Monday, March 22, 2010

Getting a Brazilian Fix

Everyone should have a neighborhood restaurant where they know they can go and get great food and interesting conversation.

And when I want that combination with a Brazilian accent, I go to Bistro 27 for a surefire evening.

You see, the beauty of being a familiar face is the unexpected, like pheasant ravioli in sage butter sauce that arrived unbidden and melted in my mouth.

It's also the reliable, like the scallops wrapped in bacon with the most perfect al dente lentils, which I've had before and still can't resist for only $11.

Or getting my chocolate cup with mixed berries but instead of just mascarpone, the cold mascarpone on the plate is flavored with coffee and the mascarpone on top of the cup is heated.

It's a divine combination suggested by Chef Carlos to change up a dessert I've had before.

Usually he plants himself on the stool next to me, but I'd brought a friend tonight, so instead he just stood next to me to provide dinner banter.

He'd like to see a movement to move Valentine's Day to the second Sunday of February, thus assuring men plenty of time to shop for their women ("You know, the chocolates, underwear. Priscilla's will do a great business.").

The business benefits to restaurants of a full weekend devoted to the holiday wasn't lost on him, either.

He raved about the Big Apple, a Latino market on Jeff Davis Highway.

With its butcher and fishmonger, Carlos was caught up in all the un-American protein choices they offered.

I found out that brains are in stock at the Big Apple, since brains have been a hot topic around this blog lately.

He left with goat and beef tongue, which he promptly used to make tongue tacos; I would have loved to have tasted those.

He raved so much about the selection that I feel sure I'll be heading southward soon.

At the James River Film festival tonight, we saw Big River, a sequel to King Corn, and Big River Man, a documentary about a Slovenian endurance swimmer, Martin Strel, who swam the Danube, the Yangtze and the Mississippi Rivers before taking on the full length of the Amazon.

His intention was to draw attention to the plight of the rain forests and it ended up being a winner at the 2009 Sundance Festival.

Originally a gambler, now when he isn't swimming he gives flamenco guitar lessons; to say this is an unusual man is a colossal understatement.

When he begins the swim, the river is at flood stage and that turns out to be one of the minor bumps in this journey.

His navigator is a young Wisconsin poker player who took a leave of absence from his job at Walmart to make this trip.

Strel loses twelve pounds in the first nine days and by day 45 he is beginning to show mental illness from the stress.

Three weeks later the crew no longer treat him like a human being but rather like an animal or monster who had no energy for anything except swimming; they even spoon-feed him.

Much of the land they go through in Peru and ultimately Brazil is completely uninhabited.

When they do see a city, it's almost foreign to them, eliciting religious babble from the navigator about heaven and hell; he too appeared to be coming unhinged.

The footage of Strel's descent as his brain struggles to function under the stress is disturbing in that way that good documentaries put you right there.

Finally reaching the end of the swim in Brazil, Strel is met by huge crowds and media from twenty countries, but his health is so precarious he is immediately taken to hospital.

The final images of him in a Speedo and skull cap sprawled on a couch, looking at promotional posters of himself after squandering the sponsorship money are heartbreaking.

But the film itself is a testament to commitment and it wasn't hard to see why it had taken a Sundance prize.

It was also the first U.S. showing of the film tonight (besides Sundance) and it was a free event, put on by the Biggest Picture, RVA's environmental film fest of the last two years as part of the James River Film Fest.

Leave it to Richmond to provide me a very Brazilian evening to feed my belly as well as my mind.

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