Maní: the most impressive Brazilian sourced dining in Sao Paulo

Maní is named after manioc, the native Indian goddess, that according to a legend was buried in her aboriginal home in Brazil where the first root of this tropical woody plant grew.
Also known as cassava, cassada, yuca, mogo or mandioca (Manihot esculenta), the manioc root became a ubiquitous traditional ingredient of Brazilian diet.
Cultivated for its edible starchy tuberous root, according to Science Daily  manioc is also” the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world“. At home, I love it baked or deep fried as a snack.
Maní entrance lounge
Potatoes are known as a pre-eminent source of crabs as well, but they can seem dull for most picky eaters. Manioc is more fun and versatile than one might assume, and at Maní the chefs know how to turn this ingredient into a desirable treat.
The maestros of manioc in the kitchen are a Brazilian native Helena Rizzo and her Spanish husband Daniel Redondo. They both worked in the kitchen of the world-famous restaurant El Celler de Can Roca (voted The World’s Best Restaurant in 2013), and also both boost with starry apprenticeships. To our tastes Maní is the most impressive Brazilian sourced dining in Sao Paulo, better than D.O.M. and much more welcoming.
Manioca and parmesan snacks with dips
Their first big project together employs contemporary cooking techniques while highlighting Brazilian ingredients. Seasonable, local and organic whenever possible, these are the fanfares inviting modern conscious diners inside the restaurant. Like at DOM, Brazil’s most lauded restaurant that is currently ranked fourth in The World’s Best Restaurants list, at Maní the cuisine is eclectic and highly experimental. The chefs constantly search for palate-luring ingredients in Brazil’s lush nature from the Northern Amazon to more central states and as far as the Rio de Janeiro’s national parks.
Manioca starch can be as airy light as in the fluffy white crisps served in a bag together with various dips, peppered butter and crunchy parmesan lollies. These teasers are just the start of an indulgent Brazilian feast in style at this modern São Paulo institution.
Creatove salad at Maní
At Maní creativity, freshness, and quality seem to enjoy an equal status.
As in the Mata Atlantica Salad consisting of a leafy bundle featuring seasonal greens, shavings of mango, creamy white pupunha heart of palm, the pulp of passion fruit, zingy celery, Brazilian herbs, all drizzled with smoked vegetable oil. If you wonder if a salad can be at the same time light in weight but also abundant with complex flavours, then stop here and dive your fork into this natural wonder on the plate.
One of the staples on the menu is the Jabuticaba cold soup (gazpacho) with cachaca steamed crayfish, pickled cauliflower and amburana nuts. Refreshing and surprising cold appetiser that will introduce you a number of important Brazilian natural delights. Jabuticaba is a grape-like purple fruit of Jabuticaba tree growing around São Paulo. The fruit is a thick-skinned berry with tart skin, but a sweet white or pink flesh. Cachaca is the most popular liquor in Brazil. Amburana nuts are seeds of Amburana cearensis tree used in traditional medicine as antispasmodic, with anti-inflammatory effect and suppressing cough. This soup turns out to be a highly nutritious and healthy restaurant treat. I would have a pot of it and not just a bowl.
The Egg “perfecto” cooked to 63 degrees during two and half hours served with pupunha foam is another pick from the signature starters at Mani.
Palm heart flour-less linguini
Yet it is the incredible Pupunha Heart of Palm thin noodles with parmesan sauce and white truffle olive oil that turned me on the most. Imagine flour-less linguine tasting better than the heavy gluten pasta. The versatility of the popular heart of palm is being intensely explored across Brazil. The chefs shave the flexible inner layers of the palm in long strokes in the shape of long linguine. The air-light fragrant foamy sauce and truffles foul your senses as to believe that you are actually eating the naughty carb and cholesterol-rich plate. But, you are not.
The chefs also make tortellini from the heart of palm.
There are plenty of fish dishes, all vary according to availability, summed up as a daily catch. Lamb, beef and pork, are originally prepared with local cheese or nuts (such as baru of a savannah tree) and of course plenty of South American fruits and vegetables.
Açaí desert Egg Desert
Most of the desserts on the menu contained some form of a frozen sorbet or ice cream when I visited.
The final treat of Açaí ice cream, banana, guarana jelly, oatmeal, brown sugar, marshmallow and strawberry slud sounds more like the popular Brazilian breakfast spreading across its borders as ‘açaí  bowl’ (I saw it in California as well as in New York), yet aside its energy-boosting property it was far more sophisticated. Similar to the açaí  bowl, the purple in antioxidants-rich sorbet was accompanied by banana, sweated with guarana and fibre boosted by crunchy oatmeal. The marshmallow and strawberry frosty layer added the extra zing.
The Egg Dessert of eggnog ice cream with coconut foam and coconut crisps looks quite funny, like another breakfast and not after dinner treat. It just looks like an egg, though. The yolky and glaring centre is a lush eggnog ice cream while the white lining is creamy coconut foam. I like the sense of humour and surprising effect of their dishes that also taste great.
Drinks: The wine list is just right. Not too big, not too limited. We went for a beautiful bottle of Sold de Sol Chardonnay, often regarded as one of the best chardonnays in South America. It was mineral yet firm and rounded nicely with a sweet vanilla and spicy tones. The drinks list does not end with wine as many cocktails, teas, non-alcoholic blends and of course high-quality Brazilian coffee adorn the liquid stable of Mani.
Sol de Sol ChardonnayMani Sao Paulo

