Currently two of Brazil's most well-known exports are buxom beauties and minimalist underwear. That should change. At a recent meal at Favela Grill, in Astoria, we discovered a few more commodities worth introducing on a large scale to the international marketplace.
For example, Guaraná ($2.50), a soda made from the eponymous indigenous fruit, long heralded for its weight-loss and memory-boosting properties. In carbonated form, it resembles a mild apple-cherry hybrid, with a slightly spicy aftertaste, more like a GuS or a Mash than a Coke or Sprite. We'd love to see it, say, served at the movies or installed in fountain form in our kitchen. Just an idea.
Less successful as a movie snack, perhaps, but similarly worth its weight in tariffs is the feijoada ($17.95)—a complicated stew that gets served in an honest-to-goodness miniature cauldron. Seemingly everyone ordered this Saturday night special, hoping to learn its violaceous secrets, such as how so much meat maintains individuated flavor after hours and hours of cooking. (The amount of time required to produce the dish is likely the main reason it's not on the regular menu.) Into a base of black turtle beans go ribs, beef jerky, bacon, sausage, and pork. We mixed the accompanying rice and collard greens into an edible platform, then scooped up ladle after ladle, its warmth and saltiness evoking both smoky BBQ and familial hearths.
Incidentally, the cauldron echoes the restaurant's heavy wooden tables, high-back chairs with prominent metal bolts, and menus, which come attached to cutting boards. This vaguely medieval seating contrasts with the minimalist rattan-covered walls, the TGI Friday's-esque bar ("humorous" metal signs abound), and the colorful murals of people dancing and frolicking in back. Incongruous, sure, but not off-putting. On Fridays and Saturdays, real people dance and frolic to live music.
As starters, most diners ordered some version of salgados (homemade pastry), such as the bolinho de bacalhau (codfish, $6.95) or quibe (ground beef mixed with bulgur wheat, $6.95). We tried the queijo ($6.95). The six thumb-sized yucca croquettes were stuffed with rich, creamy cheese and scallions, for kick. Even more kick came from sprinkles of the thoughtfully provided Tabasco sauce.
Our peixe frito con molho de camarão (tilapia with "house special shrimp sauce," $19.95) arrived hanging off the plate. In places, the thick white fish was excellently cooked; in other places, the combination of the grainy manioc batter and the fryer had produced a jaw-exhausting texture. More pleasurably, the sauce owed its butteriness to liberal amounts of coconut milk. We ignored the dry, flaky mound of potato puree. Twenty dollars felt like too much for what we got in this case.
Although the entrees come with rice and beans, we opted for an additional side of banana frita (fried banana, $4), soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside, sweet enough to be dessert. Thanks to the Guaraná, we remembered that all the fried food and meat we'd just eaten totaled our required calories for the week. Thus we skipped the manjar de coco (coconut flan, $5.50) and mousse de maracujá (passion fruit mousse, $5.50), with some regret.
A word on the name: favela essentially means "shantytown." Given the number of tables chatting to the waitstaff in Portuguese, that's less of an obstacle than eating hamburgers and apple pie in a place called Slums might be for an expat American. Or maybe not. Maybe authenticity trumps nomenclature. So confident is the kitchen in its preparations that the menu repeatedly refers to, but never explains, "Brazilian style": Brazilian style chicken soup, Brazilian style beef jerky, Brazilian style pastry. Favela Grill is best for: a date who doesn't mind a little conceptual discord with his or her brasileiro comestibles.