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Taste of Brasil excels with pastries and pot pies

Dough show

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Some menu items fall short, but when dough is involved at Taste of Brasil, good things happen. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Some menu items fall short, but when dough is involved at Taste of Brasil, good things happen.

Go for the dough. Seriously, Taste of Brasil’s pastry prowess ranks spot-on superlative.

At first, I think our server, Victor Campos Gomes, son of chef/owner Alex Dasilva, is bluffing us when I inquire if they have pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and he responds that they’re still working to perfect their recipe. But then I meet his mom, the matriarch with many names — Ana Christina Campos Ferreira Pinto — and she confirms that the family spent a whole month dialing in their dough for their pot pies, because of our altitude, plus dedication to authenticity.

Location Details Taste of Brasil
773 Garden of the Gods Road
Northwest/Rockrimmon
Colorado Springs, CO
394-4194
11 a.m. to 8 p.m., daily

All that, to tweak the simple ingredients of all-purpose flour, butter, water and salt. But Ana, who has both Portuguese and indigenous Brazilian heritage from the northeast area of the country, pats her chest and says heart/love is actually the most important ingredient. Having just forked through a divine chicken pot pie, we fully believe her. Just as intended, the beautiful, highly buttery crust crumbles more than flaking apart, revealing a drier, masa-like core that’s reminiscent of a tamale, especially as it mixes with flavorful bits of pulled chicken seasoned most notably with cumin and oregano, among a spice medley she doesn’t fully disclose. The pot pie looks like a double-thick hockey puck, taking the shape of a deep crème brûlée ramekin, and its top bears a perfect golden-brown blistering with a few dry-earth-like cracks. It soaks up a Tapatío-like house hot sauce — made with habanero, sweet peppers, and Brazilian pimenta malagueta hot peppers — making for a truly memorable meal, worth returning for.

Three-month-old Taste of Brasil replaces the short-lived Little Imbiss German street food eatery, shifting the concept from counter to sit-down service. A liquor license remains pending, so taps of Rocky Mountain Brewery beer taunt us below an array of Cachaça bottles that will soon inform Caipirinha variations. So we sulk over a cloying can of Guaraná soda that Ana likens to a cream soda meeting a ginger ale; there’s little zing to it but a faint berry essence under the saccharine smackdown.

Ana, a graphic designer who only helps out here part time, trained under jiu-jitsu legend Carlson Gracie. Her father plays in the famous Brazilian band The Fevers, and she tells us that hers is a family of musicians. Her other son makes hip-hop electronic music under the name Filho and Chef Alex has always played music in addition to cooking for more than three decades; he tells us he had a spot in Boston for many years and that he once got to hang out with Anthony Bourdain.

For all this back story, we find it a bit surprising how many of our questions Ana and Victor have to defer to Alex on, as if the whole family needs to get on the same page with overall menu knowledge. Basic stuff, like how has our fine but unremarkable sirloin steak special been marinated? (Simply with sea salt, we later learn.) Or which peppers are in that hot sauce. No major matter, as there’s not much else we need to know about fairly bland sides like potato salad, lightly coated in mayo, with only celery seed and green onion punctuation, and what tastes like instant rice with just a light oregano and coriander dusting on top. A side salad’s a scantly dressed cabbage mix, with shaved white cheese and a basic Italian dressing. Pico relish tastes only mildly piquant for garnishing proteins, and cassava flour set on the table in little gravy dishes serves mostly just to thicken soupy black beans. Yucca fries best shoe string.

We also aren’t wowed by a Brazilian-style shrimp pancake for $12.95, really a thick, rolled crepe with a handful of small prawns under a stark and acidic tomato sauce and Parmesan grating, Italian in almost every aspect but for a lack of herb pop in the sauce. A pair of pork ribs are OK and plenty tender but the saucing is only an oily white onion tangle with a turmeric jaundice and the sum total makes me just think of pot roast, where the meat flavor plays most dominant.

But again, where dough’s involved, good things happen. Coxinha are teardrop-shaped croquettes that make us think of hushpuppies and Scotch eggs; really they’re composed of the same seasoned chicken meat as the pot pie wrapped in a dense, flour-thickened chicken-stock dough, Victor explains (this one he knows off the top of his head, without consulting Alex), noting a bread crumb versus panko exterior that fries up to a nice, crisp jacket. A trio of chicken-heart pastels are basically Brazilian empanadas, with pinched pie-crust edges and a rich, not-too-organ-meat-tasting filling that again pairs wonderfully with the house hot sauce.

Come dessert samplings — nicely priced between $3 and $4.75 — the highlight’s a true açaí bowl, with the real fruit purée sweetened only lightly by guarana syrup made in-house, and topped with banana and strawberry slivers and a little granola. It could easily be breakfast or a stand-alone snack anytime, but if you pretend it’s just sorbet, it works fine post-meal. Brigadeiro are Brazilian fudge truffles, made from condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter, each little orb then rolled in chocolate sprinkles. Quindim are mini custards constructed from sugar, egg yolks and coconut flakes, and they taste like tropical-sweet macaroons. The Romeo and Juliet plate captures the rivalry/tension between sweet and savory flavors with a stark plating of guava paste, housemade queso blanco and a dollop of dulce de leche. (Another option, a sweet pastel, places all that inside pastry dough.) The guava alone delights, but once the cream-cheese-like queso blanco and caramel essence of the dulce de leche mix in, indeed a complementary contrasting occurs, where from second to second, sugary, dairy-rich and fruit-forward notes play a culinary version of King of the Hill on your palate. Lastly, a passion fruit “mousse” lands texturally more like a tacky, firm pudding, less airy, but plenty bright and pleasing with sharply citric fruit notes.

So, despite its middling moments, Taste of Brasil offers plenty of rewarding exploration opportunities for anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine. The Springs has only seen short-lived Brazilian eateries in the past, outside of the Tucanos chain, which really just focuses on the churrasco concept. As the Taste of Brasil family further refines and perfects other seasonal recipes — Victor confirms plans for feijoada stew soon, as cold weather approaches — its menu should grow, or at least present limited specials. Meanwhile, we’ll return for that pot pie, and hopefully a barrel-aged Cachaça Caipirinha.

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