Atmosphere: Elegant yet casual, natural yet celebrating modern design. It cannot be more eclectic as there is also an al fresco terrace at the back.
Entering through the long entrance corridor, your sight is entertained with art installations of upcoming artists that welcome those who browse in. The restaurant itself is spread across several rooms, each with a slightly different feel. One is more rustic, other more minimalist and  contemporary. A plenty of natural light sets an eco-friendly tone.
Since 2013 Maní was placed between the 50 best restaurants in the world of the British publication Restaurant Magazine. Personally, I appreciate the delicate and light of Maní’s cooking style over the lofty and heavy DOM by the chef Alex Atala.

Closed on Monday. Lunch Tue-Fri: 12noon-3pm; Sat&Sun: 1pm-4pm; Dinner: Tue-Thurs: 8pm-11:30pm; Fri&Sat: 8:30pm-1:30am
 Rua Joaquim Antunes 210, Jardim Paulistano, São Paulo.
 +55 11 3085 4148

Jun Sakamoto: the most exclusive Japanese dining in São Paulo

Asparagus salad
Atmosphere: The entrance to the restaurant is very discreet and guarded by security men. One would never think that there is a restaurant behind the simply looking wall along the Rua Lisboa. As the security opens the door and you walk through a tiny garden into the first room, you know that Jun Sakamoto is not just a traditionally simple Japanese restaurant (the interior was designed by the chef after whom the restaurant was named). It is full of classy people some conservatively dressed in ties and business suites others – especially the supermodel looking youthful women – in chic evening mini-dresses or anything that is currently fashionable. If you want even more privacy then dine in the back room. Both rooms together including a sushi bar accommodate not more than 30-40 people, so it is quite small. You still will be seen by the top players on the São Paulo rich and powerful league so better dress up for that as good as you can.
Food: For how much exclusive this restaurant tries to be, the food is not even slightly comparable to any of my favorite japanese places in LA, New York, Seattle or Paris. Rumors circulate in and out of the city that there is not much of excellent japanese food in Brazil yet. I take it as an explanation of my recent disappointment at Jun Sakamoto. For the restaurant being very expensive, I will not give it likely a second chance when there are so many other great restaurants to dine at in São Paulo.
Seared mushrooms
We got a number of starters to share and none of them had particularly impressed our taste buds. The Salmon tartare (Tuna tartare with foie gras is more popular here, but we were in the mood for salmon) was tiny, the fish was good but excellent as you would expect for the price and the sporadic portion of fish eggs on the top of it was not enough to bring more complex flavors to the dish. Continuing with a plate of fatty tuna sashimi, which was contrary to the previous too large portion of just a raw and not very tasty fish we started to worry a bit about the restaurant’s flattering reputation. The savior came in the form of the next order – the Asparagus salad, which was better and perhaps the only plate we quite enjoyed. The vegetables were fresh and crisp and the sauce was tasty.
From the warm dishes the Seared mushrooms lacked everything that was savor-appealing. I dare to claim that they were boring. Right the opposite of the vibrant and sizzling Mushroom Tobanyaki they do at Nobu restaurants elsewhere.
Black cod with miso
The staple of many Japanese restaurants globally is the Black cod with miso. After the previous unsuccessful courses we ordered exactly this dish as we thought it might be more reliable. The fish was of a good quality, the sauce though was not intense enough and much more plain than we are used to.
My partner tried the omakase sushi (ingredients selected by the chef who serves you to the point of your fullness, it shows the chef’s skills the best). They do it differently here though. You have to select how many courses you want and that is what you get. Omakase is supposed to display the chef’s innovativeness, creativity and the quality of his ingredients. The sushi we got did not look and taste exceptionally – it was rather normal, but with a high price tag.
Sushi bar
Drinks: Sake and wine lists are good, although not particularly wide. You can find some less usual treats on the wine list though. We went for the Chilean Amayna Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Seeing a barrel fermented version of Sauvignon Blanc is quite rare. This refreshing grape varietal made famous by the Loire Valley in France as well as New Zealand is often let to express its freshness and zest. It was one of these quirks that one tries just for the sake of its differentiating quality. Wine Spectator gave it 91 points (out of 100) to this Leyda Valley warrior. I would not go as high since the barrel overwhelmed the fruit and its acidity in a greater proportion then it should have. The new oak left some nutty and vanilla aromas in the wine while the fruit turned into something like a fig marmelade than a refreshing white peach or grass that you can typically taste in wines made from this grape varietal. The depth though complement the raw fish quite well. With japanese food I would rather go for an oaky Chardonnay or a Gewurtztraminer from Alsace.
Cuisine: Japanese
Visit: December 2012
Price: Very expensive (Top CEOs, fashion models and Tv stars come to dine here in a secure and an almost invisible location).
Opening hours: Only for dinner: Mon-Thu: 7pm-12.30am; Fri & Sat: 7pm-1am; Closed on Sunday.
Address: Rua Lisboa 55, Jardim Paulista, São Paulo, Brazil.
Contact: Tel: +(55) 11 3088 6019

