If you have finally gotten your fill of wunderkind Michael Phelps winning his umpteenth gold medal or perhaps you simply need a brief respite from the badminton competition (yawn!) [Ed. note: How dare you, badminton is thrilling] in this year's Rio 2016 Olympics, your thoughts may begin to wander to your rumbling stomach. Perhaps you might like to try Brazilian food. In case you've already had churrasco (Brazilian grilled barbecue) or hearty feijoada (Brazil's national stew, loaded with simmered black beans, cured pork and sausage) in the past week, then the tropical, exotic, satisfying moqueca might be exactly the novel taste of Brazil you're looking for.
Moqueca is a fish stew traditionally composed of saltwater fish, minced garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and the crucial urucum powder, which gives the stew its signature flavor and red color. It originated as moqueca capixaba from the indigenous people of coastal Espirito Santo, the state in southeast Brazil where the stew is slowly cooked for hours in handmade, earthenware black clay pots. (Moqueca also spread over time to Brazil's northern Bahia state where dende oil — palm oil derived from the reddish-hued mesocarp fruit in Brazil's verdant rainforest — and coconut milk are used in a regional flourish in place of olive oil to give the stew a richer, heavier flavor and consistency.)
Now where can you find the much-prized moqueca capixaba locally? Moqueca Restaurant in Oxnard is the answer. The owners have been serving it in myriad seafood incarnations, from the traditional white fish fillets to shellfish and whole lobster tail, since 2010. The proprietor, Maria-Gloria Sarcinelli, who hails from bucolic Vitoria-Es, Espirito Santo, still imports the traditional clay pots that are made by local paneleiras.
These paneleiras are the “pot-making woman who live close to the mangrove swamps” who meticulously produce their wares from black clay and the malleable sap of the mangrove trees; it's a craft passed down through the generations. The pots impart a crucial flavor to the traditional contents of the stew. White rice is served on the side. Incendiary malagueta (tiny Brazilian chili peppers) steeped in olive oil are offered tableside to give the bubbling seafood stew an added fiery kick. For vegetarians, the restaurant offers plantain moquecas.
Moqueca Restaurant also serves the usual Brazilian standards: Brazilian beef stroganoff laced with heavy cream, the iconic feijoada black bean stew and bobo de camaroa, large, marinated shrimp cooked in the clay pot with tomato, cilantro, coconut milk and urucum essence, making it an African-influenced Bahian stew. Traditional yucca flour, ground from the cassava root, is offered with many of the dishes. Yucca has been a healthy, protein-rich staple of the Brazilian diet for hundreds of years.
The expansive, panoramic view of the Channel Islands Harbor from your comfy perch in the white-tablecloth dining room subs in nicely for coastal Espirito Santo. Enjoy your meal with a fine caipirinha (made from the rumlike spirit cachaça) or a dark, malty Xingu beer. And as of July 5, there's a second location, closer to L.A., in Thousand Oaks.
3550 S. Harbor Blvd., Oxnard; (805) 204-0970, moquecarestaurant.com. Second location in Thousand Oaks.