Flavor // Carnival

lmedo Alvarado is actually from Ecuador, but never mind. His first visit to Rio entranced him so completely with its joie de vivre (or however you say it in Portuguese) that he’s returned five times. So when this young beat cop in the restaurant squad (he’s worked for such Manhattan luminaries as David Bouley, Daniel Boulod and Jean-Georges Vongerichten as well as for Vincent Francoual of Vincent’s after his move to Minneapolis), launched his own café, he named it for his passion: Viva Brazil. And when you see “authentic Brazilian food” on his business card, trust the guy: He can walk the talk.

Before firing up the range, he livened the Lake Street site, which formerly changed names about as often as the flicks at the nearby Lagoon. Walls glow with sunset red and orange, offsetting a mural of Rio itself, overseen by its iconic Christ statue above the beaches, high rises and favellas.

Or is Jesus simply summoning us to dinner? Climb into a booth for some hearty, homespun (and yes, authentic) fare. Don’t hang back if you’re fearing spicy, unfamiliar tastes, for that’s not where Brazilians turn for flavor — instead, the kind of fruit basket that Carmen Miranda (she’s smiling on the menu) carries on her head: mango and papaya, as in the crab cake relish; tamarind, glazing the chicken wings; and coconut, fueling the coconut-chicken soup, hearts of palm salad and satay. Except, on those tender, moist and meaty bites of chicken on the skewer, there’s nary a hint of the coconut milk from its marinade. Instead, a bed of sweet pineapple ringed by strands of sweet peppers. Bland (apps $5–12).

Better: the positively addictive sweet potato fries peeking from their paper cone. And I don’t even eat French fries! But try to stop grabbing just one more of these slim, sweet, gently-deepfried babies, I dare you.

Next, the feijoada (pronounced feh-wada) is a must. This national treasure is the star of every Brazilian’s Sunday lunch — a huge, family-dig-in platter of robust cuts of meat —tender smoked pork, braised ham hocks (more bone and ligament than meat, but who’s counting?), pleasantly robust chorizo — sprawling atop a hill of black beans and served with side dishes of salad, herbed rice and, supposedly, collard green, absent this evening ($15). It’s enough to serve two fullbacks who’ve just come off a hunger strike.

So’s the platter of churrasco misto ($17), reinforcing that meat is king in Rio: chicken
(a bit dry), top sirloin, pork loin and that tasty chorizo with yet more of those national staples, beans and rice.

Had we a bigger table, or more friends, we might have tried the pollo a la brasa, spit-roast over charcoal, or baby backs in tamarind glaze, or the moqueca seafood stew, maybe the red snapper.

Instead, mango parfait. Lovely. And a sip of the tempranillo that married well with our hearty meats. We’d started our meal with the national cocktail, caipirinha (made with rum-like cachaca) for me, a batida for my fellow foodie, a beach-shack favorite that melds cachaca with sweetened condensed milk and fruit — in this case, mango — puree. Mojitos and more as well. Viva to that!

Viva Brazil
913 W. Lake Street