“Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels. There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one’s belt buckled.”
-Frederic Raphael, (1931- ) British author
After finishing our Saturday morning deep-clean of the D.O.M. kitchen, we drove over an hour from Jardins to Vila Medeiros, a very lower-middle class working neighborhood at the very northernmost edge of the city, marking the municipal end of São Paulo and the beginning of a large favela (a very poor neighborhood; a slum). It was Alex’s mom’s last weekend in town, and we all wanted to have one last great meal together. Alex and his brother picked Mocotó based on reviews in various local papers and outstanding recommendations from several of their friends.
Mocotó is, in essence, a gastropub – it’s a bar that serves food. The main wall of Mocotó is nearly wallpapered floor-to-ceiling with framed news articles, press releases, reviews, and awards in at least 5-6 different languages, from the local papers to the New York Times. The bar is a renowned Cachaçeria, serving over 500 types of cachaça (the fire water sugarcane liquor that’s the national drink of Brazil) – the largest in the city, if not the country. The cachaça list gives you the name, region, and tasting notes of every cachaça they offer – it’s better than most wine lists in fine-dining restaurants. They even offer a cachaça club – you can buy an entire bottle of cachaça, write your name on it, and keep it at the bar for future visits. The restaurant, from the tables and chairs to the signs on the wall, is decorated almost entirely in carved wood – it’s a really relaxing, homey atmosphere. There are two main dining rooms, a terrace, and a small courtyard. We were told that we had to arrive by 11AM to get a table since they don’t take reservations… we were there a little after and were surprised to see the street corner so empty. However, by 11:30, at least 50 people had gathered outside the restaurant, and by the time the restaurant opened for service at noon, the line was wrapped around the block.
Mocotó specializes in Northeastern cuisine of Pernambuco, which is known for its distinctively unique culinary traditions – much in the same way New Orleans cuisine is viewed in the US. Mocotó was opened by Jose Olveira de Almeida in 1974, who moved from his farm in Pernambuco to São Paulo in the early 1960’s. At first, it was just a typical bar catering to the community of Nordestinos in Vila Medeiros – they sold booze, a few regional products like carne de sol (sun-dried meat) and rapadura (crystallized sugarcane), and their family recipe of mocotó. Mocotó is a very traditional tripe-and-calve’s foot soup flavored with tomatoes and the popular, super-spicy Malagueta pepper. The soup became the staple of the bar, and became increasingly popular with the locals who needed a bit of sobriety before heading home.
Jose’s son Rodrigo grew up helping in the restaurant. He had always wanted his father to expand the menu, but Jose never did. Rodrigo renovated the restaurant in secret one day while his father was away on a trip to Pernambuco, and soon afterward dropped out of environmental management school to study culinary arts. After formal culinary training, he spent the next few years traveling all over Brazil learning about regional cuisines, foods, and cachaças. Chef Rodrigo is known for lightening the high-protein, high-carb heartiness of Northeastern cuisine while allowing it to retain its wholesome flavors and aromas. Even though Rodrigo (now only 28 years old!!) is the main person in charge today, his father still comes in to season the mocotó and a few other dishes, just so they retain their authenticity.
We started our lunch with a variety of cocktails – Alex ordered a “Garapa Doida” (a crazy sugarcane) made with cachaça, sugarcane syrup, pineapple juice, and a splash of fresh lime, and I ordered a drink called “Leite de Onça” (milk of the tiger) made with cachaça, condensed milk, honey, guaraná powder, and cinnamon – it was like a cachaça milkshake heaven (though, I think it would have been better paired with dessert – haha). There was also a passionfruit caipirinha, a frozen cajá and cachaça cocktail, and a “Pinga Colada” (pinga is another term for cachaça) made with cachaça, pineapple juice, coconut milk, and condensed milk – not to mention the dozens we didn’t try.
We started with two appetizers : carne de sol and torresminhos.
- Carne-de-sol is the northeastern sun-dried meat, served on a hot griddle covered with “manteiga de garrafa” (a special type of Northeastern bottled butter) with caramelized onions, small mild biquinho peppers, manioc chips, and whole roasted garlic cloves. The flavor of the meat is incredibly rich and concentrated, and it’s unbelievably tender despite being cooked through.
