Sunday, July 26, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 12 - BRAZIL

Brazil is Rio, Rio is carnival, and that is what you get when you eat at a Brazilian steakhouse where food is served in the continuous "rodízio" style. Agura Churrascaria is where the grilled meat of all kinds parade from table to table as part of a colorful and joyful food carnival. The large skewers keep returning to your table in the hands of traditionally donned men as long as the green side of your card is up saying "Yes please!"

Once we were seated, a plate of beautifully tanned (I mean fried) banana and a basket of Brazilian cheese bread arrived at our table even before our drink orders were taken. The freshly made cheese bread was in the shape, size and texture of éclair shells but the slightly salty taste did not need anything else on it - not even butter.

The banana on the other hand seemed strange to be served up front and tasting a slice did not have any titilating effects on my taste buds. However, once the different kinds of meat were served back to back, it became the perfect palate cleanser in between.

Our choice of drink was a Brazilian soda made from guaraná berries. The golden colored Guaraná Antarctica has been made with the exact same formulation since 1921 and has a quite controversial TV-ad history contradicting its mild taste.

Before the influx of meat, we were given an opportunity to visit the rich "salad bar" where the word salad takes on a whole new meaning where greenery is more the decoration and carbohydrates and proteins are the contents.

Returning from the salad bar, my plate looked like this:

One hot dish that resides within the perimeter of the salad bar is fejioada - a black bean stew with pieces of sausages bursting with flavor.

We thought it was a good thing that we had some food in us already as we turned the green side of our cards up to signal the invitation for meat carriers to our table. OH BOY! The perfectly marinated, meltingly tender, appetizingly juicy, succulant cuts of meats came on skewer...

after skewer...

after skewer...

after skewer...

We turned the red side up long before we were able to sample the long list of Filé com bacon, Alcatra, Maminha, Costela de Carnerio, Lombo de Porco, Filé, Picanha, Linguiça, Coraçáo, Lombo de Porco com Queijo, and Frango.

Without wasting a second, our server presented us with the dessert menu that resulted in a dilemma in which we were finally forced to order two desserts instead of sharing one as we usually do. Rick got the very dense and thick Flan which he claimed was on par with the delicious Peruvian flans he tasted from street vendors while visiting Lima.

I, on the other hand, picked the artfully decorated Passion Fruit Mousse - very light and fluffy.

If they had "sesta" (Brazilian for siesta) on the menu, we certainly would have ordered that next. One piece of advice I would give to the prospective Brazilian barbecue diners is "do not do it at lunch time ... on a work day!"

Bom apetite!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 11 - CHILE

We were dressed-up that day for an event we would be attending later in the day and walking towards Rincon Chileno Restaurant, I felt we would stand out in this small very low-key looking eatery. I could not have been more wrong. The gentleman that greeted us at the door and the gentleman that served us throughout our meal were both dressed in pressed pants & shirts and neckties that matched the crisp linen tablecloths and napkins.

I think when it comes to soccer-loving countries, how they watch a soccer match on TV tells a lot about their people. The petit-framed Chilean patrons at the restaurant kept their conversations to a whisper and made barely audible disappointment sounds when the team they were not favoring scored a goal. Chileans made a deeply respectable impression on me.

First came a couple of freshly baked pan amasados with butter and salsa verde on the side. Pan amasado is a Chilean "kneaded" bread that is a marriage of biscuits and regular bread that has a soft inside and a hard crust. I am glad they only brought one for each of us, otherwise it would have been so easy to fill-up on them.

As usual we picked drinks that were foreign to us. My bright orange maracuya tasted somewhere between peaches and mangos and was made of passion fruit. Rick's chicha morada was a purple corn punch in a beautiful shade of dark red.

Our appetizers were Chilean versions of Ceviche Mixto and  Empanada de Carne which we quickly devoured dipping the remaining pieces of pan amasado into the aji sauce from the ceviche.

Keeping pace with the South American relaxed timing, our main dishes took a while to arrive, giving us enough time to have the appetizers settle in our taste buds. Although very authentic, the Lomo a Lo Pobre did not seem very elaborate for it was pretty much steak and eggs served with fries. 

