Open Wednesday through Saturday, 6:30 p.m. to midnight. AE, BA, CB. Reservations.
Food: Try chicken soup, steak and custards spoken in a new language
Style: School cafeterias have been known to be more elegant
Price: Most main dishes over $8, complete dinners hovering around $15 a person
BRAZILIAN FOOD TAKES Some getting used to, if you are not already on familiar terms with palm oil, shrimps dried and ground with their shells, and a virtually tasteless crumbly starch called farofa. The Brasilia Room takes some getting used to, also, since it is but a room on the second floor of a semi-kempt office building, hard to find and hardly looking worth the effort once you have found it. The red paper tablecloths are no sturdier than napkins, and a slide show in a corner provides the primary decoration. Finally, th prices are like Brazilian coffee - inflated. With most of the main dishes - the best ones - costing at least $8, one should expect more grounds for a heady evening.
I'd go anyway. After all, this is the only restaurant closer than New York which features Brazilian food, and it has some tastes well worth experiencing - if you follow a careful agenda.
Brazilian food is not just a variation on Spanish cuisine. It is a stew of Portuguese, Indian and West African influences, its larder dependent on beans, rice, seafood, coconut, corn and sweet potatoes, its theme songs hot red peppers and orange tinged palm oil, which is probably as close as an oil can get to crankcase oil and still be deemed edible.
Brazilians know more about chicken soup than even Jewish mothers do. And if you don't mind salting and skimming the broth yourself, you'll appreciate the Brasilia Room's chicken rice soup flavored with cumin, coriander and lemon, afloat with shredded greens and scallions. It is the menu's most complex appetizer, the others being limited to chunks of paprika-tinged not sausage, unadorned hearts of palm salad or fruit salad that, I believe, exists only in theory.
For main dishes you could choose three paths:
1) Specials of the day, which always include feijoada, a bean stew which is the national dish, here nicely chewy with dried beef, sausage and smoked tongue, but a fairly unambitious rendition of this grand folkdish. Other specials mught be codfish stew or chicken sauteed with palm oil and ground shrimp. The specials are the most expensive, but they are the typically Brazilian dishes that make the Brasilia Room worth the trip.
2) Bife a Portugesa is the best dish we found on the menu, if you ignore the fact that a very thin slice of beef is going for $8. It is marinated and suateed with onions, tomatoes and green pepper; it fills your nostrils with the scent of cumin and your tongue with the tingle of vinegar.
3) The dishes which are priced appropriate to the setting are a fish-of-the-day strongly seasoned with palm oil and coriander leaves, blanketed with tomatoes and onions ($3.75), and a chewy pair of pork chops prepared similarly to the steak and onions but lacking its flair ($4.50). In any case, the side dish of rice, each grain distinct and buttery, does the cuisine proud, the bowl of beans adds even more substance, and the hot pepper sauce - which you should request and experimentally dab on your food - is a worthwhile initiation to the tropical palate.
Beginnings and endings can be the high points of an evening at the Brasilia Room if the beginning is a fermented sugar cane brandy mixed with lime and sugar, here called caipiriha and priced at $2, and if the ending is custard - coconut, coffee or caramel - delicate and smooth as rose petals.
If you care about such amenities as food served hot and promptly, spend you evening elsewhere. If you like your waiter efficient rather than ethusiastic and ingenuous, don't tackle the Brasilia Room. But if an entertaining evening for you consists of seeking new experiences, and novelty is worth a certain budgetary excess, the Brasilia Room is your cup of coffee.