When Gothamist first heard that the reality-TV-based infamy that was Rocco's (a.k.a. NBC's "The Restaurant") would be replaced by a Brazilian-themed "Brasserio," we chuckled. Seemed like quite a random departure from the previous incarnation of upscale-yet-kitschy Italian Americana. But then again, wasn't that the point? To try to make people forget the unforgettable bickering and lawsuits that led chef Rocco DiSpirito and restauranteur vet Jeffrey Chodorow to split?
Chodorow's long, successful history in the unvelievably fickle restaurant biz proves he's no dummy. Making Caviar and Banana a Brazilian-flavored/ French-techniqued restaurant with high style, strong drinks, and sexy bar/lounge area seems perfectly tailored to the young, moneyed (or wants-to-be-moneyed) crowd that gravitates toward these types of spots. In hiring acclaimed chef Claude Troigros, who is trained in the French style but has lived and worked in Brazil, Chodorow had seemingly made the effort to offer semi-representational (if not hard-core authentic) Brazilian food.
Not that he needed to, really. Most gringos can't be bothered to distinguish between Brazil's national dish of feijoada (a black-bean and organ-meat stew) versus Mexican rice and beans. So it was none too surprising when Daily Candy couldn't be bothered to get the correct foreign-language terminology to describe how "hot" this new place was. Certainly Chodorow and company didn't mind--just spell "Caviar and Banana" right!
Well, for those New Yorkers who do know and appreciate good Brazilian food, Caviar and Banana does manage to succeed in giving the flavor of Brazil. And for the culinarily clueless, there's plenty to appreciate as well, because Brazilian food will provide them flavors and textures that on the surface seem a bit exotic but in reality don't necessarily deviate that far from the U.S. palate.
With the grilled-meat churrasco skewers and bacon-wrapped quail, the "Carioca bread" pizzas and the seafood appetizers of octopus and shrimp, even picky eaters would find something they could enjoy. (And speaking of enjoyment, let's not forget the cocktails: they've got the cachaça flowing, making limaos, caipirinhas, etc.)
This food holds its own with much of the Brazilian food Gothamist has eaten here in Manhattan's "Little Brazil" section and throughout our travels in Brazil as well. The menu is huge, offering something for everyone. While we did get to sample the salgadinhos (co-labelled "tapas"), monkfish moqueca (seafood stew), lobster-and-coconut "Lagoa" pizza, and yuca-stuffed quail, we didn't have a chance to try any of the grilled meats or fowl, let alone the desserts.
The service was friendly and attentive, if perhaps a bit too friendly. But maybe this was just opening jitters, as the waitstaff were doing their best to banish the ghosts of Rocco and his mama's meatballs. We ate there soon after the initial opening and are betting that things have settled into a groove since then. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see the transformation of the room, with its Italian marble trimmings replaced by many-colored banquettes of bright, primary hues.
So, if you're looking for a happening restaurant scene and are not averse to dropping $20-30 per entree (entrees are big portions, meant to be shared) and $5-17 per appetizer, then Caviar and Banana is worth trying.
Caviar & Banana Brasserio, 12 East 22nd Street (B'way & Park Ave. South), phone: 212-353-0500