- Torresminhos are the Brazilian version of chicharrones – basically, deep-fried cubes of bacon served with lime wedges. These…are a fat kid’s dream snack. I could have devoured 4 orders worth if my arteries would have stopped screaming at me :p Sadly, you probably won’t find torresminhos this delicious anywhere else – Mocotó uses sous-vide to achieve an incredibly flawless, melt-in-your-mouth (yet still crunchy) texture, complimented perfectly by the acidity of the fresh lime.
- Carne de Sol Bruschetta – we ordered this after our entreés, and it’s definitely among some of the best bruschetta I have ever had. Buttery cubes of carne-de-sol, cubes of fresh queijo coalho, tomatoes, and herbs piled on top of a fresh baguette and then gratinéed to give that delicious browned cheese flavor… it was our breaking point. Our stomachs almost burst J
For our entreés, we ordered everything to share with the table.
- Tapioca (manioc starch) pancake filled with fresh cheese, fried manioc, green onions, and aged beef – It figures that the one I chose was my least favorite, haha. It arrived at least 15 minutes before the rest of the food, so the wait probably caused some of the dryness and chewiness I tasted (though I was told it’s supposed to be chewy).
- Escondidinho de carne-seca : this was easily my favorite. Escondidinho is a simple preparation that basically puts meat – carne-seca [dried beef] or shredded goat – on the bottom of a ramekin, covers it with creamy manioc puree and requeijão, then tops it with fresh queijo coalho and browns it in the oven. The result is something that looks like a soufflé, but tastes better than any meat-and-potatoes dish you’ve ever had.
- Atolado de Bode – baby goat rib stew marinated in cachaça and apple vinegar, braised in butter, browned in the oven, and served with boiled manioc, baby tomatoes, pearl onions, olives, and mild green peppers. Super tender, super rich, and super delicious.
- Mocofava – this is essentially mocotó – the tripe and cow’s foot soup – with fava beans. It’s Rodrigo’s take on his family’s recipe – the favas make it creamier than the original version. To be honest, I had NO IDEA what was in this soup when I tried it, and it was delicious. I don’t particularly care for tripe, but it melted in your mouth. The seasoning was perfect and the texture wasn’t unpleasant at all, even though there were strips of tender, gelatinous meat in the broth.
- Baião-de-Dois – this is the Northeastern version of rice and beans, with cheese and meats in the mix. I had admittedly been getting tired of rice and beans (it’s served with almost every meal every day – and we’ve had it for lunch every day at DOM), but this was delicious. Instead of making a sauce with the beans and serving it over the rice, the beans are completely drained and mixed in with the rice and fresh cheese and meat. It’s a totally different flavor, and – in my opinion – not nearly as heavy.
We ended our lunch stuffed and happy – but, of course, someone always wants dessert, so we ordered two:
- Rapadura ice cream- Alex’s sister-in-law was adamant about her hatred of rapadura – she said it’s always “too sweet and too hard” (rapadura is dried sugarcane juice) – however, after everyone at the table raved about the ice cream, she tasted it and liked it so much that she ordered an entire portion for herself J It was honestly one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had. It was a deliciously rich cream base studded with little cubes of softened rapadura, topped with Catuaba liqueur – which is traditionally used in folk medicines as an aphrodisiac.
- Chocolate mousse with cachaça – The first thing I thought when I tried a bite of the mousse was “my mom would be in heaven right now.” Light, creamy, with a little kick from the cachaça – any chocolate lover would agree that it’s… damn good. There’s not much else I can say.
I’m not sure how we made it home, because I fell into a food coma and slept for 90% of the drive – and then for three hours afterward. I can easily say that lunch at Mocotó was the best meal I’ve had in Brazil so far, and one of the best I’ve had in a while. If you’re ever in São Paulo, I highly recommend that you pay the restaurant a visit (as an added plus, with the conversion rate, it’s really inexpensive when you pay in dollars or euros – drinks are about $3 and entrees about $10-$15) . Check out the website here: Mocotó Restaurante & Cachaçaria
(note: I took the photos marked with a * from wordpress user quebichomemordeu, and one or two are from websites (including the main Mocotó site) since mine didn’t turn out so great. If any of these are yours and you don’t want me using them, I’ll take them down.)