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A First Taste of Shanna Pacifico's New Brazilian Boîte Cozinha Latina

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Eater NY critic Robert Sietsema takes a first taste of the former sports bar

[The dining room at Cozinha Latina]
[The dining room at Cozinha Latina]
Nick Solares

Chef Shanna Pacifico left Soho’s Back Forty West in March 2014 after a two-year stint, and was soon at the helm of her self-named restaurant in Crown Heights, Pacifico's Fine Foods. It was located just north of Eastern Parkway on Franklin Avenue, perhaps the highest trafficked corner in the neighborhood. Left over from a previous Middle Eastern spot, the decor was a little formal and stiff for the brightly colored, vegetable-heavy menu she introduced, with lightly worn Brazilian influences that reflected the chef’s heritage. I visited in summer and enjoyed a green fava bean smash topped with fried plantains for dipping, a nicely charred pork chop piri-piri on a bed of corn and corn meal, and a scallop ceviche in a creamy coconut-milk marinade. There were homemade pickles of every sort throughout the meal, almost rising to the level of an obsession — but an obsession that worked.

The food was delicious and painstakingly prepared, but to the lover of Brazilian food, somewhat disappointing in that the majority of the menu showed Brazilian Influences without being actually Brazilian. In February 2015 Pacifico left Crown Heights when her backers decided to turn the place into an Italian restaurant. Recently, she appeared with a new establishment called Cozinha Latina on the lonely westernmost stretch of Greenpoint Avenue, amid brownstones, converted factories, and condos under construction, quite a different neighborhood than Crown Heights with a higher median age.

The corner space was once a sprawling sports bar. A blue neon sign hugs the corner of the building, adding a touch of cold glamor. A brown banquette runs along one wall deep into the interior, parallel to handsome wooden bar with high-backed stools. This is a place built for comfort, though not striking in its decor. Above the banquette loom tropical motifs on a bare brick wall. At the end of the room near the bathrooms, an ancient winding stairway rises to the second floor, not currently in use. "A club and banquet space will be installed up there," a passing employee says when he sees me gawking.

[Top: Pao de queijo. Bottom: char-grilled chicken hearts and bobo de camarao. Photos by Robert Sietsema]

Divided into five sections by size and designated by Portuguese terms, the menu offers great flexibility in arranging your meal. More important, a large proportion of the choices are Brazilian standards — though all receive little adjustments and embellishments at the hands of the chef. The Tira-Gostos ("small bites," $5 to $7) are perhaps the most interesting. Daringly, one features skewers of char-grilled chicken hearts with bits of crackling on a schmear of pimento aioli, but also available are the mellow pao de queijo, the Brazilian cheese-bread balls with a bouncy texture as a result of their tapioca flour. Oddest of all — but also delicious — are a pair of gooey soft-boiled eggs in cumin brown butter scattered with smoky chunks of pork and pickled hearts of palm.

The biggest failure among the handful of dishes a pal and I tried was found among the Pratos ("medium plates"): a clam and pork pozole, the Mexican weekend soup, which had been sent in a Portuguese direction by the shellfish/meat combination. The broth was thin, sour, and unsatisfying, and the serving too small at $16. Bobo de camarao, an Afro-Brazilian shrimp stew available in two sizes ($18/$36), was terrific with its thick yellow sauce and baby shrimp, but might have been improved with more dende (palm oil) and hot chiles. The universal manioc condiment of farofa, here enriched with bacon and eggs and presented as a side dish, should be purchased and dumped on nearly everything at Cozinha Latina.

[Top: pozole. Bottom: farofa and black beans. Photos by Robert Sietsema]

Also offered as a side, the rib-sticking black beans are every bit as good as they should be, but they beg to be served with fluffy white rice, which is everywhere required but never provided. This is one of the downsides of low-carb mania. There is a garlic fried rice available ($5), but it’s no substitute for the fluffy white rice that is one of the signatures of Latin cooking in general.

As we sat and enjoyed our food on an early weekday evening, Cozinha Latina began to fill up with an older and apparently wealthier crowd than the one seen at Pacifico's Fine Foods. Does Greenpoint furnish a more upscale clientele who are more into Brazilian food than the millennials in Crown Heights? Or is Shanna Pacifico finally getting a following interested in her light and colorful touch with vegetables and Brazilian cooking?

Cozinha Latina

37 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222 (347) 889-7739

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