“The Girl from Ipanema” plays softly over the PA as I look through a green, yellow and blue rhombus in the entryway into the elevated dining room. There is no question we are about to indulge in some excellent Brazilian food here at Pasadena’s Cafe Chimichurri.
Owner John Yoo is no stranger to Brazilian fare; in fact, diners may even have followed him here from Paseo Colorado’s popular South American barbecue spot, Porto Alegre, which he recently closed after a rent hike. After being open just a few weeks, Cafe Chimichurri is already doing a bang-up business. While meat is Yoo’s area of expertise, it is no surprise that the highlight here is the chimichurri. The staff takes great care with this heavenly concoction; it is completely hand-chopped, not stuck in a food processor or anything of the like. The result is a wholly satisfying sauce devoid of muddy or astringent vegetal flavors that might tarnish the namesake of the cafe.
The problem is, you will want to put this chimichurri on everything. This may not seem to be an issue at first, but the cafe’s other offerings are so tasty on their own it feels sacrilegious to just drown them all in fresh, garlicky, herby goodness. I wanted everything on the menu both with and without this magical green dressing, but there’s just not enough real estate in my stomach. My recommendation: put it on the meat Yoo takes such pride in. Maybe a dollop on your eggs if you’re having brunch. Absolutely dip your bread. But please, eat your beans and rice the way God intended (which, here, is the way the chef intended): naked.
It being early afternoon during my visit, both brunch and lunch options were fair game. I opted for the lunch platter special with Scottish salmon prepared with Brazilian rub and Gouda cheese. Though the Gouda’s location on my plate remains a mystery to me, the salmon arrived piping hot and expertly prepared. The rub had a subtle sweetness to it that complimented the fish nicely and offered a mellow companionship to the almost spicy garlic punch of the chimichurri. However good it was, though, the fish was far from being the star of the dish.
Feijoda. Brazilian black beans. The best beans I have experienced in recent memory. Perhaps ever. Every bite had a hefty piece of bacon or hunk of Brazilian sausage and was absolutely brimming with a whirlwind of spices all dancing together with sex appeal to rival samba. Really, these beans are more like a complex stew all their own than just a side. And you can order them on their own. And you should. There are actually tons of delectable add-ons at a diner’s fingertips here. Golden beets in goat cheese and citrusy balsamic reduction, seasoned chicken hearts for the adventurous, hearts of palm modestly dressed in olive oil and pepper, grilled avocado with chimichurri to name a few — it would be easy to build a diverse, flavorful, affordable smorgasbord.
Still, the self-contained balance on my lunch platter was admirable; each component had something unique to offer. The salmon was a home base: safe and succulent and good. The beans (we covered this) and rice (flavorful from high quality water, salt, onion, garlic and olive oil) and farofa (a sort of seasoned, very fine bread crumb) all together brought a little more excitement and texture. The collared greens — sauteed just right and bursting with oniony, garlicky, invitingly bitter flavors — were there to snap you back from your comfort food vacation and cleanse the palate for another round.
My date chose from the brunch menu the picanha steak and eggs, which came with “buttered home fries,” which sounds unassuming, but wow was that the undersell of the century. These potatoes, more scalloped than home-fry-like to me, were intensely delicious. Though they had the equivalent decadence of pounds upon pounds of cheese and cream, our waiter assured us that the indulgent flavors came only from clarified butter and two varieties of high-quality salt. People often say they like lobster when, really, they just like dipping stuff in butter. To me, this is disrespectful to both butter and lobster. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these humble tubers somehow offer up the greatest reverence to both potatoes and butter. It’s easy to make fine foods taste good, but it’s hard to make the common potato a fine food. Cafe Chimichurri did it and then shrugged it off like it was nothing. Oh, and the steak and eggs were, of course, excellent, especially with the chimichurri.
Not only is the food incredible and the staff oh so friendly and attentive — the prices here are very fair. It is easy to tell that the ingredients are of very high quality and the kitchen staff is expert, yet, a couple mimosas, two meals, lots of pão de queijo (Brazilian cheesy bread balls) and crostini with chimichurri only set me back 35 bucks. Plus, we had leftovers. Speaking of mimosas, never in my life have I seen a deal as good as Cafe Chimichurri’s $9.95 bottomless mimosa (classic orange juice or Brazilian style with pineapple juice). Get there before 1:30 to take advantage of it.
On my next visit — and there will be a next visit as I have yet to work my way through the menu — I will be bringing plenty of friends. We will require one order of every side dish, maybe a few extra orders of potatoes and feijoda, perhaps some Rabanada (Brazilian French toast made with brioche) and fresh fruit to share. There will be bottomless mimosas all around: Brazilian or traditional, I won’t discriminate. I will break the record for most pão de queijo eaten in one sitting. I will befriend the wait staff so that when they cater my wedding, we will all be old chums. In short, I’m comin’ for ya, Cafe Chimichurri.
A version of this story first appeared in our June, 14, 2018 edition.
181 E. Glenarm St., Ste. 110,
Beer and Wine/
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