Lunches and dinners served behind closed doors, in private homes, have become more and more popular in cities like New York, London and Buenos Aires in recent years, where the trend has taken firm hold. It has taken a little longer to emerge in São Paulo, despite the city’s fame as one of the world’s gastronomic hotspots.
According to some, the Brazilian habit of leaving everything until the last moment makes running a closed-door restaurant tricky, since it demands a minimum of scheduling from the diners. But at least three porta fechada (closed-door) São Paulo restaurants would disagree. Their tempting menus, which circulate on email lists, turn into reservations at an amazing pace.
Brazilian all the way
A weekend lunch is the one to book at Mara, chef Mara Rasmussen’s own home, where twenty diners can be accommodated at each sitting. Kicking off with a caipirinha (R$12), the meals are thoroughly Brazilian, with comfort food predominating in old-fashioned dishes such as camarão na moranga (shrimp inside a pumpkin). Rasmussen was the founder of Vila Madalena’s now defunct Bar da Terra, which became a hotspot for students, activists and left artists at the height of the dictatorship.
Today, in her small Bela Vista living room, framed by a terrace with lashings of green, pictures of Rasmussen with the musician Caetano Veloso and the composer Vinicius de Moraes are part of the furniture. And on the menu? Generous helpings of marinated calamari as an appetiser, served with green salad (R$18); a dish of oxtail with watercress and soft polenta (R$35); and apple pie with ice cream (R$10). The water scented with peppermint, the coffee and the suspiros – light-as-air meringues – are on the house.
Friends with benefits
In a more refined affair, friends Pila Zucca and Demian Figueiredo – the ‘Les Amis’ of their private restaurant’s name – receive up to 22 people for their weekly dinners, close to the Praça Por do Sol. Each month, the pair chooses a region, and all four dinners are themed around it. 'Asia' was one recent theme, in which the dishes included grilled oysters and squid with fermented soy and toasted peanuts, followed by banana in puff pastry with tapioca ice cream, served on a bed of macadamia farofa and ginger caramel.
Consisting of five courses, dinner costs R$130 per person, and it includes a welcome drink and water. A glass of house wine is R$15, or you can bring your own, paying R$10 for corkage. There’s just one condition: that when you book, you include a line or two about yourself. ‘We like to know something about the person we’re receiving’, says Figueiredo – understandably, when you consider that you’re being welcomed into the chefs' own home.
With a reputation for being one of the city’s best portas fechadas, Les Amis settles its diners around two large tables – that family meal atmosphere and the chance to meet interesting people over dinner is another of the restaurant’s main attractions, along with the quality of the cooking, thanks to the courses both chefs took in France. Much of the vintage 1950s, 1960s and 1970s furniture in the house is for sale, as are the works in the ever-changing art and photography exhibitions.
Finally, in another of the city’s speakeasy restaurants, at the weekly Casa dos Cariris, Mexican chef Lourdes Hernández prepares traditional Mexican dishes with top-notch ingredients, many of them brought from Mexico. Here, Tex-Mex is not an option.
‘Most people have no idea of what real Mexican food is’, says Carina Muller, a customer at Casa dos Cariris, and chef in her own right. Try the pico de gallo, a starter made from avocado, orange and chilli, or go for the stuffed jalapeño. Lamb mixiote, made with green tomatoes and wrapped in agave leaves, is one of the tempting main courses, as is pipián fish in a pumpkin-seed sauce with achiote paste and habanero chilli.
Set in the chef’s welcoming home, a place at one of the communal tables will set you back R$60-$70, including a starter and a main course. The drinks are prepared and served by Hernández’s husband, the artist Felipe Ehrenberg, and include a highly creative tamarind margarita.
The address for each is provided when you reserve:
Mara is at Rua Japurá 346, Bela Vista (3107 email@example.com).
Les Amis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is in Vila Madalena.
Casa dos Cariris (email@example.com) is in Pinheiros.