Sunday, October 12, 2008

homeys in da house

Kathy and Tracy arrived last Monday. Kathy is my oldest friend. Our Dad’s worked together in the WWII years. Our families have been intertwined since then. My Dad is the only parent left of the group. Kathy knew me in-utero. Tracy is a friend I met through Kath. Like her he is a photographer. He is normally in Brooklyn and she, Oakland. They are staying in the Barra apartment, Glen Tunstull’s, where Michele and I stayed when we first arrived. I had waited nearly three days before seeing them, assuming that they needed bounce-back time.

It is great to have dear friends nearby in this new environment. We have already had a couple few great times together. Tracy was kind enough to be a conduit of some technology. He ferried some equipment for a friend in need here in Salvador. U.S. prices for tech stuff are almost 1/3 of the Brazilian rate. Go figger.

As part of the exchange, we all got taken out to a fat dinner. Lucky me it was a place that was on my list to check out, Paraiso Tropical, in Cabula. The restaurant is an anomalous restaurant, located on a private street in a far flung district with almost no indication that a business exists at that address. The cuisine is created from many wild or foraged ingredients, including some herbs associated with Candomble, rare fruits and spices including fresh palm fruit.

We gorged ourselves on Preguari a chewy mussel that had a texture like cuttlefish with lightly garlicky scent. I had a thick frothy Cupuaçu juice, which everyone thought would have been fine for dessert. It has a custardy, melon-citrus petrol taste, and a slight musky perfume. It is an acquired taste for some.

We shared two moquecas between five of us, a green cashew and a Camapolvo mix. The green cashews like young almonds were grassy, tender and slightly fruity with just a slight snap to them. There was still food for Tracy to take home for lunch. The camapolvo mix of octopus and shrimp had hearty base notes without being heavy, muddled or fishy. Both the moqueca and the was wonderfully nutty vatapá used young coconut and coconut water to lighten this rich dish instead of prepared coconut milk. The pirão unctuous, the rice had four healing herbs stirred into it. It was a feast for all senses.

Our friends arranged for a kitchen tour just before our entrees arrived. The kitchen was simple and uncluttered. On two large wooden prep tables there were large displays of exotic and “usual suspect” tropical fruits and vegetables, bouquets of unidentifiable herbs and several flowers. Joralma was the chef on duty. She and her assistant diligently assembled all of the plates. The food was simple to look at, yet made with a wonderful depth of flavor and nuance.

Joralma’s assistant called the waiters with a barely perceptible whistle when the dishes were ready. Paraiso Tropical often defied accepted culinary conventions, with thoughtful alternatives that brought a human face to a well orchestrated machine. Beto Pimentel the exec chef came by the table engaging everyone with his infectious smile, before we left.

The dinner became an excuse to enjoy one long jag of laughter, celebrating each other and the conduits, like Danny D. who had brought us together. New friends that stick quickly and firmly are such a joy to experience. We drove home together making plans for later in the week. Kathy had scheduled a showing of her recently completed short film, Witness to Hiroshima.

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