But Lomo Saltado won our hearts with the softness of the meat and the perfect blend of sauces and spices.

Most Chilean desserts contain caramel in some form and the server's recommendation Brazo de Reina was a rolled up cake filled with creamy caramel. 

Both the ambiance of the restaurant and the welcoming tastes of the food had us linger a little longer than we normally would at any other restaurant. When we got up to leave, the gentleman that greeted us when we arrived, again stood up and smiled at us making us want to come back to his veritable establishment in the near future.

¡Buen provecho!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 10 - BELGIUM

I am very tempted to only say "mmmmmmMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm" to describe my feelings about our Belgian meal at the Brussels Bistro in Laguna Beach and let the pictures speak for themselves ... ... but that would not be true to the spirit of our culinary adventure.

It was not only lovely to revisit one of our favorite restaurants but also a good opportunity for us to test our developing French language skills we have been working on for our impending trip to Europe.

Brussels Bistro has a decent collection of Belgian beers so we ordered a beer flight and asked the waiter to surprise us with whatever was on tap. The flight went from the aromatic and beguiling Single Duvel, to nutty flavored Affligem Blonde, to sweet & bitter Chimay Blanche, to dark fruity Maredsous from one end to the other complementing the flavors of the food to come.

We could not get enough of the sweet taste of caramelized onions combined with the meat and cheese from assiette de charcuterie et dés de fromages.

Then we turned our attention to the second appetizer of petite casserole de moules marinière. The mussels melted in our mouths and the couple at the next table asked us what we were having after inhaling the buttery smell emanating from our table. They ordered the large pot of mussels to share.

It was very rewarding to be able to understand the French names and ingredients of the food on the menu and be able to pronounce them while we ordered. Rick's magret de canard réduction de Porto et poivre vert, gratin dauphinois looked like a mid-century painting with the bundle of green beans and colorful garnishes on the tender slices of duck. Looking at this picture I realized that he manages to order dishes that come with very big knives!

I ordered the softer textured tartare de boeuf et son cornet de frites which has been my favorite dish from my very first visit to this bistro. I know my mum is cringing at the idea of me eating raw beef, but she has no idea how amazingly delicious it is paired with the double fried Belgian style potatoes.

I would like to also note the agility and promptness of the bistro personnel. From the timing of dishes served to phantom cleaning of tables, everything is orchestrated so well that the only thing you notice is flashes of smiling faces that make things appear and disappear without disturbing your conversation with your company.

As usual we topped off the meal with traditional Brussels Coffee and shared a mousse au chocolat Belge.

Elevated with the elegant tastes of Belgian food, we walked across the street to revisit another favorite location where we looked for the new paintings of Vladimir Kush at the gallery where his work is permanently displayed and sold.

Smakelijk eten!
Bon appétit!

Monday, July 6, 2015

* Eating 52 Countries In 52 Weeks - Week 9 - MEXICO

And it happened. We had to finally play the Mexico wildcard on 4th of July because both the Jamaican and the Portuguese restaurants we targeted were closed for the holiday, and that is how we ended up at Pueblita Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Upland.

Pueblita is not just another Mexican restaurant. They serve traditional dishes from the state of Pueblo and the interior is tastefully decorated with subtle touches that exude the warmth and pride of its peoples.

It was comforting to browse a menu on which the food names were familiar while we sipped our sweet horchatas and dipped the fresh made corn chips into the hot sauce served in a miniature molcajete.

The single main dish of Mole Poblano de Pollo we shared was deeply delicious - probably the one of the best moles we ever had.

The smaller a-la-carta menu selections of Crispy Taco, Sope, Enchilada Roja, and Tamale made it easier to share a few more dishes and leave room for dessert. 

Although my heart was set on the apple cinnamon chimichanga with ice cream for dessert, finding out "chimichanga" means "thingamajig" and not a true Mexican dish, helped easily sway me in favor of cinnamon churros.

We left Pueblito grateful to the Mexicans for saving the day and our culinary adventure.

¡Muchos Gracias y Buen Apetito!