Mana Brazilian Fusion and Bar
185-01 Union Tpke, Queens, NY
Hechsher: Vaad HaRabbonim of Queens (VHQ)
One thing I’ve always loved about New York City is how you can pack up and head out for the day from the familiarity of your Jewish community and visit a friend or an establishment in an entirely different community; with an entirely different look, feel and attitude – all without actually leaving the city limits. It’s simply what life is like when you live in a thriving megacity with over 1.1 million Jews.
I always find it is better to know a friend who can help you navigate the waters of an exciting new place, and to point out where to go and what to do to experience its very best. And so, it was a no-brainer for me to call the locally popular Avi Cyperstein, who was the highly endorsed candidate for City Council for New York City’s District 29, and the founder of Chaverim of Queens, to join me on a visit to the hottest new restaurant in Queens, Mana Brazilian Fusion and Bar, for a churrascaria rodizio experience like no other.
But first, a churrascaria is a Portuguese word meaning barbeque, and rodizio is a Brazilian concept that means all-you-can-eat. The term fusion is the process of creating cuisine that brings together traditional platters from different cultures into one entree. So, at churrascaria rodizio, roaming waiters – called garcons – come by your table and offer you tasty selections of beef, filet mignon, sausage, duck, lamb and chicken, all grilled and seasoned to perfection, in portions to your heart’s desire. All evening. Non-stop.
It was a Monday night and Mana has only been open for a few weeks, but the establishment was fully booked. Still, the gracious management and the chef made sure Avi and I had prime seats to watch the buzzing hotspot in action. To get us started, I asked the bartender to bring us a wine that would be perfect for Mother’s Day, this Sunday.
He brought me a glass from Herzog’s American Oak Cabernet Sauvignon ($15 glass) from the Herzog’s popular wine series Variations. “It’s aged in an 80-100-year-old American Oak barrel,” bartender Andrew Adams told The Jewish Press. “It’s a good Mother’s Day wine because of its sweetness and rich aromas, and it’s a nice change as American oak barrels are not the more common barrel used – so it’s an American-inspired experience.” Avi opted for something a little more exotic, requesting a Casarita ($22). It’s a take on a classic margarita (fresh lime juice, fresh blue agave, splash of orange juice, orange liqueur, salt rim) but taken to another level by replacing the standard tequilas with the top tier Casamigo Anego Tequila. The upgrade in taste due to the tequila being produced from a clearly more aged agave (the older the agave plant, the more flavorful the tequila) was certainly noticeable and an instant hit with my guest critic. “It hits all the notes,” Avi confirmed. “The right balance of tequila and sweetness!”
It’s important to prepare the mind for what’s ahead when you know you’re about to eat – quite possibly – a considerable amount of meat. It’s not about lack of self-control. At Mana, it’s all about the experience, and the experience is meat: different types, grilled and prepared different ways. The fun you’ve signed on for is to try all you can – in small portions if you need to – but please without any judgment on yourself (and certainly not on others!). At Mana you’re here to have fun. It’s the Walt Disney World of culinary meat experience, and you wouldn’t miss out on any part of it any more than you’d miss out on riding the fastest roller-coaster.
The star of the menu is The Brazilian Fusion Experience ($99 person), (non-stop signature cuts of fire-roasted meats and an unlimited salad bar with soups, rice and Brazilian-inspired side dishes). Several garcons rotate from table to table, serving Beef Ancho (rib eye), Lamb Kebab, Linquica (beef kufta kabob), a Mana Kebab special selection, Medalhoes Ala Bacon (turkey bacon-wrapped chicken), Salsicha de Carne (beef sausage), Frango (chicken), Coxa de Frango (chicken drumstick), Asas de Frango (chicken wings), Peito Deperu (turkey breast) and Flaken Bone Riblets.
“I’ve never tasted anything like this before,” Avi said of the Lamb Kebab, “It’s definitely very cooked but so melt-in-your-mouth – it’s silky and the flavors are so intense and juicy.” On the turkey, he commented, “Turkey breast often comes out too dry for my taste, even when it’s sous vide, but this turkey is moist and succulent and has a great texture.”
With Mother’s Day on the horizon, the talented and generous Chef Rafaeli came out to our table to share a few words about that special person who inspired him to create culinary magic. “I always loved to cook and I remember going with my mom to the kitchen when I was 9 years old – and my mom was the best cook in the world. I learned everything from her. I saw her create amazing food from nothing but simple ingredients.” After 25 years Chef Rafaeli shared what’s important for his dining guests to experience when they come to Mana, “Three factors, first we eat with our eyes, so presentation has to be beautiful and it has to smell amazing and then there’s the taste; it must be absolutely right and that’s why I am in the kitchen tasting everything that we serve.”
“Tonight, I went to a great new restaurant in my own neighborhood in Queens!” Avi shared at the end of the night. “The place was buzzy and packed. I really liked the rib-eyed steak but the sausage is the best I’ve tasted, and I don’t like sausage, but they said you should try everything and I ended up asking for a second helping of sausage.”
Way to go Avi, spoken like a true soldier. Mana is the perfect place to show your mom how much she means to you on that very special day (this Sunday, don’t forget), and to ensure everyone else in your entourage has a memorable experience as well. But get a reservation soon – this place fills up fast.
“Every child loves their mother,” Chef Rafaeli said. “But now, after Pesach, all the woman are tired and it’s a time to give them a unique opportunity and treat them special. You come here and you will not be disappointed… nobody ever leaves here hungry.”