The Empire Strikes Back
Posted January 30, 2008 by Chow, Baby in Eats
The place where chef/wife Neca made all those remarkable stews and seafood exotica (grilled sardines!), and pastry chef/son David dreamed up the creamiest sweets (orange roll cake!) – and avuncular Kim would offer tastes, encouragements, and history-of-Portugal lessons. Chow, Baby always tells itself not to get too attached to family-owned restaurants, they come and they go, what are you going to do. But this loss hit harder than most.
So one day Chow, Baby is minding its own business, checking out the fairly new (opened last summer) Chapa Grill (7355 N. Beach St.) – and there’s Kim! Right there at the door! Big hug! Turns out Kim and Neca recently started managing this casual-Brazilian spot, and they’re slowly menu-introducing some greatest hits from Portugal and its former colonies. Those of you who regularly cut ninth-grade World History to toke on the levee and then get cheesecake may not realize how far those 15th-century Portuguese explorer-merchant-colonists ranged, but Kim will catch you up, with edible props.
Not being entirely ignorant, Chow, Baby knew that Brazil used to be a Portuguese colony and that colonies and colonists are bound to share foods. But it’s another thing to taste it in the form of picanha steak ($14.95), the famous Brazilian sirloin cut. You see it on a spit in churrascarias; at Chapa it’s grilled over hardwood lump charcoal until the thick fat band melts into a thin crispy edge. Marvelous, but Chow, Baby prefers the Portuguese version, the bitok ($15.95) – what Kim categorizes as the go-to meal in Portugal, like hamburgers here, the “I’m hungry, but I don’t know what I want … I’ll just grab a bitok” default lunch. It’s the same toothy-tender sirloin, but topped with a cream sauce (boy, can Neca do sauces) and a fried egg, which all swirls together in a rich, dreamy … yep, Chow, Baby is moving to Portugal.
Or possibly Goa, India’s smallest state, which was a Portuguese colony for 450 years (the largest city is “Vasco da Gama”) and a trade stop for mild, creamy-coconut Goa shrimp curry ($12.75). The grilled shrimp in the camarao piri piri ($13.25) are marinated in spices from Mozambique (where Kim grew up, and by the way, the bottled pepper-oil on every table is Kim-homemade with peppers from Mozambique – try it on everything). Angola is represented with moamba de porco ($12.75), a fantastic pork stew in a creamy peanut sauce. There’s more on the menu, but if your favorite colonial dish isn’t there, just let Kim know. This family aims to please.
Chapa’s Brazilian roots, as originally envisioned by owners An and Priscilla Bui (she’s the Brazilian one), assert their independence at the lunch buffet ($7.50, Sun-Fri 11am-3pm). All-you-can-eat pork xim xim! The dishes run to slow-cooked, creamy stews with velvety-tender meats or seafood, and they’re all swoon-inducing good. The dessert of Chow, Baby’s choice is baraoise abacaxi ($3.95 a la carte), a creamy … wait. “Abacaxi” is, of course, the Portuguese word for “pineapple,” but Chow, Baby has no idea which colony originated this tart-sweet custard with plenty of fruit bits. Guess Chow, Baby is heading back to Kim school – this time, the dessert-history course.
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