There comes a point in your life when you have to be honest with yourself. My moment of honesty came when I admitted that food is indeed my lover. And there shall never be a divorce. When you find yourself sitting at home hankering for a tasty treat or a delicious dish of something absolutely wonderful, you simply do not fight the temptation. Yield to it and love the cuisine placed in front of you.
I had a taste for some Brasilian food, something reminiscent of my time spent in São Paulo, Brasil. While Chicago has a host of Brasilian churrascarrias — Fogo de Chao, Brazzaz, Sal y Carvao, and Texas do Brasil — there are times when you want something that gives you the impression you have gone to a friend’s kitchen. Lucky for me I have Internet connection and a web browser. I figured I would Google an eatery along the lines of something quaint, family style. Lo and behold, Taste of Brasil popped up as one of the searches. So, it was off to the subway to go to Oak Park, Illinois, to whet my appetite with something familiar. Destination: 906 Oak Park Avenue. Ultimate destination: bliss.
Since I last wrote a journal entry about one of my ethnic restaurant excursion, I changed my diet. I eliminated all meat out of my diet with the exception of seafood. From my São Paulo days, I remember there being a fair share of pork, beef, and chicken on the menu at restaurants and at all of the street vendors. In Brasil, “fair share” means a ridiculous amount. Well, I went in knowing that and while I am a “modified” vegetarian, that being I eat seafood and not vegetables only, I was okay entertaining something with some meat in it. Upon entering the eatery, the woman working behind the counter greeted me with a huge welcome, which was a sign that it was all uphill from walking through the door. I told her that I was primarily vegetarian and then deferred to her to make recommendations for what I should sample. Unlike in some larger restaurants where the servers act like inconvenienced pre-adolescents, she offered suggestions and explanations of the cultural aspect of what was on the menu. I never mentioned my time in Brasil because I wanted to note her interaction with me as a complete foreigner, no pun intended, to Brasilian food. She surpassed my expectations. And when I told her that I was going to take my order outside so that I could photograph it in natural light, she launched into a conversation about her brother in-law, who is a photographer lover coming to the restaurant and that she would have him have conversation with me about the art. Someone should clone her because the kind of merchant-customer interaction she employed, or rather hypnotized me with, made me order quite a bit. Actually, the food slut in me was responsible for the abundant amount of food I ordered.
For a first pass, I ordered three appetizers: cheese bread, a chicken croquettes, and an artichoke pastry. To wash it all down, I had a large cup of strawberry lemonade. Meu deus! I now remember why I used to drink juice in Brasil until I was practically sprinkling with it like a fountain. Taste of Brasil did not forget home and it was evident in the strawberry lemonade that was nothing short of ambrosia to be sucked through a straw. For the second appetizer, I had a flaky cheese pastry, a shrimp risole, which was an empanada with shrimp in it, and conversation with the brother in-law who is truly a photography aficionado. Turned out that the brother in-law and I were a bit too much alike. He does product photography while I do photo journalism and fashion photography. He is finishing his undergraduate work in computer engineering while I have since migrated from computer science into mathematics, data analysis, and statistics. He is big on soccer and was rooting for Brasil, of course, for World Cup. I am also a colossal fan of soccer and was rooting for Ghana, of course, for World Cup. We both had lengthy stories of travels to every continent on the globe with the exception of Antarctica. Nevertheless, to wash the second round of appetizers down, I had a cup of large lemonade plain. Let alcoholics buy their liquid delight. Let smokers purchase their personal chimney sticks. Give me lemonade from Taste of Brasil! A nice breeze blowing outside. Great conversation about photography, career, Brasil, and World Cup. And lemonade. What more could I have asked for?
