Mandioca Frita (Fried Yucca); Muqueca de Peixe (Red Snapper with Coconut Milk and Spices); Caipirinha: a traditional Brazilian cocktail of smashed lime, sugar, and cachaça
Occupation: Education Program Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Canto do Brasil
Reviewed Canto do Brasil: Friday, August 4, 2006
Canto do Brasil is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the Bay Area. I get happy just thinking about it. I’ve always had a great meal and good service there, and more than a few times I’ve been pulled up to dance with the fabulously feathered samba dancers! I love Canto do Brasil, and the spirit of Brasilian generosity, friendliness, and celebration that the place embodies. From the colorfully painted murals on the walls to the tiny wooden toucans that sit atop the skewers of fruit in the drinks, Canto brings the color and flavor of Brasil to San Francisco.
Brasilian food is heavily reflective of the country’s landscape and the convergence of three cultures: African (Yoruba and Bantu), European (mostly Portuguese), and indigenous. Here one will find ingredients present in many other tropical cuisines -- coconut, seafood, beans, rice, peppers, and a preponderance of fruit. Nearly all of these ingredients are part of my favorite dish at Canto -– the one that I order almost every time –- Muqueca de Peixe (pronounced MUH-keh-kah dgee PEH-she). The muqueca at Canto is a slightly Americanized version of a popular dish in coastal Brasil, namely Salvador da Bahia, the African heart of Brasilian culture. The chefs at Canto make the muqueca using lemon juice, onions, garlic, coconut milk, peppers, as a sauce for a succulent portion of red snapper. The richness of the coconut milk is balanced perfectly by the starchy farofa, a golden brown flour which I wouldn’t really eat by itself, but it is great for soaking up the muqueca and eating with the pinto beans. I also usually top the beans with a little bit of pimenta, or hot sauce, for extra spiciness! The rice is also well-matched with the muqueca, as rice tends to provide additional volume (and satisfaction) to meats and sauces. The entire combination results in a clean plate every time!
As a Southerner, I grew up eating collard greens as a Sunday staple. Brasilians cook greens (sometimes collards, sometimes kale) in a similar fashion, using a little oil and garlic, but the couve (as the greens are called) at Canto is usually sautéed and nicely firm (unlike the almost-soggy slow cooked greens back home).
An added treat is the live samba show, held every Friday and Saturday, where inevitably the fast hip-shaking dancers pull diners onto the floor for a little samba lesson and a conga line dance through the restaurant.
When I first visited Brasil in the late 90s, I discovered passion fruit and became enchanted by this indescribable sweet yet tart fruit. Canto offers a delicious passion fruit mousse that invites dessert diners to dive right in! It is smooth with just the right amount of tanginess without being too rich. I love it!
The waitstaff is friendly and efficient, and always make me feel welcome and comfortable. Parking is relatively easy, given that this is San Francisco, but diners may need to circle around the block. Canto do Brasil is definitely a gem in the Civic Center area.
Occupation: Independent Animator
Location: Mill Valley
Favorite Restaurant: Buckeye Roadhouse
Reviewed Canto do Brasil: Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Ah, my beautiful Canto. I am still singing the wondrous song of Brazil! I had a fabulous lunch at Canto Do Brasil bolstered by the festive atmosphere and colorful décor.
I knew I was in good hands when I was greeted at the door by a server who knew my name -- from the reservation -- and seemed very pleased to see us. He directed us to a special table in front of the main picture window where we started lunch with an appetizer assortment of chicken croquettes, fried yucca strips (think densely textured steak fries), and fried calamari; the server’s number one recommendation. While we waited for the starters to be prepared we sipped our traditional Brazilian “Caipirinha,” a cocktail of crushed cane sugar, lime, and cachaça (a distilled cousin of rum). I would liken the taste and refreshing flavor of this drink to a very fresh margarita. I liked it so much, in fact, that I ordered a second with the main course. These cocktails took a bit of time to prepare, and it was obvious from the exacting mélange of crushed lime and sugar that amateurs need not apply!
The appetizers were plated artistically on colorful hand-painted serving chargers. The yucca came with an unremarkable salsa that, while fresh, was ultimately forgettable. This was a small disappointment because the very dense texture of the strips and their subtle flavor could have used a more robust complimentary addition. I probably wouldn’t order these again. No reason to waste the calories on a deep-fried vegetable that has such a minimal flavor profile. Next I tried the chicken and cheese croquettes. These were a flavor treat, and their mix of crunchy, chewy, and gummy textures kept them interesting. Our final appetizer was the fried calamari, easily the standout starter on the lunch menu. The calamari was immediately disarming because they looked like medium sized onion rings –- no tiny calamari morsels, these! They were bathed in a sprightly dressing of lemon, garlic, and cilantro. We eagerly finished every bite of this delectable “sea basket,” and I was weighing the possibility of ordering another round of calamari for the table. I’m not a big calamari fan and under “normal” circumstances I’d never order such deep-fried fare. But these rings (while certainly oily) were neither heavy nor greasy, and were greatly enhanced by their superlative dressing.
