is pleasant enough, but not worth the detour if you choose to stay in Jardins or Itaim when visitting São Paulo.

Vito: Rua Pascoal Vita, 329, Vila Beatriz, tel. 3032-1469

Feb 20, 2009

Dalva e Dito, Alex Atala's new restaurant in São Paulo

At long last, I was able to try out Dalva e Dito, the new restaurant of famed Brazilian chef Alex Atala that has tongues wagging. Reviews have been mixed. Love it or hate it. Many paulistas have been complaining that the service is bad and the food expensive.

I had lunch there this week, and right off the bat I've got to say that I can't judge the service. It was excellent, but they knew me and clearly put in some extra effort...

As for the food, it is expensive. True. Especially considering he serves humble Brazilian dishes, like rice and beans with roasted chicken and toasted manioc flour (farofa). The same kind of stuff you can find at every corner here in São Paulo for a mere 5 bucks.

If the restaurant serves overpriced Brazilian standards, why go? Well, for a series of reasons. Atala has given humble dishes the royal treatment. The best example is the roasted chicken, which is prepared in the Rolls Royce of roasters, called the Rotissol, which Atala imported from France for a small fortune.

The meats, carved tableside, are prepared sous vide, and therefore have an inimitable texture - even cooking from outside to inside, pink but not oozing blood. I had the prix fixe lunch, which is the quintessential Brazilian lunch menu: a meat (choice of chicken, pork or beef), rice, black beans, farofa, mini potatoes, halved, skin-on, al dente julienned kale, and a choice of excellent hot pepper sauces (such as cambuci and coração). The farofa was a bit dry and undersalted, but the rest was very tasty and expertly executed. But of course, in the 47 reais they charge for this lunch there's a built-in premium that is charged for the fact that you're eating in the hottest restaurant in the city, which carries a brand. The Alex Atala brand. Besides, I don't know of any other place serving rice and beans in such a high-end setting - I especially loved the terrasse tables that sit under a canopy of ferns:

I also noticed the high quality of the glasses, hand-stitched napkins, antique wood tables, etc. So to those who complain about the prices, all I can say is... what did you expect?
Another little-known fact is that Atala is not the chef. He's delegated the task to Frenchman Alain Poletto (pictured below), who manages a veritable battalion of toque-clad chefs.

Servers look ultra-hip in caqui and ivory uniforms designed by Alexandre Herchcovitch, and All-Star sneakers.
Now, a confession. I actually preferred the bar snacks over the food served in the main room. I had these delicious coxinhas (a croquette of seasoned chicken and potato puree).

The cod fritters were airy and beautifully crisp.

And my absolute favorites were these pasteis filled with vatapa, a seafood Bahian specialty.

I was almost bummed to have to leave the downstairs bar when they called us to our lunch table in the main room (below).

For dessert I had an ultra-simple chocolate custard laced with the essence of priprioca, an aromatic amazonian root that Atala has introduced in Sao Paulo recently, and better-known for its use in perfumes and soaps.

I was glad to see the wine list has a large variety of Brazilian wines, fittingly:

In short, it's safe to say I will be back. And soon!

Dalva e Dito
Rua Padre João Manuel, 1115, Jardins, 3062-6282

Feb 11, 2009

Dry, Pink Elephant and Dry: the hottest bars in São Paulo

Each time a big nightclub opens in São Paulo, there's a rush to go check it out and a flurry of parties that get people talking. Currently, that place is the new outpost of New York's Pink Elephant (pictured above). Posh, pricey, frequented by the glittery, glam São Paulo youth.

Another hot spot is the Bar Secreto, clearly inpired by the secretive speakeasy-type bars that have been popping up all over New York. Small and clubby, it's the place to go if you're over 25 and like to party hard. This Saturday they're throwing a pre-Carnival bash.

Speaking of partying hard, the coolest bar in São Paulo where often the night ends at dawn is Dry, in the Jardins district. Tiny, cultish and very off-the-beaten-path, Dry is the sort of cliquey place where everyone seems to know everyone else. Fun - very fun - if you're made to feel part of the crowd.

Bar Secreto: Rua Álvaro Anes, 97, tel. 3063-4206
Dry: Al. Padre João Manuel, 700, tel. 3729-6653
Pink Elephant: Rua Gumercindo Saraiva, 289 (Dacon), tel. 3818-0806