In my hood, the chic São Paulo bairro of Jardins, I share sidewalks with a rather large group of Hasidic Jews. All of the beards make me feel like I'm safe and at home. They are the unspoken guardians of Jardins, as I have heard rumors of their n0-nonsense approach to local crime and robberies. A few blocks over and across the street from the neighborhood Hebrew school is Falafa, the pioneering modern falafel joint in a city full of pastel and mortadella.
A 20-year resident of Los Angeles, accomplished drummer, and native Paulistano Rocco Bidlovski opened this modern falafel restaurant with his brother in Jardins, soon after his return to São Paulo. Knowing that the city’s large population of Arabs, Jews, and Middle Eastern families were missing a falafel joint, they opened Falafa last year. The brothers have a talent for making their guests feel welcome and feeding them well--they do falafel right.
Before opening, Rocco worked with restaurateur Ana Soares of Mesa3, a chef (and food technician of sorts), to help conceive and build Rocco’s love for California culture into recipes that would turn the locals on. It worked, and every lunch and dinner hour is now slammed. Their open-front restaurant, designed by local designer/architect Andre Vainer, invites the sun and creates a nice, open place to sit and enjoy the day.
The friendly vibe and peppermint lemonade invite all in to start consuming the greatness.
The baba ghanoush and hummus platter specials stand out as they bring even more color, flavor, and welcome conversation, which Rocco is happy to offer.
Falafa is a perfect fit in a sandwich-culture country, serving various plates and, as their name suggests, falafel (in seven different varieties, like the popular Italianinho or Guaca(mole) sandos). Served upright, filled with fresh ingredients, tahini sauce, and additions that diversify their combos all wrapped snugly in a hot pita.
Traditional falafel with tahini and crisp salad.
Hungarian pasta with minced mignon and paprika with a dolop of coalhada (sour cream's yogurty cousin, aka curd).
Their signature dish however is horizontal and not on the menu: the Kafta Burger. Heavily recommended in chalk on the wall, this dripping, mixed-meat delight is a take on the traditional hamburger.
Curious to try anything written in chalk and off the normal menu I went for it and have kept reaching ever since. This burger was actually the creation of a former chef who made kafta into patties casually one day during his lunch break. Rocco saw it, tried it and it has been one of the most sought after burgers in Jardins since! This is the flava-flav.
Kafta (or kofta) is a mixed-meat ball that is arguably from Egypt, but is considered one of the national dishes of Israel. Whichever land you are on, in it’s present Falafa form, it is undoubtably a bad ass burger! The mixed beef or lamb is mixed with onion, packs flavor and keeps it. Then, they throw some tomatoes and coalhada into the mix. This is platted with seasoned fried potatoes that have their own secret cooking process that requires them to sleep in water over night.
This dish will slap you right.
Since Falafa's opening last June, city kids, non-kosher types, and even grandma’s now dig on the falafel and stick around for the chilled-out grooves of Rocco's carefully selected record stacks.
Music is an essential part of the Falafa culture, as Rocco's own background beating drums spans 30 years and two continents. From the band TOKYO as a 15-year old here in São Paulo, to Fluorescein and 1,000 Mona Lisas in the 90's in LA. His current project with his talented wife, Mostly Sunny, is set to release its new album sometime by the end of the year.