Photos: Aya Tanaka
25-35 36th Avenue, Astoria NY 11106; map); (718) 937-4821; malagueta.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs
Best Dishes for Kids: pork sausage, yucca fries, steak, pork loin, shrimp
Cost: Appetizers $8-9, Entrees $15-20, Desserts $5; Lunch special entrees $7-8
Brazilian food lovers have plenty of decent options in New York. If you want a churrascaria, Plataforma and Riodizio will do the trick. For cool Brazilian atmosphere, Barzinho, Favela Grill and Bar Bossa are pleasing options. For cheap and delicious-by-the-pound bounty, Copacabana is the best bet. If you want to make it yourself, Rio Bonito supermarket will provide all the necessary groceries for a Brazilian feast. Yet my favorite all around Brazilian restaurant in the city is Malagueta, located on a quiet, easily accessible corner in Astoria, Queens. The restaurant is quite small, nicely decorated, and service is welcoming to parents and children. The dishes are well priced and the selection pleases both picky and adventurous eaters of all ages.
The restaurant is unassuming, and actually offers "continental" dishes in addition to the Brazilian selections. Yet each dish stands on its own, from the picanha (sliced top sirloin) to the moqueca de camarão (shrimp stew) and I have yet to have a meal I didn't like at Malagueta.
On a recent lunchtime visit, we started with guaranás ($2), the Brazilian soft drink, in regular and diet versions. Because of supplier shortages, we had to do with the sweeter Brazilia brand instead of the most popular Antarctica brand. These sodas are somewhat similar to apple cider, but with an unmistakable guaranás berry aftertaste, and they are best served on ice with an orange slice.
We ordered some linguiça grelhada com mandioca (sliced pork sausage with yucca fries, $9) as an appetizer, and they were promptly devoured by my daughter. Brazilian sausages are usually well seasoned with garlic and salt, and it's hard to eat only one slice. Paired with the yucca fries, the denser, crispier cousins of french fries, this sausage appetizer is likely to please children so much that parents might have to beg for a taste.
The moqueca de camarão served at Malagueta is made Bahia-style, meaning that in addition to shrimp, coconut milk, cilantro, garlic, scallions, onions and red bell peppers, the stew contains dendê (palm oil), which gives the dish a strong orange hue and characteristic taste. Despite all the seasonings, the dish was actually tending toward sweet and my daughter and I quite enjoyed the perfectly cooked shrimp. I like my moqueca with a bit more kick, so I asked the server to bring me the pimenta.
Molho de pimenta (chili sauce) is usually proudly made in-house and offered on the side, upon request, for those who enjoy spicier dishes. Unless you know your restaurant's molho de pimenta, you should always start with just a few drops, as some can be very hot. This one in particular was made with malagueta peppers, typical of Bahia, and only a few drops sufficed to balance the sweetness of the coconut milk and red peppers.
We also ordered a lombo de porco (pork loin, $8) from the very well priced lunch menu, which came with rice and beans. Again, the pork was flavorful in a sauce of tomatoes and sweet peppers, but mild enough for children, and the meat was, if not super tender, tender enough for little ones to chew. Of course the side of rice and beans is a great complement that few kids refuse, so it rounded up the savory part of the meal very nicely.
Dessert is often the great incentive for a child to end his or her meal and Brazilian desserts provide an apotheosis of sugar worth cleaning your plate for. We ordered two: The pudim de leite ($5) and the mousse de maracujá ($5). The pudim de leite is similar to a flan, and is usually made with condensed milk. The caramel sauce in particular pudim de leite was dense, almost like doce de leite (that is Portuguese for the ubiquitous dulce de leche we all know by now). We all thought it delicious and would have had more if we hadn't already ordered the mousse.
The mousse de maracujá (passion fruit mousse) is yet another condensed milk concoction. As your spoonful of mousse de maracujá rolls down your tongue you feel the intense sweetness of the condensed milk, and two seconds later, the passion fruit kicks in, tangy and perfumed. Children might not like this last part so much (think key lime pie) so let them have pudim. Adults with a taste for sourness will love the mousse.