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Jan 5, 2010 07:10 PM

Big Night in Sao Paulo, Brasil-Mocoto Restaurante e Cachaçeria, Gastronomia Urbana in Vila Madeiros

Sao Paulo is a world class fine dining city.Lavish restaurants line its avenues in the upscale neighborhoods of Jardims,Pinheiros, and Itaim Bibi.Bars with cutting edge local gastronomy and crowded luncheonettes favor the historic city center. Every neighborhood is full of all types of eateries featuring delicious and savory eats.But, perhaps the best regional restaurant in Sao Paulo is in the northern reaches of the 3rd largest city on the planet, in Vila Medeiros.Vila Medeiros is a working class neighborhood that includes a favela(slum) just outside the municipality of Sao Paulo.

I had been reading local Sao Paulo press about the restaurant Mocoto featuring the northeastern Brazilian cuisine of Pernambuco, and was dying to make it out on my trip back in March of 2009.The state of Pernambuco is known for its unique culinary traditions and the popular oceanside capital of Recife.

I took the subway to its northern limit, and then cabbed it up to Vila Medeiros,arriving full a anticipation.

This night turned out to be the best meal of 2009, and one of the best in my life. My five hour Mocoto experience started with putting my name on the wait list for a table. While taking some photos outside the restaurant, I was playfully distracted by some locals who insisted I take their picture. Leandro Antonio, the gentleman in red on the far right, introduced himself and asked why I was taking pictures.

I told him I was a blogger and would be writing about my dining experience at Mocoto. He instantly started introducing me to his friends, the local samba school instructor, and other random people on the street. These fantastic residents of Vila Medeiros kept me busy the whole 45 minutes I waited for a table.I was even invited to visit the local samba school for a rehearsal.

Leandro is an outgoing person,full of warmth, but he took a moment to reflect on the restaurant. His pride was palpable. "All people ever say about Vila Medeiros is about the drug dealers and murders", he paused, " but this special for us". I looked at him and said,"Vila Medeiros is a center of gastronomy." His eyes widened and he grinned at this revelation. At that point I almost got lifted upon their shoulders, the 45 minutes passed in a matter of seconds, and when my number was called I was a little sad to have to head in.

Mocoto Restaurante e Cachaçeria is akin to a Brazilian gastro-pub. It's a boteco, a bar with food.

Its story is a romantic tale.Started by Jose Olveira de Almeida in '74, it was just a typical bar, selling booze, typical foods, and a to-die-for calves foot soup known as Mocoto.Mocoto is a Brazilian calves foot and tripe stew flavored by tomatoes and the spicy malagueta pepper.In those days the soup was served in cups, the perfect splash of spicy sobriety at 3AM.

Jose's son, Rodrigo Olveira de Almeida, who had worked every job imagineable at Mocoto in his youth,and was studing engineering at the time, had always begged his dad to expand the menu.While his dad had to attend to a family farm in Pernambuco, Rodrigo seized the opportunity to renovate the outdated restaurant.He expanded the menu and not knowing what the word gastronomy really meant, went to culinary school to learn cooking techniques and about other cuisines and ingredients.Later he traveled all over Brasil to learn more about cachaça, a passion of his, and spent sabbaticals in his family's home state of Pernambuco studying the cuisine.His father had no other choice but to go with the flow.

Rodrigo has become known worldwide and still has the same whimisical fascination with mis native cuisine that first set him to dream. I happened to read about him in an Aeromexico magazine on a recent flight to Mexico City. He was visiting Mexico City and expressed wonder and by the gastronomy of Mexico City and how the people interacted with food.

It's known that Michellin starred chefs come here,world famous chefs come here,the elite of Sao Paulo come here, but this is a locals joint, a boteco, not a pretense to be found.

It's a mission to get up here for those just passing through, but the reward is immeasurable.

This place is a cachaca lovers paradise. Hundreds of fine cachacas line the bar, and the cachaca list gives you the region, tasting notes, and other helpful information to better understand and enjoy cachaca.

There's even a cachaca club, where you can buy a bottle to keep at the bar.Nothing exclusive about it, just put your name tag on it and you're all set for your next visits.

After lustily flipping through the cachaca list I settled on Fabulosa from the state of Minas Gerais, the Bordeaux of cachaca. It's made in Salinas, where the finest cachaças in Brasil are born.It's aged in balsam for 6 years with intense flavors of fennel, a characteristic of Salinas cachaças.