The danger of asking, “What more could I have asked for?” is that I had decided to push my limits. I am a bottomless pit, yes. But when it comes to food, I also have a tendency to forget the saying that “My eyes are bigger than my stomach.” I had a quick moment of clarity when I then realized I had also placed an order for some feijoada. Do not even part your lips to ask me what I was thinking. Bottomless pit? Yes. Absolute fool? No. The brother in-law looked at me with a bit of curiosity when I mentioned that I had ordered a feijoada. He breathed a sigh of relief when I told him that I would rather get it for to go. There was no way I was going to try to scoop one fork- or spoonful of feijoada into my mouth after I had been gorging myself on several appetizers and lemonade.
Feijoada: rice, seasoning, greens, and a big bowl of black beans with chicken and sausage. Yes, talk about reneging on my vegetarianism. My diet of rabbit food vegetables, beans, legumes, fruits, and grains went completely out the window. But without any complaint from my belly or me. It was later in the evening before I could even think about lifting myself from my comfortable chaise lounge to walk to the kitchen to warm up the feijoada for showing it who loved it the most. Having lived in the southern part of the United States, I know what damn good red beans and rice taste like. Having had my fill of feijoada in Brasil, I know what tastes better than southern red beans and rice. And those Brasilians brought home all the way up to Oak Park, Illinois, with them. I should be so fortunate.
It pays to listen to your appetite and if reminiscing brings to mind the suggestion to try out some tasty food that reminds you of happy days long gone, follow your stomach. Forget that following your heart cliche. The menu changes at Taste of Brasil, so you really do get food that is “from home” instead of a fixed menu that tends to bore the palate after a few visits. And with ongoing rotation of what Taste of Brasil serves, it will become one of my constant spots for stuffing myself until I get the usual stupid smile on my face from being dizzy after eating too much. Since I have now become more fancied in dining at absolute holes in the wall and shanties that smell like your grandmother’s kitchen, small eateries like Taste of Brasil have become a staple in my quests. Outstanding service. Fantastic food. Addictive juices. An A-plus restaurant. To my new friends there, obrigado.
The hunger was too strong and I have no willpower. My stomach kept growling and I kept hearing voices screaming at me to do something about the emptiness. Oh to be a puppet to your culinary hankering. But I am always certain to get satisfaction in Chicago and the neighbouring suburbs. So, it was off to Taste of Brasil again so that I would not have to continue to deal with my stomach pestering me to stuff it.
Unlike the first time I went, I bypassed buying any snack food. I went straight for the main dish. I wanted the feijoada from the kitchen, not for to go to be warmed up in my kitchen. And what a satisfying experience that was. The vegetarian in me had to suffer for at least one hour out of my life. I appeased that part of me by starting off with a lentil soup, that I should buy by the quart so that I may have some with homemade bread later when I am home. Ah, and feijoada for the main dish it was and tasty was it. I had commented that it tasted better than any red beans and rice I had eaten, and that was after having heated up a to-go portion because I had eaten too much snack food on my first visit. Well, having it come right from the kitchen will blow your mind. Enjoying the great outdoors and the pleasant weather, I sat at one of the outdoor tables and had absolutely no remorse about the facial expressions of delight that no one should ever see on public display. And I had to have yet another lemonade to go with the feijoada. I know the secret to how it is done to such wonderful bliss. Do not ask me how because it would no longer be a secret.
After letting the soup and feijoada settle, I had dessert. Taste of Brasil has a nice selection of sweets, cakes, and pies that they prepare in the kitchen on the premises. None of that mass-produced stuff shipped in and placed on plates as a marketing ploy. Mango mousse. Now I really must admit that I scared the hell out of a couple who sat a few feet away from me feeding each other ice cream. On the first bite, I smacked the table and made a moaning noise that was truly randy of such a prude as myself. It did not get any better as I drank a second glass of lemonade. I felt a pang of slight shame because the couple then looked at their ice cream as if it has been scooped up off the ground. Sorry but the mango mousse was heaven on earth.
I highly recommend trying Taste of Brasil. I looked at the menu more and have already made a mental note of several food choices I plan to sample. And I will now greet the owner by first name and she will greet me by first name — while not making fun at the fact that my facial expressions tell her how good the food is without she ever having to ask me.