DINEOmite- Sizzlin' at the Copa
Sometimes it's not always easy to find a restaurant to impress out-of-town guests, unless they're from Palmyra or something. We have many good nouvelle American-style restaurants, but, let's face it, if you live in a metropolitan area, that's nothing new.
So it was a real stroke of genius that Fernando suggested taking our new friends from New Haven to Copacabana. True, its location on Rt. 29 North screams "Any-Strip-Mall, U.S.A." But that was more than mitigated when our guests said, "We've never eaten Brazilian."
And neither had we, recently. We had fond memories of Copacabana but realized it had been a few years since we'd eaten there. Thank goodness for those out-of-town guests who got us back. And once inside, it's easy to forget you're in one of the most charmless parts of Albemarle County.
It was amazing how accommodating our waiter was. We'd requested the smoking section, but with five at our table, we had too many people to fit into that section's tables for four. Before the smokers' grousing got too bad, the waiter came back and said, "That table is almost finished, and as soon as those kids are out of here, I'll bring you an ashtray." We were already won over.
Start your dinner with a caipirinha, a Brazilian drink that's sort of like a gimlet, only made from pinga — a liquor made of distilled sugar cane— instead of gin. The pinga is added to crushed lime and sugar, and the drink is so sweet that it would be easy to down several of them before realizing how devastating they are.
The special appetizers that night included a shiitake mushroom soup that Peter said was good but needed larger bits of shiitake that weren't discernible in the mushroom purée. We ordered a really good appetizer: escargot with artichoke hearts on melted brie. Oh Mama. Even better was sopping up the cheesy remains of this dish with some of the fresh loaves of bread, leaving not a trace on the plate.
One of my favorite Brazilian dishes is a heart of palm salad ($4.95). But the house salad with its avocado vinaigrette dressing is also scrumptious, so you'll just have to order both, as we did.
Fernando ordered the macarranada Brasileira: linguini tossed with chicken, bell peppers, onions, and a light tomato sauce ($12.95). He wasn't raving about it, so we assumed it wasn't that good.
Peter said his vegetarian combo plate of rice, black beans, collard greens, and fried banana "wasn't that special," until Fernando, talking that Portuguese talk, ordered hot sauce to liven it up. In retrospect, Peter said he should have ordered a fish dish. Too bad, because the rest of our party loved what we had.
Cynthia and I went for the veal and scallop special that came with julienne vegetables and roast potatoes. Again, I was wonderfully accommodated with my request that it come with angel hair pasta and collards. But I wondered if I'd made a mistake when Cynthia said, "These are the best roasted potatoes I've ever had."
Esteban wanted to test his heat tolerance and have something that would make him sweat. Fernando directed him to bife acebolado— grilled New York sirloin with braised onions and tomatoes, served with rice and collard greens ($15.95). Fernando included some directions in Portuguese that probably meant, "Fry this guy."
Beads of perspiration dripping from his forehead, Esteban was in heaven and declared his steak perfect. We were in heaven, too, both from the food and from mild-mannered Peter's startling revelation that he'd once had a close brush with statutory charges ("She was legal in Connecticut, but not in New York").
What is it about Latin restaurants that inspires this sort of confession from people you've just met? It reminded me of a dinner I once had at a Cuban restaurant in New York after seeing Extremities. While we were guzzling down pitchers of sangria, a new male acquaintance asked the conversation-stopping question, "So what guy hasn't been involved in a gang bang?"
The point is, at Copacabana, you can eat things you don't find normally in the Charlottesville restaurant scene, and if you're lucky, your dinner companions will blurt out something deliciously inappropriate, yet as juicy as the bife acebolado.
Copacabana Brazilian International Cuisine
1420 Seminole Trail
11am to 2:30pm Monday-Friday
5 to 10pm weekdays, 5 to 11pm weekends