Figueira Rubaiyat: Brazilian steak from the São Paulo restaurant’s own farm

Atmosphere: Casual, outdoors and humming. The restaurant’s covered garden under the giant, hundred-year-old Bengal fig tree is vast. There is also an indoor seating but most guests want to sit under the spreading fig tree, after all it’s the namesake of Figueira Rubaiyat. The chairs are comfortable, service is friendly and the energy vibrant. Figueira Rubaiyat is not a tourist trap since the restaurant enjoys good reputation between the local Paulistas. Wear anything comfortable, just not shorts with flip flops like on the beach.Giant fig tree at Figueira RubaiyatFood: BBQ and typical Brazilian dishes from Amazon fish to tropical forest fruits. The quality of the ingredients and unpretentious cooking are the major strengths of Figueira Rubaiyat. Getting meat from their own farm, also called Rubaiyat, means that the restaurant keeps high quality control over its star ingredients. Many diners come here mainly for the steak. I must say that the rest is also very tasty.

Figueira's appetizer platterCrumbled palm heart

The Figueira’s appetizer platter is an opportunity to try – like tapas – a couple of things at once. It is an ideal plate to share. Ham, fish, grilled and marinated vegetables as well as cheese usually feature on this great-value-for-money starter.

Brazil has plenty of palm trees and the palm heart is a popular “vegetable” for the locals. Usually, it is sold preserved in a salted water, but it can also be cooked in endless recipes. I enjoyed the warm Crumbled palm heart salad of the oven baked palm hearts (twice as thick as white asparagus), sprinkled with bread crumbs and served with green rucola, lemon and mayonnaise. A very tasty vegetarian starter.

For my main course, as I am an adventurer, so when I spotted a fish from Amazon that looked (at least in writing) similar to piranha on the menu I had to try it. Its name was Amazon Pirarucu. To my slight disappointment I have not received a plate full of these killing little fishies with teeth sharp as a guillotine, but two huge fish steaks. My sadness was relieved by the later pleasure from eating it. Not as tender as sea bass, rather closer to turbot firmness but since it was grilled it had a rich and almost chicken-like taste. Try it if you visit Brazil.
Fish from Amazon
As I mentioned many people come here just for the meat from the restaurant’s own Rubaiyat farm. The steaks here are exquisite. Tender, juicy and tasting so good that some turn in bed for a couple of nights after eating it dreaming about its sumptuous flavours. You can choose a side of American style potatoes or potato wedges that go well with it.
Steak from Rubaiyat farm
The dessert buffet is irresistible. If you go for local fruits from guava, pineapple, maracuja to mango, you can cut out some calories. But, the chocolate desserts, cakes, pies, custards, dulce de leche and many other delicacies look too interesting that you might end up like me (picture below) with a plate full of lots of mixed sweets tasting so great, that one does not need to regret any indulgent behaviour on this occasion. Just go inside and peak at the sweet-feast-table of seduction.
Plate of desserts from the buffetFigueira Rubaiyat
Drinks: The wine list is good and has many local options starting with the increasingly popular Brazilian sparkling wines and finishing with dry international varietals such as Chardonnay with a local take. We went for a bottle of the latter – Chardonnay from Villa Francioni. This dry white wine bursts with exotic aromas of pineapple.
Cuisine: Brazilian ingredients cooked or grilled simply
Last visit: December 2012
Value: Medium (generous portions, service super fast so the price is justified considering the restaurant’s upscale location).
Open from lunch through dinner: Mon-Sat 12noon-00:30am (01:00am on Saturday). Sunday only dinner until midnight.
Rua Haddock Lobo, 1.738, Jd.Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
+( 55) 11 30 87 13 99

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