With the World Cup in Brazil on everyone's mind this month and now the recent semifinal defeat for the home country, I thought it would be a great cultural learning experience try a signature Brazilian vegetarian meal. Brazil is, after all, a country crazy about its meat from a significant gaucho culture in the mountains and countrysides. You won't find skewers of eggplant or Portobello mushrooms at the churrascarias .
After inquiring with a few of the city's Brazilian restaurants, the best vegetarian answers I could find were fried yucca, the huge salad bars diners visit before feasting on meat, cheese pizza, or the "vegetables of the day." But surely Brazilians didn't eat beef for every meal. What do they eat for breakfast or lunch?
I quickly found out at Laurel Heights' Sunstream Coffee: the açai bowl ($6). It's the signature dish of this daytime-only shop/café hybrid by the Geary Tunnel near Masonic, a place you'd easily walk right by it if it weren't for the massive Brazilian flag out front. This is the real deal for a taste of Brazil, right down to the Portuguese being spoken and Brazil TV talk show on in the corner.
The açai berry is one of the most nutritious, anti-oxidant filled "super fruits" around; the kale of the fruit world. Its taste is a cross between the tartness of a raspberry and the woody sweetness of a blueberry. You almost never see plain açai berries here in the United States. Instead, we can enjoy a rejuvenating and refreshing açai bowl, much like they do from Manaus to São Paulo.
The bowl is a yogurt parfait in spirit, minus the dairy; I think of it as somewhere in the world of a sorbet-juice-smoothie The frozen açai pulp from the Amazon region gets pureed with banana for thickness and guarana syrup for a kick of sweetness to counter the berries, then served in a bowl (much, much larger than any yogurt parfait) and eaten with a spoon. The consistency is thicker than juice, less icy than sorbet, but not as creamy as a smoothie.
On top of the purée are sliced banana coins and a few generous spoonfuls of unsweetened granola and slivered almonds. Then go to work as you decide how best to enjoy the various textural contrasts. Some purée alone and some with granola. Have everything together. Choices abound.
No matter the choice you make, you're feeling virtuous at this point. That's when you look at the tiny counter and notice a few trays of warm savory pastries ("salgados") where almost everything is breaded and fried. The heart of palm and cheese salgado is like a classic cheese and potato croquette with the potato replaced by a generous amount of heart of palm to combat the cholesterol onslaught of fried, oozing cheese. Pockets of the cheese even become sauce in the corners of the salgado, similar to a creamy béchamel. It's not innovative, but mighty satisfying as a snack.
Then, imagining how I was about to step outside of Sunstream Coffee and into a packed World Cup Stadium in Brazil ready to hit a powerful free kick for a goal à la David Luiz last week against Colombia, MUNI whizzed right past me on Geary. We might not have the soccer or samba here in San Francisco but we do have a sliver of Brazil to enjoy açai bowls and talk soccer.
2884 Geary, 567-5330.