Brazilians in Seattle are few, but avid. The small but fierce band of expats, graduate students, samba fanatics, and assorted emigres have been heartened lately by a new (make that the only) hangout for Brazilians and their groupies. From the Brazilian state of Bahia come Antonio and Graca Ribeira, who in other lives are dancers and artists (their art hangs in the dining room). Their partner, sax player, and cook Bryant Urban is not Brazilian, but may as well be. Urban and Graca do the cooking, while Antonio does the bartending and makes the hot sauces. Tempero do Brasil
5628 University Wy NE, 523-6229
Tue-Thu 4:30-10, Fri 4:30-1:30, Sat 2-1:30, Sun 2-8
DC, MC, V; full bar The places buzzes with Portuguese as folks sit around eating tira-gustos (appetizers) and drinking Pacificos. (The beloved Brazilian Brahma and Antarctica beers are, unfortunately, unavailable so far from the local beer bureaucracy.) Bahia's energetic bar/beach/street food thing is exemplified by Tempero's tira-gustos. The bolinho de caranguela ($6.95) are crab cakes—crispy on the outside, steamy and moist inside, served with lemon butter. Another surprise is the fresh steamer clams (ostra/lambreta, $6.95). I wasn't sure how authentic Dungeness crab cakes and manila clams are, but our waitress reassured us, and my companions and I wolfed them regardless. Codfish cakes (bolinha de bacalhau, $6.95), the ubiquitous Bahian bar food served with fresh limes, are salty and good, as are the fried cakes of black-eyed peas (acaraj鼯I>, $3.35), served with Antonio's shrimp hot sauce that we had the waitress replenish several times. Feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWHA-duh, $10.95), the national dish traditionally served at noon on Saturdays in Brazil, is available weekends at Tempero. It's a stew of black turtle beans with ham, garlic sausage, and beef, served with couve (julienned collard greens with orange wedges) and rice. Feijoada is best when sprinkled with farofa ($2.25), toasted cassava meal. Cassava (also called yuca or manioc) is native to Brazil, but also a hugely cultivated staple between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn; it's rare and thus expensive in the US. The bland, gelatinous root from whence comes tapioca is usually boiled and generally considered obnoxious by those of us not reared eating it. Brazilian cooks work hard to make it palatable, however, and Tempero's kitchen does it successfully. The feijoada itself is a good example of the diverse influences that make Brazilian cooking varied and intensely flavored; the legend is that West African slaves mixed their collards and black beans with their masters' pork leftovers, the Portuguese added the linguica (sausage), and the Brazilian Indians sprinkled on the farofa. Feijoada must be accompanied by a strong Brazilian traditional drink called caipirinha. Antonio Ribeira makes his with sugar, limes, ice, and cachaca, liquor distilled directly from fresh sugar cane juice—unlike rum, which is distilled from molasses. He does all the squeezing and pouring, constantly experimenting with rums and gin and cachaca. By summer, the cocktail offerings should be formidable. A patio out front awaits tables with Brahma Beer umbrellas and, of course, rum and sun. Bacalhau do Tempero ($15.95) may not be for everybody. It's a stew made from salt cod and potatoes with a tomatoey coconut milk sauce. Salt cod, let's face it, is salty and fishy. These days, "fishiness" (the tang and smell of fish not caught this morning) is a quality we avoid. The demon salt is considered almost as evil as that other great Satan, fat. Cod was originally salted down to prevent spoilage on long voyages and in isolated settlements without modern refrigeration. It must be soaked and rinsed for 24 hours to make it palatable. What was good for pirates, pilgrims, colonials, and Newfies may be anathematic to we spoiled Cultists of Fresh, with our sacred immaculata of sashimi and tanked lobsters. Like retsina and lutefisk, it's one of those cultural tastes for nasty things mothered by necessity and perpetuated by cultural not-knowing-any-different. The cod flaked in the creamy and unsalty foil of coconut milk and potatoes is really quite exotic and wonderful. If you actually like the fishiness of finnan haddie or gefiltefish—or if, like me, you get off on the irony of supping at the unlikely conjunction of Nova Scotia and Ipanema—you'll be delighted with bacalhau. If you want fish but are tentative about the salt cod, try the Bahian treat Mocqueca de peixe ($13.95). Fresh halibut meets an exotic sauce made with dend꼯I> oil, extracted from the nut of the West African palm. The margin of error between a halibut filet being a great piece of fish or akin to a chunk of upholstery stuffing is measured in seconds of cooking time. Tempero's light touch with the halibut is noted and appreciated. The Moqueca de camar㯼/I> is the same dish with large shrimp. Camar㯠Olodum ($13.95) features shrimp in coconut milk, ginger, three colors of sweet peppers, and black olives. Both dishes are beautiful, spicy, and recommended. Another memorable Bahian dish was the xinxin de galinha ($10.95), chunks of chicken breast with vegetables in an unusual shrimp sauce with palm oil and ground peanuts. One of the side dishes, vatapἯI> ($3.25), a spicy paste of shrimp, ginger, coconut milk, and palm oil, was good when mushed up with the rice. The bife grelhado ($11.95), a thinnish charbroiled ribeye steak of Argentine beef, was ordered medium rare but arrived medium. The meat was nothing special, but the hand-cut, French fry-like cassava chips (also available as an appetizer sprinkled with parmesan, $3.50) were wonderful. Deep-frying here is done in hot, clean oil, and if it were done like this universally it wouldn't have such a bad name. For vegetarians, there's a feijoada offered without meat ($7.95) that's a little boring; better for herbivores is the carnaval ($10.95), with yellow and green squashes, onions, and peppers simmered in coconut milk and Brazilian herbs. For dessert we had the caramel flan (podim de leite, $2.75), smooth, sweet custard drizzled with caramel. For the more adventurous is Romeu e Julieta ($2.25), guava paste and cheese with sweet cream. Tuesday and Thursday evenings Tempero schedules strolling guitarists, and Chef Urban's been known to burst from the kitchen playing his soprano sax. Otherwise, the well-lit ambience throbs with the Brazilian pop-jazz sounds of Caetano, Djavan, or Jobim (for the older folks). Tempero opened with a bang a few months ago with a jammed dining room nightly—a situation good for business, but not always the most graceful for developing systems, training help, and learning the space. There are still a few bumps in the service and sometimes the tiny kitchen struggles to keep up. This is improving steadily, though, and may not be a factor for long. Meanwhile, food this unusual hereabouts and a couple caipirinhas make bumps and struggles seem more like a festive tropical dance.