Absolute Traveler Zachary Aarons talks food, art and fashion in the all-too-often overlooked metropolis of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
For most of us, Brazil evokes images of sizzling beaches, the uber-chic city of Rio de Janeiro, and the natural wonders of the Pantanal and the Amazon. But when my wife and I started planning for our next vacation back in November we were intrigued by the megalopolis of São Paulo, the commercial center of Brazil.
The minute we arrived, we were greeted by the city’s buzzing energy. What could be perceived by some as overwhelmingly urban, was to us, exciting. After getting accustomed to the insane traffic that nine million cars provides, we were in our groove and our jaunt in this brash cosmopolitan hub began…
First stop: Fasano Hotel in the beautiful Jardim neighborhood. The staff couldn’t have been nicer and our room couldn’t have been more spectacular, complete with a view of the gardens and the skyline. After getting situated, we strolled over to one of the most hyped about restaurants in town, Dalva e Dito, Brazilian superstar chef and irreverent bad boy Alex Atala’s latest project. The restaurant pulled a chic crowd and the food exceeded our lofty expectations. We particularly liked how our view of the kitchen prep and the breadbasket complete with an assortment of hot chili sauce as dips.
After lunch we hit the Rua Oscar Freire, São Paulo’s most famous shopping street, and we tore it up! Shoes and bikinis are all the rage in Brazil and they didn’t disappoint. We stopped at the flagship Melissa Shoes (loved the crazy graffiti exterior) followed by visits to Havainas, Slama Bikini, local designer Isabela Capeto’s sample sale, and Schutz, where my wife found a nice pair of heels.
After perusing the fashions on Oscar Freire we drove to the bohemian neighborhood of Vila Madalena. This neighborhood was filled with galleries, restaurants, bars, and boutiques. We stopped at the boutique Ronaldo Fraga, and then checked out the beautiful galleries Galeria Millan and the art powerhouse Fortes Vilaca. Each gallery showcased excellent work by Brazilian artists. To top off our day we grabbed a drink at the chic Bar Astor. Astor was decorated like a Keith McNally restaurant, with white subway tiles and young men and women sipping Caipiroskas. We indulged, and a waitress came over to muddle fruit and make a delicious Caipiroska right in front of us.
It was time for dinner. We traveled to Kosushi, one of the best sushi restaurants in the whole city. São Paulo is actually home to the largest Japanese population anywhere outside of Japan, and the Japanese have called the city home for over 100 years. Kosushi was both chic and zen. We filled up on succulent sardines and other small dishes before heading back to the Fasano to catch up on some much needed sleep!
The following morning, my parents joined us and it was off to the races. We got in the car and drove to eat lunch at one of the city’s fanciest shopping malls, Cidade Jardim, located on the other side of the river in Morumbi. Native Paulistas frequently shop in malls, and the crowd at Due Cuochi Cucina was very elegant. The restaurant is located in a beautiful garden on the roof of the mall, with a view of the river. The food is Northern Italian, with some Brazilian influence.
After lunch, we went gallery hopping including Mendes Wood, Luisa Strina, and Marillia Razuk. For dinner, we went to D.O.M., Alex Atala’s flagship restaurant, arguably the most famous in São Paulo.
The following day we headed to the Parque do Ibirapuera, the city’s central park. It was a Saturday and the park was packed. 2010 marked the 29th São Paulo Bienal, a bi-annual art exhibition held in a large pavilion in the park. It is the second oldest biennial in the world, and is very well respected. The 2010 biennial had a political theme, relating to the fact that art and politics are always inseparable. The curators chose work from artists worldwide, including Simon Fujiwara, Jonas Mekas, and Ai Weiwei, in addition to Brazilian artists like Efrain Almeida and Flavio de Carvalho.
The Bienal was not the only thing going on in the park that day; we also saw a wonderful Ernesto Neto exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) and checked out the Oscar Niemeyer designed concert hall, Auditorio Ibirapuera. We even got to hear a local high school play a samba style version of Madonna’s Holiday. For lunch that day we went to Kaa, a gigantic mostly outdoor restaurant with a huge green wall and excellent salads.
That evening, we decided to check out the famous Hotel Unique for a drink. We got there right around sunset and the view from the rooftop pool was spectacular. The scene at the hotel’s Skye Bar was fashionable, and the Caipirinhas were tasty. After, we went to Arturito for another inspired Brazilian meal.
On our final day we decided to check out the old downtown, a neighborhood filled with history, culture, and architecture. On our way we went to the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), a modernist designed building by Lina Bo Bardi perched atop a large hill. The museum has an expansive permanent collection, and is not overcrowded. We then traveled around the old downtown, and visited sites like the municipal market, the old train station, and the Pinacoteca Do Estado, which was a prime example of a good modern renovation to an old structure.
For lunch, we headed to Mani, arguably the most inventive culinary destination in the city. Mani has dishes like deconstructed Feijoada, taking a contemporary riff on traditional Brazilian dishes. We then went to Paralela, an alternative exhibition coinciding with, but not related to, the biennial. This exhibition had only young Brazilian artists with many good works housed in what looked like an old airplane hangar. That evening it was unfortunately time to bid goodbye to the city. We went for an early dinner at Figuera, where we ate steak next to the branches of an 80-year-old fig tree that grows throughout the restaurant. A very special trip.