Maní

When friends heard I was coming to Brasil, I was told to taste the food at Maní in São Paulo.


Helena Rizzo, who heads the kitchen alongside her Catalan husband/chef Daniel Redondo is one of the best chefs in Brasil today. I am inspired by her unlikely route to the culinary industry as like me, she started studying another subject. In her youth, she wanted to become an architect and then worked as a model before settling on a culinary career before 20. Originally from the South (a sulista, as they say here), she tailored her resume to her looks working in Brasil with Fasano and Emmanuel Bassoleil, in Italy with La Torre and Sadler and finally Spain’s 3-Michelin star (and the Second Best Restaurant in the World) El Celler de Can Roca. Here, she met Redondo with whom she opened the Brazilian-Spanish eatery Maní in 2006. The menu in Maní is bold and eclectic including various types of ingredients and demonstrating the high degree of talent that comes out of the kitchen and winning Rizzo multiple awards in Brazil as well as internationally, most notably the “Chef of the Future” prize from Paris’s Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie in 2009. Since December of the same year, Rizzo has also been creating a series of menus for TAM Airlines. This year, she was voted 74th Best Restaurant in the World (San Pellegrino list).

My experience at the restaurant was exceptional and hands down the best I have had so far in Brasil in terms of high end cuisine. If she opened in Paris, she would win over all the food critics. But she has internationally already.

The decor: a series of airy rooms that give one the impression of sitting in a garden. Beautiful outdoor dining area.

Simple yet colorful table decor

Gigantic bubbly (and light) crackers made from Polvilho (sour Manioc) flour that seemed to have come straight out of a science-fiction film.

The bread basket came with various cheeses including ball of goat cheese with spices.

Foie gras truffles with guava jelly and port wine  – made me miss Paris. A beautiful taste, smooth and silky and the perfect touch of sweetness from the port wine. The taste is generally smooth but the slight crunch is felt from the Brazil nut that sits atop the foie gras. Small but enough to awaken the senses. 

Vieiras levemente defumadas (lightly smoked scallops in cream of asparagus and passion-fruit sauce). It was smoky, sweet, savory, a little acid all in one bite. I could have been happy with a 3rd scallop. 

Feijoada. Now I’ve seen this national bean dish before. Regular feijoada is served with slightly bitter local greens that are thinly shredded and boiled, plus toasted manioc flour (farofa). Except Rizzo’s feijoada, is quite unlike any other you will ever have. It is a beautiful and delicate creation where the beans are not beans at all, but wobbly, brown drops with an intense taste of feijoada and a texture that is part mousse, part jelly, without being like either, helped out by the moist carpaccio of pork. Rizzo deep-fries the shredded greens until crisp to create a striking contrast in textures, and she arranges her farofa in a thin line on the side of the plate to finish off a stunning dish, both to look at and to eat.

Filet Mignon con Manteiga de Ervas e Especiarias (Filet Mignon with herb butter and spices). It was beautifully cooked, I asked for it medium-rare and it came just the way it should have. I am not a fan of filet mignon but the beef was beautifully cooked and had a hint of curry that went well with the lightly melted chive butter. 

Bochecha de Boi (Cow’s cheek). Sweet with the syrup-like jus, very moist and not dry and not fibrous; melted in your mouth. Again, beautiful. The puree of sweet potato was nice but typical, it could have used a kick. 

As for her desserts, I could not fit anything else in my stomach but I wished I tried her Açaí which rests on discs of red guarana jelly and banana slices. The waiter still gave us homemade brigadeiro which were crunchy on the outside and extremely chocolatey and sweet – great for a goodbye gift.

As we left the restaurant at around 2pm, the ‘waiting’ hallway (where you can find artsy magazines and books) was STARTING to fill up with people who wanted to get a taste of the wonders of Maní. I can see why.

Rizzo’s cooking is both delightful and clever serving techno-emotional food heavy on Brazilian ingredients. Her restaurant, kitchen as well as staff (who are chilled, friendly even during the crazy service period) are just as enchanting. Not to be missed in the Jardim Paulistano; it’s the restaurant with the beautiful apple tree out front. 

Maní

Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210 Jardim Paulistano, São Paulo

Tel: +55 11 3085 4148

Website: www.restaurantemani.com.br 

Closed: Mondays and Sunday evenings


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