Brazilian food is very much in vogue these days, and new restaurants specializing in it are popping up all over São Paulo. But none of them can beat Tordesilhas, which I consider the city's best in that specialty. It's not as hip as competitor Brasil a Gosto. And it doesn't have a pretty and young chef, like Capim Santo does (Morena Leite is a media darling). But it does have very serious food.
The restaurant is located in a cute little house on Bela Cintra street, past Avenida Paulista. The tables in the glassed-in courtyard at the back are absolutely charming, and to get to them you'll pass by a gorgeous tableau of Brazilian fruits in a lavish display.
Mara Salles, the chef-owner, studies gastronomy and teaches it, too. She knows more than anyone I know about Brazilian cuisines (yes, in the plural!). She posts on the wall her 10 commandments, which is fun, and I especially agree with this one:
"You shall not covet another's cuisine, demanding from Brazilian dishes that they bear the complexity of the French cuisine, the minimalism of the Asian cuisines or the sophistication of the New York restaurants".
I'll quote you another one of her commandments, this one a bit radical:
"You shall not speak the holy name of Brazilian dishes in vain: a moqueca is a moqueca and should always be served in a ceramic crock, a feijoada that doesn't come in a ceramic bowl is not a feijoada, and so on".
I went with friends and we ordered a few of the alguidares - side dishes, served in small bowls. One contained paçoca - ground jerk beef with manioc flour, pumpkin purée, purée of banana da terra (plantain), tutu de feijão (black bean paste, like refried beans). All excellent and as hearty as any main course. The house pimentas (hot peppers) were delicious - a few drops will take you a long way.
We also ordered queijo coalho with melaço, a typical Northeastern beach snack. Essentially, charred cubes of a salty white cheese with a drizzle of sugarcane molasses. Nice, but not any nicer than the original, that can be had for a buck at any beach in Pernambuco state.
Then came the pato no tucupi, a typical dish of the Northern region, and especially of Belém, the capital of Pará state. The duck is cooked in a slightly gooey liquid that contains julienned jambu, a leaf that numbs the mouth and makes the tongle tingle. This dish is eaten with farinha d'água, a variant of farinha de mandioca that is very popular in the North. Very white and very grainy and definitely an acquired taste.
I love this dish, but... it's not for everyone and could be easily described as ultra-exotic specialty for brave palates. I liked it more, in fact, that the other main course ordered: filhote fish with a velvety banana purée.
The desserts were nice but all a bit too sweet. There's one with a cryptic name: Manezinho Araújo. This is it, below - flan and babanas under a dome of meringue. A better bet is the trio of ice creams, which are bought from a famous ice cream shop in Belém do Pará, Sorvetes Cairu.
Tordesilhas: rua Bela Cintra, 465, São Paulo, tel. (55-11) 3107-7444