I had been drinking beer and cachaca all day but simply had to sample the stylings of this boteco. My chaser was a garapa doida,unrefined sugar, pineapple and lime juices, and cachaça.This translates to a "drunken sugar".It strikes a wonderful balance between sweet and tart.

My second cocktail was a mamulengo, pure decadence, with cachaça, chocolate liqueur,chocolate, and condensed milk. It's like a cachaca and chocolate shake.

The cocktail menu is original, creative,but you can also order traditional caipirinhas.They have a full bar, but you want to indulge in the cachaça here.

It was fitting that I just had the cachaça shake because the waiter informed me that we would be starting with dessert.That's the way we do it in Pernambuco, he informed me.Course number one would be the notable street food of Olinda and Recife in Pernambuco.

Rodrigo has transformed the traditional street tapioca into a masterpiece of flavor and presentation. A tapioca envelope gently comforts fried yucca strips,greenonions, cheese from Pernambuco, and carne seca(Brazilian beef jerky). A strawberry sauce and some cherry tomatoes round out this sweet and savory delicacy. It's salt, sweet, soft, crunch, and undeniable pleasure.

Torresmo is the Brazilian version of chicharron, or cracklin'.This torresmo had grapefruit colored chunks of meat attached, not the usual brown and crunchy bites served as part of a meal.This was achieved using sous-vide.That's right, sous-vide in Vila Medeiros. This torresmo deserves your undivided attention, the best I've ever had.

You must order the mocoto here, a small cup will do. Jose's son is the celebrity chef, but Jose still makes the mocoto, and is active in helping run the restaurant.

The meal could have ended here, what a fantastic soup.This is the hangover cure and a revitalizing aid for many a bebado(drunk)trying to make it home after a mild pickling.Every family in Brazil has someone that makes a superb mocoto, but you would be hard pressed to outdo this 40+ year old recipe, unchanged after all these years.

The tripe and foot melts in your mouth and the malagueta peppers just nip at your taste buds, the perfect amount of heat.

Rodrigo does his own version called mocofava,given an added textural sensation by the use of fava beans in the stock as a thickening agent.

The next cachaça I had was a suggestion of the waiter, quite the cachacier,from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.Cachaça Dom Braga came chilled, aged for 3 year in oak, with smooth vegetal and fruit flavors.

At this point a nearby table started waiving me to come over. I had been eating and drinking away and my odd, food-blogger behavior had aroused their curiosity.

After meeting Claudio, Silvia, Rosana, and Nana, I began to head back to my table but they sternly insisted that I join them. Eventhough they had finished their meal and I had my main course coming, they hung with me 'til we closed the place down.

We sat and talked about food and drank for hours. I had ordered the atolado de bode, which set the group to carrying on about this coveted dish.It was a new item on the menu.

Atolado de bode(ahto-lahdo gee bodgee)is tender goat marnated in cachaça and apple vinegar, roasted for twelve hours in a bath of manioc puree flavored by peppers, cumin,paprika, and tomato extract.It's served in a country cooking pan.

The supple pieces of goat cascade into the manioc puree upon penetration by your eager fork. Bliss, one bite at a time.

Rodrigo has taken the working man's cuisine and transformed it into a cuisine that the garbage collector and investment banker can both agree upon.

He also has sarapatel(pig offal and blood stewed with vegetables),the famous baião-de-dois(beans,rice and beef jerky in a mold), and bar snacks, called petiscos, like joelho de porco(pork knees).

I was introduced to the francesinha by Nana. There isn't much in this world that doesn't call for a francesinha, according to Nana.It's a delightful liqueur, and we extolled its virtues, we toasted the francesinha, we toasted some more, we talked, and the restaurant slowly emptied into oblivion.

After such a command performance, Rodrigo came out to talk with us and party a little. He is humble and a true devotee to Brazilian gastronomy,a chef for all walks and talks.

He's refused to move the restaurant out of the blue collar neighborhood of Vila Medeiros.While a favela does lie down the hill from Mocoto, the intersection where the restaurant is located is a bustling, lively, and safe area.

It was now after 2AM and the subway was closed.Cabs from Vila Madeiros at 2AM, forget about it! Claudio, Silvia, Rosana, and Nana drove me to a safer neighborhood to catch a cab,as I was all the way over in Jardims.

I was way to stuffed from the days eating to finish my atolado, sugar drunk from eight hours of cachaça "tasting", so I offered my atolado de bode to some police officers on patrol while I waited for a cab.It seemed fitting to share my meal with fellow proles.

