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South America’s Tastiest Vegetarian Tasting Menu

By Nicholas Gill

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Some years ago, Alex Atala removed truffles and foie gras from the menu at São Paulo’s D.o.M. He would instead concentrate on Brazilian ingredients. What followed has been a steady climb on S.Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, of which D.O.M. was ranked No. 7 in 2011. While fish and beef appear in Atala’s nightly tasting menus, much of his success is due to his utilization of wild and indigenous plants.

The chef regularly seeks out the country’s remote reaches of the Amazon and has turned once seldom-mentioned ingredients—such as baru nuts, a fatty acid–rich nut that recalls toasted cashews, or jambu, an herb that numbs the mouth—into restaurant mainstays. In his seven-course Menu do Reino Vegetal, or Vegetable Kingdom Menu, he weaves pupunha, a cultivated heart of palm (the wild version is threatened), into fettuccine-like noodles that are tossed with butter, sage, Parmesan and popcorn powder.

Limes and bananas become jellified ravioli perked up with priprioca, an amazonian root that hints of a deliciously edible perfume. An option to pair with the meal is not wine, but rather natural juices and scented waters. Rodízio this is not.

Photo by D.O.M