By Molly Gore
By Molly Gore
By Pete Kane
By Lou Bustamante
By Pete Kane
By Ashley Goldsmith
By Pete Kane
By John Birdsall
Xin xin ($8.95, and more commonly spelled xim xim) is pronounced "shinh shinh"; this version was an eccentric take on a Bahian classic. It had shredded dark-meat chicken (rather than the more usual serving pieces) with sliced okra in a pleasant but timid sauce. Although the menu specified "prawn sauce," we didn't see any prawns, but perhaps the liquid included ground dried shrimp. Moqueca de peixe ($10.25) consisted of red snapper sauteed with bell peppers and onions in a coconut milk sauce. The sauce was rich and very tasty, and the fish was tender but tasted as though it hadn't been caught yesterday. Our second dinner's camarao a Baiana ($13.50) had six plump medium-large prawns, just slightly overcooked, in a gorgeous coconut milk sauce with sauteed peppers and onions. With its clear, rich flavors, this was the best of the seafood dishes at all three restaurants. We wanted it spiced up; but the few rings of jalapeno were put into the pot late, and the surrounding sauce remained mild. These main courses all came with the same side dishes (including the inevitable farofa). A slightly stingy portion of scrumptious pilaf-style rice had long, plump grains permeated with some tasty broth. Collard greens are normally bitter; here, fine-shredded, they had been mysteriously tamed, and tasted good enough to eat.
Soupy black beans were intriguingly spiced, with a clove flavor paramount. The same delicious beans were the basis of the feijoada ($6.95 for a small portion, $10.25 for full size). The small version had plenty of beans but precisely one slice of franklike sausage, three tiny shreds of beef, and one wee bone. For dessert we chose the intense-flavored passion-fruit mousse ($3.50) with a fine balance of sweet, sour, and creamy flavors. The espresso was good, the wine and beer choices barely adequate.
Full o' beans, we headed west to Bahia Cabana, at Market and Haight. Originally, owner Valmor Neto opened a bright, charming restaurant called Bahia a block away from the current site. A few years later, the owner decided to open the nightclub, and as his attention sambaed away from the restaurant, food and service quality waned. A few years ago, Neto finally closed Bahia and brought its menu to the Cabana, where patrons can now fuel up for dancing on tropical eats.
It's a big, dark space with a lot of decor. The walls are brick and the floor is red, with a raised platform (for the band) at one end, backed by a vast hand-painted tropical mural. Diners usually sit in the "cabana" -- another platform at the edge of the dance floor, with wicker chairs and tables, a small fountain, and a low-occupancy fish tank, in which we spotted a lone catfish apparently wriggling to the Carnaval music coming from the loudspeakers. Wall deincludes stained-glass windows above the front door, "Bahia Is Happiness" travel posters on the cabana wall, and serene paintings of Brazilian rural life brought from the restaurant. A giant TV screen plays videos of Carnaval in Bahia, with many multiracial bare-breasted damsels making serpentine terpsichorean motions.
Although the doors open at 5, the kitchen takes awhile to get going. At normal dinner hour (say, 8 p.m.), it's still no problem to get a table; even on weekends it's lonesome until the show starts (at 10 p.m., an hour before the kitchen closes). The paucity of dinner patrons apparently afflicted our miniskirted waitress with a profound ennui: She spent most of her time on the pay phone or hanging out with her colleagues at the bar. For starters we tried camarao ao molho ($7.95), a small portion of smallish, overcooked prawns sauteed with onions, garlic, and hot pepper, which we found spicy but dull. Better were the salty, slightly spicy coxinha de galinha ($3.50), a chicken croquette, and a very tasty bolino de bacalhau ($3.50), a salt-cod croquette with a creamy interior. These came with a stale-tasting cooked dipping salsa. At our second dinner, we had to request hot sauce, and while the waitress made a phone call another staffer brought a ramekin of dried-pepper table sauce, its rancid oil flavor indicating too long a stay on other tables. Still suffering the ravages of a large, gluttonous party the previous night, the kitchen was out of most appetizers, but we enjoyed salada de camarao ($7.95), a shrimp salad consisting mainly of lettuce in a good creamy dressing. The scattering of large prawns arrived tenderly cooked to order, but this may have been because the party had eaten all the precooked shrimp. Garnishes included sweet Maui onion slices, excellent hearts of palms and wine-vinegared green olives, and succulent eggplant slices with the texture of avocado. It'd make a good light dinner to kick off a night of booty-shaking. It also suggests that most of Bahia Cabana's ingredients are of high enough quality; when the food fails, it's from a lack of caring.
Pernil recheado ($9.95) made an outstanding main course, a succulent and full-flavored slab of roast pork leg stuffed with vegetables, olives, and bacon. But besides farofa, it came with some DOA black beans, a heap of inedibly bitter couve, and plump rice that tasted like Rice-A-Roni minus the "seasoning packet." Bobo de camarao ($11.95) was mildly pleasant, with slightly overcooked prawns in a starchy yucca sauce gently enlivened by the sweetness of cashews, and came with the same nasty rice and greens, as did (at the next dinner) moqueca de peixe ($11.95), red snapper simmered with tomatoes, bell peppers, and coconut milk. The snapper was tender and tasted fresh, but the unpleasant, muddy-flavored sauce was degraded by flakes of what tasted like some much older fish. The rendition of the national dish was treasonous: the feijoada ($9.95) had underseasoned beans, plenty of sawdust-dry beef cubes, and a single slice of franklike sausage.