Brazil is a melting pot of Africans, Asians, Europeans and indigenous peoples. Its distinctive cuisine draws on all those influences, and up to this point, you might be expecting something like the sort of fusion cuisine we're familiar with around here. But Brazil's particular culinary mix is lusty, spicy, sensuous and just plain heavy--you'd never in a million years mistake it for California cuisine.
It's an attractive cuisine, but the Southland has regrettably few Brazilian restaurants, a fact of life that makes Yolie's Brazilian Steakhouse & Seafood seem a particularly welcome addition.
If you must know, Yolie is a real person named Yolinda Piccoli. She's a Sa~o Paulo native who runs a successful Brazilian restaurant in Las Vegas, and she's gambling that the concept will catch on equally well here. Given the location--the first floor of a downtown Long Beach office high-rise--I must say Yolie's gamble may be somewhat of a longshot.
In both her restaurants, the specialty is churrasco, Brazil's clever version of barbecue. Churrasco consists of meats marinated with garlic and herbs that are grilled over hot coals on metal skewers. Carnivores may never want to leave. Vegetarians might be happier staying in the lobby.
For the record, Yolie's churrasco is a trifle gimmicky. You get seven different meats, each brought out separately and sliced from skewers directly onto your plate. You can eat all you want, but you have to finish your serving of a meat before requesting seconds. (Thirds are also permitted, though a little hard to imagine.)
It must be admitted that the dining room doesn't much suggest the land of the bossa nova. It has a slightly sterile, distinctly corporate feel, and the piped-in New Age music won't remind anybody of samba. Ditto for the decor, which runs to large potted plants, cushy booths and framed paintings that might have adorned a law office in another life.
Happily, the food and drink are sufficiently soulful. I'd start with a Brazilian aperitif called caipirinha, made with a healthy dose of the sugar cane brandy cachaca (ka-shah-sa). Picture a frosty margarita, only minus the salt, assertively sweet, pungent with fresh limes--and sneakily strong.
A churrasco dinner begins with a choice of salad or a smoky black bean soup and progresses to a veritable parade of meat and side dishes. Waiters come around hoisting sabers loaded with the various meats, plant the points on your table and slice away. So, bon appetit.
And believe me, you'd better bring an appetite to Yolie's. The meats include linguica sausage, turkey, spring chicken, tri tip, New York steak, leg of lamb and pork tenderloin.
The turkey comes wrapped in bacon, and it's so moist I couldn't refuse a second portion. The chicken, served on the bone, is crusty and juicy.
My party especially liked the big pieces of sausage, broiled until the skin was crackling crisp. And the red meats, the lamb in particular, were moist and flavorful.
Among the side dishes (known as guarnico~es in Brazil) are fried potatoes, mushy squares of polenta, stewed vegetables, a delicious rice pilaf with celery and onions and fried bananas swimming in a rich, spicy syrup that literally oozes butter. Oh, and farofa, the fried manioc flour that Brazilians sprinkle on anything they take a fancy to.
Churrasco isn't the only option. The hearty Brazilian specialty feijoada is done quite well here, though you'll need a mammoth appetite to do it justice. It's a giant casserole of stewed black beans, pork spare ribs, ham hocks, what looks like nearly a pound of linguica and even some dried beef (carne se^ca) that Yolie imports from Brazil. You take some of the side dishes, especially the rice pilaf and farofa, and mix it with the beans and meat. The rice cuts the richness and the farofa adds crunch.
If you crave something lighter, try the delicious scampi, the best of the seafood entrees. This is the Brazilian version of the familiar dish of prawns in garlic sauce, and the operative word here is "garlic."
For dessert, there is a Brazilian flan, made daily on the premises. It's richer, denser and eggier than its Mexican cousin and comes topped with a mound of snowy coconut nearly as exotic as one of Carmen Miranda's hats.
Yolie's Brazilian Steakhouse & Seafood, 300 Oceangate, Long Beach. (562) 491-0221. 11:30 a.m-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30-11 p.m. daily. Full bar. Validated parking in structure. All major cards. Dinner for two, $36-$55.
What to get: caipirinha, churrasco, feijoada, scampi, flan.