Taste of Brazil ~ 4838 S. Huntington Dr. El Sereno, CA 90032 ~ (323) 342-9422
New York has Sounds of Brazil, El Sereno has Taste of Brazil. While only our children’s children will live to see which city reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of the country, you should presently take advantage of this inexpensive spot to sup in a cool and casual, yet sophisticated dining room, munching $9 steaks and fresh squeezed fruit juice while sampling a few of the international varieties of cuisine found in Brasilia. I sat down to discuss ‘man bidness’ with TACO counsel Laneus Lopez Esq., surrounded by a color scheme that would surely please most Hobbits. Mosaic-scarred plant holders and dinner tables bust the Brazilian flag, with yellow umbrellas and napkins coordinating with green chairs and twisted trestles of verde vines. Outside sits a tree shaded eating area across from a giant wall-length mural of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer.
As our trusted legal aid is used to the finer things in life–your grey poupon, your Corbel champagne–he went for a glass of vino tinto, while I non-literally dove into some fruit juice. I got a taster of the cashew juice first just out of curiosity. If man could bottle and drink flatulence, I’m afraid cashew juice would be it. Much better to get a violet-hued Acai juice, which tastes like a light boysenberry smoothie. Yum! T.O.B.’s menu is interesting for its inclusion of northern, more tropical Bahian flavors and even includes some dishes influenced by Brazil’s immigrant population like Beef Strogonoff, which our server told us Brazilians eat a lot of. Which reminds me of the punchline to a little joke: What do you call a cow jerking off? Beef strokin-off!
We whet our appetites with calabreza ($8), our plate piled with severed sausage bits, ringed loosely by seared onions and that salsa that I forget the name of. The chopped sausage, which resemble frankfurters sliced by your mama, are infused with a pipeline of herbs and arrive piping hot. Once your teeth pierce the thin casing on the sausage, a delectable sap of natural pork juice and nearly scalding oil jumps out. When it mingles with onion and the salsa, which is like a tangier version of pico de gallo, the taste becomes more complex and still more comforting, the slick, smooth white onions provide an excellent sharp foil for the simple sausage. These wonderful little swine nuggets come with delicious fried yucca, which though good, do not live up to Restaurante Flor Blanca #3’s lighter, more divine edition.
I love pao de queijo (cheese infused bread rolls), but T.O.B. needs 30 minutes to make it, so I skipped it. I also skipped the feijoada, like a complete moron. Perhaps my legal aid was in the bathroom and unable to advise me. This signature Brazilian dish is one of the world’s heartiest stew, full of yummy creatures (typically pork) and other delicious odds and ends. I figured I’d had my share in life at Brazilian parties and skipped it, only to learn later that T.O.B. has a definitive version in Los Angeles. Oh well, I will be back and add to this story once I’ve tried it. Oh yes, I will be back.
While Mr. Lopez laid out my defense strategy (shut up, deny everything, and when pressed, mention that she said she was 18), our steaks arrived. I was disheartened last year to return from a 20-day red meat binge in Argentina to find that steaks actually cost a pretty penny in the States. Taste of Brazil’s got a small selection of steaks for under $10, but being international ballers, we plunked down $14.20 for the picanha na tabua, beef top sirloin that comes in five huge hunks of meat sizzling on a cast iron plate. These steaks were phenomenal and succulent, with crisp salty edges yielding to melt-in-your-mouth, medium-soft bites flooded with juice. A side of plantains resembles a jalapeno popper/hush puppy hybrid, short but sweet, half-blackened on the outside, a deep shade of gorgeous gold in the sweet inside.
We wanted to get a taste of Bahian in our mouths, so we ordered T.O.B.’s renowned Peixe de Baiana, a white fish (I think maybe catfish actually) cooked with a coconut and palm oil sauce, then smothered in a rainbow of chopped bell peppers and stray bits of white rice. The fish was light and soft, cooked delicately, with notes of Thai coconut curry in vastly more subtle shades. This savory dish was buttery, fresh, bursting with contrasting yet complimenting flavor, and really pretty simple, more bossa nova than samba, but like most things Brazilian still bursting with personality and sabor.
So when you’re hankering for Brazilian eats or just want a cheap and near perfect steak, you can’t go wrong with this charming, cozy nook of a restaurant. T.O.B. also rocks incredible sandwiches, including one with the aforementioned calabresa, and the fish Paulistinha which comes recommended, as does the balacubaco. Desserts like coconut flan and chocolate mousse are tasty too. Just when you think you’re ready to go home, dip into adjacent BrazUSA, a market packing products and pastries from Brazil. It has everything to suit your Brazilian needs, with the exception of giant butts. But they do have mate!