A few hours north of São Paulo in the hills outside the alpine like town of Campos do Jordão, some opf the most creative Brazilian fare is being served at an ultra exclusive lodge restaurant called Mina surrounded by reclaimed wood giant walls of glass in the middle of 700 acres of Atlantic rainforest at the hotel and spa Botanique.
In terms of restaurants, no city on the South American continent, except for maybe Lima, has as much star power as São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling inland city of 11 million inhabitants (20 million if you include the entire metropolitan area). New restaurants that opened in 2012 and others opening this year are giving reason to explore well beyond Alex Atala’s D.O.M. and Helena Rizzo’s Maní.
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, has been a driving force in contemporary Brazilian cuisine in ne since opening in 2006.
A giant black door that must be at least 15 feet high separates the outside world from the wild jungle inside. This is D.O.M., Brazilian chef Alex Atala’s signature restaurant and is included on San Pellegrino’s list of the World’s Top 50 restaurants. Many would say it belongs in the top ten. Atala, a one time DJ, was trained in classical French cuisine, though he no longer serves foie gras and truffles on his menu. He serves strictly Brazilian food, the flavors of his youth, though he has reinvented them masterfully.
Brasil a Gosto, on a quiet tree lined street in São Paulo’s Jardins neighborhood, is one of those restaurants that teaches you as much as it feeds you. The restaurant was in fact founded after the chef Ana Luiza Trajano searched 47 different Brazilian cities across the country to complete an inventory of regional ingredients and recipes and then wrote a book, the same name as the restaurant, about it. Trajano takes many of those recipes, many of them usually found in dirt rooms shacks and market stalls, and presents modern interpretations in a contemporary dining room with high quality ingredients.
Brazil’s traffic clogged city of 20 million is one of the best restaurant cities in Latin America and it also has one of the best public markets. The 135,000-square-foot Mercado Municipal Paulistano near estación São Bento, was built in the 1930’s and recently renovated, is my number one choice for a meal downtown.
Somewhere north of the center of São Paulo, where the endless sea of skyscrapers fades into two story buildings and the population becomes decidedly less flashy, is a 30-year old restaurant called Mocotó. It’s in the middle of nowhere, sort of close (a 10 minute cab ride) to the Tucuvuri Metro station. So far that a cab ride from the center will set you back $50.