In my cautious return to São Paulo restaurants after six months of isolation, change is wide open – literally – already at the door.
At a sophisticated address like Evvai, when I was just starting out in this new era, the hostess has a beauty that one can only intuition. Instead of the open smile, there is the double armor of the cloth mask and acrylic helmet. Instead of the elegant gesture pointing the room, only an imperative movement brandishing the weapon-shaped thermometer against his forehead.
It is a night full of strangeness. You have to get used to alcohol gel instead of graceful flowers or candles in the center of the table, with paper napkins, with cutlery that, clean or dirty, accompany you all night long. Outside, the voices of waiters and sommeliers drowned in fabric and acrylic, convey information that you can hardly hear.
But, even so, it is the return of a pleasure that is lacking – that of the food by the minute (and not the delivery), that of living with table mates (and not just on a daily basis), that of share strangers in the same social space where they all went for the same purpose.
When visiting different types of restaurants, it is impressive to see the rigor with which they follow the rules and protocols of the new times. With all the strangeness of the new normal, the excellence of meticulous menus returns.
This is the case of the aforementioned Evvai, of chef Luiz Filipe Souza, but also in the new Tujuína, full of à la carte menus with the same taste that chef Ivan Ralston has imprinted with the Tuju of Chez Claude, with dishes that have made the history of the chef. Claude Troisgros and Fame, where Marco Renzetti serves tasting menus – a pleasant surprise for those who have encountered his missing Osteria del Petirosso.
In each of them, the space between the tables is large, but there is a collective atmosphere of customers and staff in the air. Even more in places that were originally more informal, like Le Jazz on Rua dos Pinheiros, now strangely spacious for a small, French-born bistro. Or like Famiglia Mancini, which is much quieter than a normal canteen. And also popular destinations, catering, full of disposable gloves, like Dr Costela (the specialty is in the name) and Compadre, from the farmhouse kitchen.
In the open-air restaurants, the atmosphere is even more relaxed. The care I have witnessed is also harsh, but there seems to be a feeling of greater relief.
In Capim Santo, which is at a new address, at the Museu da Casa Brasileira, the service is in the huge garden, with dishes served among the trees, with the sky as a witness.
This is also the case with the slab of Paraisópolis, where Mãos de Maria works, shaded by colorful umbrellas that vibrate singing during the feijoada on Saturday – protected by masks, alcoholic frost and circulating free air.
Other restaurants are closed, but have ventilated balconies to relieve more cautious customers. At the award-winning restaurant A Casa do Porco, the “veranda” is literally the street, the restaurant sides welcoming tables that are an oasis from which to sample the sophisticated and popular menus of Chef Jefferson Rueda.
In Parigi, the Franco-Italian house of the Fasano group, the old winter garden was completely open on the sides and became a balcony – in fact, the group, which in the original house had a retractable roof, has installed the same office in Gero, which now also allows customers to aim directly at the sky.
Despite the general relief, it is impossible not to feel that everything seems a little contained by force. It reminds us of another form of pleasure under surveillance: that imposed by another virus, HIV, 40 years ago.
For a post-hippie and post-contraceptive generation, trained in the joyful preaching of free love, it was a shock to know that, between bodies, the barrier of the condom was becoming an obligatory stake, as a matter of life or of dead. But even with a condom, better to have sex than not, right?
Also with restaurants, before the new coronavirus, which also kills, it is better to put on the mask, coat in alcohol, greet from afar, prick your ear with muffled words, squint your eyes to read the menus on your cellphone. And think about this new way to savor and share the pleasure of eating at the table.