Grape Juice and Coconut Water
Basket of Breads – Corn Baguette from Padoca do Mani, Tapioca Starch Chips, Cheese Curd with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Goat Cheese with Pink Peppercorns, Butter
Foie Gras Bonbon – Guava Paste, Port Wine, Pine Nut
Arracacha and Arrowroot Gnocchi – “Dashi” of Tucupi
Pupunha Palm Taglierini – Cream of Tulha Cheese, Pequi Fruit Nut
Da Lama ao Caos (From Mud to Chaos) – Sweet and Smoked Eggplant, Cheese Curd, Palestinian Lime Zest, Orange Blossom Gelatin, Caramelized Pistachio, Kneff Dough, Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream
A Roça – Corn Mousse, Paçoca, Paçoca Ice Cream, Caramel Corn
Although Helena Rizzo studied architecture in college her career took an unexpected turn in 1997, a cook position yielding internships with names such as Troisgros and the Roca brothers that finally led to her opening Maní in 2006.
Now a Michelin 1* recipient, Chef Rizzo having gone on to open a casual Restaurant inside a bookstore at Iguatemi Shopping plus two Bakeries, it is at Rua Joaquim Antunes 210 that the flagship remains, a 13h00 arrival on Sunday finding the entry hall filled as diners attempted to escape pouring rain outside.
Built rustic, a bustling kitchen visible through slotted windows up front and tree-lined courtyard behind, it was in the latter’s corner that a table for one was offered, the complete lack of spoken English surprising for such a highly acclaimed space and service clearly focused on regulars including a showy middle-aged couple who sat at room’s center just short of fondling one another in public.
Trying not to hold patrons or language barriers against Chef Rizzo, though the fact that waiters could not describe her Tasting Menu negated any attempt to order it, lunch at Maní began with a bag of Bread for which guests are charged 24 Real, the Corn Baguette from Padoca do Mani easily trumping their Brioche tasted earlier while Tapioca Starch Chips crackled like Chicharrón with added flavor from two types of cheesy Spread.
Opting for a blend of Green Grapes and Coconut Water to compliment Lunch, the inclusion of a substantial amount of Mint not announced and unappreciated, it was sticking with Water that savories started with Maní’s Foie Gras Bonbons, the cost a bit steep for what amounts to six half-bites of Liver mostly overwhelmed by Port Wine Gel and Guava Paste.
Best thought of as modernist-Brazilian Cuisine, Rizzo’s accolades as both Latin America and the World’s Best Female Chef in 2014 by San Pellegrino based on a collection of plates that remain largely unchanged today, it was not long after Bonbons were gone that seven tiny “Gnocchi” arrived, the use of two local Roots generating yielding pillows bathed in Manioc Juice while a follow-up “Pasta” featured shaved Palm Hearts as Noodles amidst creamy Tulha Cheese and the shaved center of Caryocar brasiliense.
Fully packed with locals by 13h30, the Restaurant thus humid with noise level reaching a dull roar, it was thankfully not long before Dessert arrived, “A Roça” using Corn less successfully than Tanit to create a textural landscape while “From Mud to Chaos” touched on a wide range of tastes and textures with balanced sweetness and a slightly savory finish.