Canto is known for its traditional Brazilian Feijoada Completa, a stew of black beans, smoked ham, beef, sausage, and garlic. Imagine my disappointment when I read the menu and discovered that they only serve it Friday thru Sunday. I wish their website would have noted this on its menu page. I would have certainly re-scheduled my lunch for a day that featured the Feijoada. Demerits for this glaring lack of attention to detail on their part. That disappointment aside, the entrees that we did order were prepared quite quickly and again served on festive plates with generous side portions of beans, rice, and farofa, which is a tasty yucca flour meant to be mixed in with the other side dishes. I was especially charmed by the spicy and hearty flavors of the traditional Brazilian sauces, which complemented the protein of the main courses. The red snapper was cooked to a good fluffy firmness and had a nice “flavor conversation” with its mixture of perfectly seared vegetables. Likewise the grilled chicken breast strips were prepared to an impossibly light moistness as to have an almost sea bass-like texture. Somewhat less successful were the beef dish and the beer-marinated chicken on the bone. The beef’s flavor was curiously lost in its sauce of traditional Brazilian spices, while the Galinha chicken was actually lacking a strong complementary sauce. Although certainly tender and literally falling off the bone, the marinated chicken was, in a word, bland.
We treated ourselves to a light dessert of passion fruit mousse with Brazilian coffee. The mousse could have used a bit more brightness in its flavor, but in general was a refreshingly sweet after note to a fine Brazilian lunch.
Occupation: Public Health Professional
Favorite Restaurant: Udupi Palace
Reviewed Canto do Brasil: Saturday, September 9, 2006
Canto do Brasil offers a relaxed, festive, and romantic atmosphere. They’ve created a fun twilight effect with dusky blue walls, string lights, and a dimmer. The décor suggests coastal Brazil with Carnival close by. I’ve heard rumor of stringy outfits, feather boas, and dance performances, but this evening while busy, was relatively calm.
Our server was brusque but sincere.
The food is down home casual Brazilian fare. The main dishes were ample, well-flavored, and authentic. I was eager to try the Mandioca Frita, a favorite dish of mine in Latin American cuisine. This yucca was well cooked and crispy. They serve theirs with a salsa cruda (fresh chopped onions, tomatoes and garlic). I am partial to the brightness a squirt of lemon or lime brings to the starchiness of the yucca, but their condiment worked to moisten and flavor the yucca.
I also tried the Risolis de Queijo, or cheese croquettes. Right here I need to say that what I believe is successful about any breaded and fried or baked cheese is the balance between the crisp, breaded exterior with the melty, round fatness of a cheese interior. In this case, I found the balance off. The croquettes were too large and the ratio of cheese to bread was affected, which resulted in a soggy lifeless wad of breaded bland cheese.
However, I quickly recovered from this experience when I received my main dish, Feijoada Completa, a traditional Angolan, Brazilian, Portuguese dish. In Brazil, it is a stew of black beans with a variety of slow cooked pork, links, and beef morsels. I find that it can be a challenge to properly season black beans, but this dish was very well prepared. The flavors were smoky, salty, and meaty and worked to amend the starchiness of the beans. The stew was very solid and, as the name indicates, complete. The feijoada was accompanied with a side of collard greens, white rice, and a mound of farofa, toasted ground yucca. I began to raise an eyebrow at the starch heavy selection, but all was saved by the collard greens, which were, by my definition PERFECT. They were cooked only to bring out their color and tenderness but not overdone. They were salted, simple, and delicious.
My dining companion tried the Sopa de Feijao, a nicely flavored puree of black beans that he claimed was the highlight of his dinner. As a main dish he selected the Muqueca de Peixe. Muqueca is another type of Brazilian stew preparation blending fish, onion, garlic, bell peppers, and coconut milk. Fragrant and tropical, this entrée was reminiscent of Caribbean flavors but perhaps a touch lackluster, relying on the coconut to bring life and interest to the dish.
Overall, I would consider this a novel adventure in Brazilian cuisine and would definitely suggest it as a fun date spot, a restaurant to take friends and family visiting the area, and I may perhaps pop back in myself for those delectable greens and another bowl of complete black bean stew.