I’ve noticed that in this area of Culver City, there are quite a few establishments that very prominently sport the green and yellow diamond flag of Brazil. Driving along Venice and Washington Boulevards, I’ve seen what looks to become a Brazilian hotel (not sure what will make it Brazilian), a Brazilian grocery/market, and several Brazilian restaurants. I went to the one called Zabumba a long time ago. The other restaurant, just a few doors down on the north side of Venice Boulevard, is quite appropriately called Café Brazil.
Café Brazil is built somewhat like a well-kept roadside shack, a small, casual joint, not a sit-down restaurant. Even though there’s valet parking in the back for you Angeleno, inside, there’s no hostess to seat you, there are no servers who take your order and bring your meal to your table. There’s about a five by five space inside the cafe/shack where you can stand and review the menu on the back wall above and behind the counter. The open space on the counter where you place your order is flanked on one side by a refrigerated case with imported drinks and other stuff and on the other side by a case with shelves sparsely populated with various Brazilian breads, pastries, and what appear to be desserts. The woman behind the counter is a little brusque, but it doesn’t seem she has a rude personality; she’s just trying to keep the line moving. Café Brazil seems to be pretty popular at lunchtime.
The menu is fairly simple, with nothing too out of the ordinary. Brazilian flavors are not all that different from many of the other South American and Latin cuisines. Feijoada, Brazil’s signature dish, was on the menu, but slow cooked pork and black bean stew seemed a bit too heavy for the daytime, especially in ninety degree weather. I’ll save that for another visit to Café Brazil. In December.
We all ordered the Executive lunch, which was an incredible deal for only $6.95. The meal has a choice of chicken, beef or pork. Just in case you were unsure, they let you know that it’s “dark meat chicken.” There’s no space inside to wait for the food, so as we stepped outside with our numbered receipts to find a table on the patio, I wondered what Café Brazil does with all the white meat.
I’ve never been to Brazil, but I can only imagine that the side streets of Rio are lined up with joints like Café Brazil. Small establishments with large outdoor seating areas full of darkly tanned shirtless men smoking cigarettes and bikini-topped girls from Ipanema and oversized sunglasses draped over their chairs fanning themselves. Even though patios are protected from the sun and heat with canopies and trees, it’s still open and airy and allows for people-watching and socializing both on and off the street. At least in Brazil. On Venice Boulevard, you just watch the traffic whiz by and an occasional homeless person pushing a shopping cart full of his life.
The tables and chairs are all different – plastic, wrought iron, wicker, some with vinyl tablecloths, some with thin, faded floral printed seat covers attached with little string ties. The patio looks a bit like a rummage sale. We took a table against the front edge, two of us wedged into a wrought-iron garden bench painted white, and the other balancing on a plastic chair on the other side of the stone-topped patio table. On the table, there’s a footed platter piled with fresh tomatoes. Every table has a different centerpiece – large decorative bowls or platters of lemons, limes, and tomatoes, just like a dining room at home. The patio actually makes me think I’m in the garden of my crazy Brazilian Aunt Rosa, who still thinks and lives like it’s 1978. (That's all made up of course, but let's just pretend I'm Brazilian for now).
Café Brazil doesn’t serve alcohol, so no caipirinha, which was disappointing but probably for the better, since it was lunch time and I had to go back to work. Caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail made with lime juice, sugar, and cachaça, a Brazilian liquor that means "burning water." Now I am really disappointed, lol! Cachaça is made from sugar cane, like rum, so the caipirinha is similar to a mojito, but without the mint. So I just went into a lot of detail about a drink that Café Brazil doesn’t even serve, LOL! I settled for a Brazilian soda made with guarana, a natural source of caffeine. Diet of course ;) Nothing like a regular American cola, it’s a light, caramel color, and tastes almost like ginger ale. For $2.50 a can, I was expecting to be extremely stimulated, but I didn’t feel any different than if I had downed a Diet Coke. Damn, I was hoping to discover my next high.
For such a small price tag, the Executive lunch is pretty generous. A chicken thigh (maybe it was two?) that has been lightly pounded out and grilled lies side by side with deep-dark fried plantains on a king-size bed of glossy white rice that’s fragrant with what I would guess is garlic. The chicken is modestly dressed with onions that have been tossed with cilantro. Garlic, onions, cilantro are prominent flavors. Thank goodness the onions were lightly grilled, since raw onions give me heartburn. The chicken is dark meat, so it’s naturally juicy and tender, but the flavor is what makes it taste and smell delicious. I tried my best to stay away from the accompanying salsa made of chopped tomatoes and onions and cilantro. I am not fond of cilantro, and though just the leaves were okay with the onions on the chicken, the cilantro taste was rather overwhelming with stems and all in the salsa.
There’s a small bowl of black beans that came on the plastic cafeteria tray with the lunch plate. They were tender, flavorful, and hopefully a good sneak preview of the feijoada I plan to try later later later this year.
Or maybe earlier. I don’t think I’ll stay too long away from Cafe Brazil. 'Cuz you know, I am the girl from Ipanema.
10831 Venice Boulevard (@ Westwood Boulevard)
Los Angeles, CA 90034