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The rich flavor and vibe of Brazil served on a plate

NATALIA Pereira, the chef and co-owner of downtown L.A.'s WoodSpoon restaurant, says her mother taught her everything she knows about the rich, whimsical food of Brazil. Raised on a family farm in the town of Betim, Pereira remembers her mother cooking for everyone, including the priest and Pereira’s school friends. “Every morning when I woke up, my mom was by the wood stove, and also every night when I went to sleep,” she recalls.

A petite, fashionable woman with smooth coffee-colored skin, a broad smile and warm, brown eyes, Pereira talks about food with the same careful attention to detail with which she cooks. “Food is a very provocative thing; you can learn a lot from it,” she says over a large cup of cafe com leite made on the kitchen stove with thick, twice-boiled milk and dark, aromatic coffee -- just like the kind found at Rio’s “dirty foot” bars.

It’s WoodSpoon’s trademark: combining an authenticity of flavor and vibe to make a truly holistic dining experience. “Brazil is a poor country, a simple country, but there is a beauty there that is fresh and real,” Pereira says. Her restaurant reflects that simplicity with smooth, blond-wood tables, picture windows populated by sunflower stalks leaning playfully out of milk bottles, and a warm, open kitchen. There, Pereira works to translate the sensuality of Brazil into the delicate flavors on the plates of food she serves.

Her chicken pot pie is particularly well-loved -- its golden exterior sheltering a comforting mixture of tender chicken, hearts of palm, potatoes, olives and roasted corn. Equally adored is her pork burger topped with crisp cabbage and onions and served with thinly sliced yam fries. And there’s no arguing with her Brazilian grill featuring smoky sausage, beef and lamb -- accompanied by farofa, a traditional grainy flour. “Brazil is not just rice and beans,” Pereira says with a shy grin. “Rice and beans are the mother and father, but there’s so much more.”

107 W. 9th St., (213) 629-1765

-- Jessica.Gelt@latimes.com

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