"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Casa - July 18, 2010

Cuscuz Paulista

I ordered a shrimp cake with couscous* and got a burial mound for the shrimp king. Have you ever been to those burial mounds in Asia – I have seen them in Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and China – they look like miniature hills or baby mountains, whichever size depending on the power of the deceased kings. Many of these burial mounds remain unscathed and unexcavated despite the prying modern curiosity largely because the experts are not sure if they can win the race against decomposition to preserve whatever is inside when the graves were opened. Not to mention, there is the engineering nightmare of how to support tons of dirt and rocks topped with trees without having it all collapsing over the experts and grave diggers and re-burying them with the lonely and long-deceased royalties (although I am sure they would appreciate some new company after hundreds of years of solitude, or, after an everlasting dreariness of the same faces of the sacrifices).
To tackle on this kingly shrimp mound requires similar unwavering determination and discipline. Finishing off the wondrously fresh and plump shrimp protecting the tomb was quick and easy. However, what do you do with the rest of the man-made mountain? Tentatively, a small piece was cut to test the ground: Quite picante, the cake tingled and left a small fire in my mouth so that I needed a follow-up bite to round it off. Have you noticed that when you eat something spicy one is never quite enough? You need one after another to quench the fire and to keep it burning at the same time. This schizophrenia, I have named as the “domino effect” of spicy food. Nonetheless, by the fourth bite of chipping off the sides of the mound, I was faced the same question as countless adventurers and archaeologists before me: Where is the treasure? If the buried treasure is the prize for digging into the earth, then what would be the treasure of digging into the shrimp cake – the shrimp king and the queen and the whole shrimp family? The shrimp Indiana Jones started to feel a creeping self-doubt: I would not find the lost shrimps. Despondent and dejected, yet I was still left with ½ of the mound intact. Perhaps the shrimp royalty was securely and secretly housed in the other half by the careful chef of Casa to hinder the likes of amateurs like me from finding the prize; however, chunks of the spicy corn cakes were turning into mud cakes in my stomach and prevented me from any further digging. After another unsuccessful tackle with the mound, I started to realize that the texture of the shrimp cakes were, in fact, quite similar to the real mud cakes which I created in my grandparents’ backyard – the same consistency and the gritty texture…

For the future grave diggers, I recommend taking a few of these shrimp cakes to accompany your arduous physical labor as one cake would be able to fill the stomachs of a whole team.

*By the way, by couscous, the Brazilians actually mean the corn meal, not the smallest Moroccan pasta in the world, as I had found out.

Xinxim de Galinha / Bobo de Camarao
The shrimps, again, ruled in this kingdom of shrimps. Each was perfectly lovely and plump and it gives a little burst when you bit into one – you know, the exquisite feeling when your teeth puncture the skin to reveal the juicy flesh inside? It is so rare to find such well-done shrimps in New York. Both stews were homey and hearty, the chicken stew was dark and rich with spices and herbs and the coconut stew mild and creamy.

Pao de Queijo
Freshly hot off the oven and succulently chewy, these little cheesy dough balls were little balls of delights.

A complete paranoid when it comes to flan, my initial thought was “No! Someone took a bite off my flan!” As it turned out, so was everyone else’s or, correctly, the flan was made in a ring mold. With my suspicion assuaged that I was not cheated for my favorite dessert in the Americas, I gingerly sliced off a corner to test its texture.

A little bit of fairy tale: The best flan I had was at a highway café in a valley off the road between Oaxaca and somewhere. Imagine this: Combine the withdrawal syndrome from lack of caffeine, the heat and the serpentine mountain roads. The combination had drained me of life and churned my stomach into a messy and acid curd. I staggered into this unassuming, really unassuming, café and waited for caffeine in the form of café con leche and flan to arrive. The flan was the size of a brick, if there was such a thing as a triangular brick, surely with weight and density to match. The mouthful of flan slowly sank to my stomach and settled there as a stone falling to the bottom of an ocean. Then the sugar kicked in. When I resurfaced from the bottom of the ocean and one-flan-less, I was a new person. A flan with such magical properties has not been seen (or eaten) since…

This flan was no the flan. My search for the magical flan continues… Next flan, please!

Coconut Pudding

Creamy and gentle, it took off the ragged edges of the intense herbs and spices from the previous courses to send you happily home into a food-induced coma.

Last word: Their roll, innocuous looking sitting on the plate, was a surprise in its chewiness that bounced back as you chew (this texture is called “mochi mochi,” as in mochi in Japanese, and “Q” in Taiwanese-Chinese, which concept seems to be missed in the Western civilization). A restaurant with good bread cannot be bad, no?

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