Perhaps the subtitle for this should be Celebrating Mrs. Yimster or maybe the Chow Tracks of Our Tears.
Our fallen comrade in chow was laid to rest this weekend. Some of us who had the privilege of knowing Mabel in person attended her wake on Friday and funeral services on Saturday. We ate and drank very well in honor of Mrs. Yimster, respecting her cultures tradition of using food and drink to cure the blues. To help those not able to attend or others who came to know her virtually to find their own sense of closure, I wanted to say something about these events.
At Friday nights viewing at the Green Street Mortuary, the funeral altar was set with a roast pig, fresh fruits, and other food offerings. The scent of incense and haze from burning paper mock-ups of precious offerings filled the room. Yards of red silk, embroideries, blankets, and other material goods were presented and placed ceremoniously in her casket.
As we exited, each of us received a wrapped coin and a small white envelope with a coin and a sweet to chase away mourners sadness. I unwrapped and popped the piece of candy in my mouth. It worked --- I had to smile at the refinement and deliciousness of the dried candied tangerine peel. Only the best from the Yim clan.
Most of the chow contingent then headed to Mangarosa to toast Mabel with tropical libations and a late dinner. Our chowhound-style wake was almost derailed when I learned that the hostess had moved back my reservation to 10pm, instead of moving it forward to 9pm as I had specified. But we were able to squeeze into the small lounge area near the entrance and had a first round of cocktails there. My caipirinha was fully potent and started the buzz going quickly. While the drink was intense with fresh lime and quite sweet, Lisa and I both noticed that the characteristic hotness of Brazilian firewater still burned going down.
We were seated in a quiet area behind the bar after 10pm. We ordered two each of several things to share among the 11 of us.
Pao de queijo, $6 Nice milky flavor of mild cheese, a little bit more moist and elastic inside the thin crust and not as airy as Ive had elsewhere, but I liked these just fine. I spied our token Brazilian, Ed, taking a whiff before he bit into his little cheese roll and it seemed to pass his sniff test. However, Malik did not feel these were up to the best examples hes had in Brazils pao de queijo heartland.
Calamari fritti with two sauces, $9 Crispy breading and included the tentacles (yay!). Decent, but not distinctive in any way. One of the dipping sauces was fruity and sweet, the other savory one appealed to us more. Sumimao noted the amount of batter crumbs, filler to make the portion seem larger.
Ahi tuna with Italian sea salt, pickled red onion, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, $15 Carefully seared to be raw inside, the tuna was deep red and not very ahi-like. While the fish was good quality, the seasonings were ho-hum.
Scallops with speck, treviso and calvados butter, $18 The bacon and bitter greens didnt meld with the scallops for me, and the frozen wet scallops had an offputting chemical and tinny taste.
Filet mignon Espentinhos, $14 Cubes of filet alternated with pieces of onion on a skewer and grilled, served with toasted manioc. Nothing wrong with it, just not that interesting.
House made gnocchi with roasted garlic, crescenza cream sauce and local wild mushrooms, $15 Aha, now were talking! This was one of our favorites. The irregular, nubby gnocchi were pan-fried with the crisp patches of golden brown sear yielding to chewy tenderness inside. The intensely flavored cream sauce seemed to cling better with more of the garlic and mushroom reduction seeping into the gnocchi as well. While avoiding these little carb bombs, Paul H thought highly of the mushroom prep in this dish.
Peixe e Carnes (fish and meats):
Frango Assado crisp chicken with 12 year aged balsamic, $16 I rarely order chicken when I go out, but our waiter had recommended this dish highly. It turned out to be the tastiest thing on the table. Half a chicken was deboned, seasoned with interesting elusive flavors, pressed, lightly battered, then deep-fried with a crispy, crackly crust. Dressed with a pool of balsamic, our waiter had the kitchen slice it for us, as shown in the photo below. The flesh was super juicy and succulent, and I loved the contrasting textures and taste sensations.
Brazilian Steak Réchaud, $28 The menu does not indicate that this is a serving for two, making it seem pricier than it is. Once portion size is taken into account, its the best value on the menu and another of our favorites of the night. In fact, I hadnt asked for a description of the dish before ordering it, other than finding out what cut it was. The sense of mystery built up as the bussers brought out a blue protective mat for each end of the table and stainless steel tongs for everyone. The intrigue and anticipation intensified when the iron burners were placed on the mats and lit. Finally, our two sizzling hot plates holding the steaks came out. The hanger steak had been rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and seared. We were instructed to finish off the slices to our desired degree of doneness on the side of the grill plate sprinkled with sea salt. This was accompanied by a caddy of condiments filled with candied toasted garlic bits, farofa made with manioc and bacon, and salsa fresca. I had both blood rare pieces and fully done ones and was surprised that the more cooked ones stayed tender enough and had as much flavor interest. Felice and I agreed that this hanger steak had much more beefy flavor than what wed tasted at Cortez.
Acompanhamentos (side dishes):
Yucca fries with aioli, $4 Cut in smaller pieces with more surface area, these were very crunchy, fully cooked through and served with garlicky aioli. The best ones Ive had around here.
Roasted mushrooms, $4 We liked the mushrooms in the gnocchi so much, we added on this side dish. Maybe I was fading, but these didnt seem as complex or tasty to me.
Bread is available on request. We asked for it, and three baskets of focaccia with scallions were presented with the obligatory olive oil and vinegar dip. The focaccia seemed a little wet on the bottom, but was good enough to increase our carb quotient.
Taylor 20 year old tawny port Well-priced on the list, we ordered one glass to share. While this is a fine 20 year-old, I guess weve been drinking some extra fine tawnies and colheitas lately that have more character and it couldnt compare.
Warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream Good ice cream but dried-out cake.
Mango crème brulee Others found this more appealing than I did. The cubes of mango were jarring in taste and texture in the smooth creaminess for me.
We toasted Mrs. Yimster with two wines from my cellar ($15 corkage per bottle). The 1994 Dr. Parce Domaine du Mas Blanc Collioure Cuvee Reserve, my last bottle, was headed down the other side of the slope, but still had nice integration and balance. The initial French funk blew off to show smoked meat, leather, earth, and dried fruit with lively acidity.
The 1991 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon had a faulty cork that broke in two places on extraction. Our server decanted it to filter out the cork bits. Ive tasted better bottles of this wine, including a far more intense and concentrated one from the same case a few months ago. While the poor seal had taken away some of its strength and beauty, it was still a nice accompaniment to the grilled steaks.
Service was variable, with the bussing team deserving special kudos. Our waiter started off in a deficit after our long wait for a table and a couple gaffs that put me on edge, so it took a while before we could groove with him. I think we got there by the end of the evening, especially as we started to like the later dishes more and he calmed down.
Overall, the consensus seemed to be that the appetizers we tried were nothing special and on the pricey side. The other dishes were much better and worth going back for. Interestingly, the gnocchi was the lowest priced of the pasta or risotto offerings. The chicken and the hanger steak portioned for two were also the least expensive of the meats. And, lastly, our desserts were not memorable.
We wrapped up at Mangarosa just before 1am. Some continued on to Tony Niks next door for a nightcap. Since I went home from the restaurant, someone else will have to write that account.