My night wouldn't end 'til about 5:30AM, when I went home after hooking up with my good friend in Sao Paulo, and the evenings debauchery, day long cachaca festival in which I was the sole attendee, walking and metroing all over this metropolis,and trying to try as many Brazilian bites as I could, completely debilitated me the next day. I couldn't eat nor drink anything 'til I got to the airport.

I wish every night could be like that, where strangers embrace you like their lifelong friend, the food is rapturous, and alcohol intrigues conversation and passion.

Restaurante e Cachacaeria
Av. Nossa Senhora do Loreto, No 1100
Vila Mederiros, SP

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  1. "We ate at a fantastic place called Mocoto I'm talking cantina type place with hundreds of different Cachacas I ate Sarapateu wich is made of lung,heart and blood Solange was not so thrill but me I loved every bite" -Bigotes

    Chef Benito Molina from Ensenada, MX recently visited Mocoto in Sao Paulo and had a great meal. Anybody else made it out here?

    1. Great post! I live in Sao Paulo and I am planning now to visit Mocoto as soon as posible!!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Carina Juliana

        That's fantastic, Carina Juliana. I hope you tell us what you had, and drink lots of cachaca. Bom apetite!

      2. What a fantastic, well-written and entertaining review! Thank-you streetgourmetla. I am off to SP and will try to eat there on Wednesday. If my experience is only half what you had I will be thrilled.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Jean Georges

          I hope so too. Make some friends and bring them along so you can order many things. I still haven't had the sarapatel or the feijao de corda. That's on my list when I go in December. I'm jealous that you will be going there. Makes me want to get on a plane right now.

          1. re: streetgourmetla

            I ate at Mocotó on Wednesday night, along with our Brazilian manager. He had never been to this part of SO so kept making wrong turns and calling the restaurant for directions. A funny think in Brazil is the reliance on asking people on the street for directions, or calling the destination, rather than using a map or a GPS.

            So we finally arrive to the restaurant, which doesn't seem to have sign so we have to shout to the people there :Is this Mocotó? Fortunately we are seated right away, at a great table close to the wall of cachaça. The restaurant is filled, with large families including children, people eating alone, couples, etc. All seem to be locals. This is a very simple neighborhood restaurant that has developed a good reputation, even to other countries.

            As soon as we are seated a waiter offers some cachaça and pours us a shot glass right at the table. After dinner he came back with more and more cachaça, some aged in balsam, some rare, some common, even a homemade cachaça liqueur which is marinated with vanilla and frozen. Devince.

            I ordered the Atolado de bode and a salad and my friend ordered a different dish, but the waitress said that one dish is enough for two so we canceled his. It's a good thing that my friend is a light eater since the dish was smaller than expected.

            The food was good but our expectations were so high that we were a little disappointed. It is a stew made with cassava and goat, with an onion broth. It was delicious but not incredible. It is stew after all, something we can all make. In fact most of the dishes on the well worn menu were suped up home cooking, not at all gourmet.

            We had 2 deserts, one a home made mango ice and the other was a chocolate mouse made with cachaça that was excellent. From looking at what the other tables ordered, this desert seems to be well liked.

            We asked for the bill and noticed that none of the cachaça were ont he bill, so we inquired and we were told they were complimentary! They knew it was our first time there and simply wanted us to enjoy our evening and feel welcome we would come back. Wow. And my friend, who is Brazilian and lives in SP said this had never happened to him. The total was 72 R$ for 2, which is about $40 USD including 2 salads, 1 main, 2 deserts, 1 large beer which was $10 and about 5 or 6 cachaça.

            The hospitality was great, the ambience was interesting, and the food was good, but I do not understand how this restaurant became so famous. It is like a warm & good neighborhood bistro that offers many cachaça and good value.

            1. re: Jean Georges

              Hey Jean Georges. Thanks for reporting. I wish you would have ordered more items, because you're right, atolado de bode is a stew. I don't know that justb anyone could make such a delicious stew, I'd had mostly decent stews over the years, and only a few have stood out. They use kid, which we can't get here in the US, so that makes it unique.

              The restaurant does traditional food, but the menu isn't driven so much by technique as it is by soulfulness. There was nothing to indicate that sous vide was used on my torresmo, I found that out later. Many chefs will indicate the sous vide on the menu for the oo-aaa effect, but he just gives you a superb piece of torresmo without fanfare.

              But the plating on the atolado is not home cooking, sort of a mixture of the traditional and restaurant plating.

              I hope to get an opportunity to try more things there in the future. Sorry it didn't live up to your expectations. Have fun in Sao Paulo.