Last Saturday we decided to celebrate the anniversary of my lengthy stint in Brazil at MuQueCa, 1093 Cambridge St., just outside Inman Sq.
It's a small storefront (6-7 tables), tropically themed, and seems popular with immigrant Brazilians--steady stream of neighborhood folk stopping by to enjoy some crazy Brazilian TV and MuQueCa's sizable salgados (savory pastries and croquettes), which I sadly didn't get to try this time around. Before I go any farther I have to single out the owner (also the waiter), who is incredibly friendly and quite gregarious--the decor and the food were nice, and definitely unique, but he is almost reason enough to return.
Typical Brazilian food is filling but not exactly a taste explosion, with lots of basic stews and cuts of meat. But it's not everyday you eat this stuff. We started off with fried cassava/mandioca/yucca and plantains; not too greasy and accompanied by a creamy peppercornish sauce (doesn't compare to the carrot puree at Buteco, though). No liquor license I believe, so we ordered Guaraná instead, a sugary sweet berry energy drink they guzzle like water in Brazil. The owner brought it to our table in a 2L bottle and presented, poured, and swirled it in our plastic cups like it was the finest wine. Funny.
All but one of us ordered a moqueca. There was some confusion about our order, but it was sorted out within minutes and no harm done. The non-moqueca person got Feijoada Completa, a popular weekend dish in Brazil: spoon-stands-up thick, salty, with chewy chunks of salsicha (a salty sausage) and pork floating in black beans--exactly as I remembered it from those hungover weekends in Rio. Came with more plantains, an excellent just-bitter-enough kale sauteed in bacon (couve à mineira), orange slices, and farofa, a sawdust-like cassava powder that adds a pleasant, crunchy texture to the stew (think crackers in chili).
On to the namesake. There are two main types of moquecas: both are a seafood stew with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, some curry spices in a base of coconut milk. The traditional one from Bahia tastes a bit Caribbean, and also uses dendê, a heady palm oil that makes it heavy and rough on the tummy. MuQueCa serves the other style, moqueca capixaba, from the owner's home state Espírito Santo, made without dendê and thus less heavy but a bit blander. The moquecas come to the table bubbling in a cast-iron pot, and the portion would easily feed two with an appetizer or dessert. Tasty, light and fresh (thanks to the cilantro esp.) and crammed full of flaky whitefish and shrimp (the owner says he goes daily to buy the seafood from the waterfront). They also have more typical meat-and-side-starches, including the prized picanha (a rump cut, I think?).
A dessert of passionfruit mousse was a delight, and on the house. Ideal sweetness, quivering and smooth, with a thin layer of glazed passionfruit and passionseeds (?)--excellent crunchy/salty contrast to the silk/sweet of the mousse. It came pre-packaged in plastic from a freezer, but who cares? Tiny cafezinhos (triple-shots of super-sweetened black coffee, a must-have end to a Brazilian meal) followed, also on the house.
All in all, a great and unusual meal, quite cheap (plus leftovers), with an incredibly kind host, and pretty darn "authentic," whatever that means. We went for dinner, but they also have a small "kilo" at lunch (deli-like pay-by-the-pound) and the small salgado/fruit juice counter.