“Maní isn’t like D.O.M.” said the guy at the table next to me. He loved D.O.M. and found the cooking superior, but he liked coming to Mani better. “D.O.M. is so serious,” he explained. “But here, you have the music. It’s more casual. You can be drunk and not feel bad. It’s more, well, it’s more Brazilian.”
While by the end of the meal he was falling out of his chair blotto and probably should feel bad, I could still appreciate what he was trying to say.
A meal at São Paulo’s Maní, #51 on San Pellegrino’s World’s best list in 2012, has become one of the most sought after restaurant experiences anywhere in Brazil, or South America for that matter. Model turned chef Helena Rizzo, and her Spanish husband Daniel Redondo, have been a driving force in contemporary Brazilian cuisine since opening Maní in 2006. Unlike Alex Atala’s D.O.M. a few minutes away, the atmosphere is a bit funkier – from the photo collages of chickens and trees in the entryway to the rustic, open air back patio – and the food a bit more playful.
The couvert begins with a board of flavorful bites, such as a foie gras bonbon and a potato chip with roasted beef flavored with Lapsang souchong. The degustation menu doesn’t hold back with 20+ courses, though lighter, seasonal menus offer more than a glimpse of Rizzo’s cooking. Like D.O.M. there’s an emphasis on Brazilian ingredients. Jabuticaba, a native purple fruit with white pulp that tastes a bit like a cross between passionfruit and grape, is served as a cold soup with shrimp steamed with cachaça and topped with amburana nuts. There’s a perfectly cooked egg at 63 degrees for two hours, that’s topped with pupunha palm heart foam. There are a dozen types of farofa, or toasted flour, which appear throughout the menu. Tucupi is used as a sort of dashi to go with yucca and araruta. Unlike D.O.M. Maní is not so tied to any one concept, apart from serving food and flavors that are meant to be enjoyed.
R. Joaquim Antunes, 210
São Paulo, Brazil
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.