This past weekend, if you were lucky enough to be passing by an orange storefront on the corner of Beach 96th Street and Rockaway Beach Blvd., a tall, amazon-like woman adorned in a brightly hued, sky-high, plumed headdress, feathered wings, dazzling gem-encrusted bikini and killer high heels would have stopped you in your tracks. With the rhythmic Brazilian samba music pulsating from the storefront, perhaps like me, you may have wondered — is this Rockaway, or perhaps through some divine intervention, have I been mythically transported to Carnival in Brazil?
As the woman beckoned me to the storefront, feeling like Alice in Wonderland, I entered and was immediately transported to the sights, sounds and smells of Carnival in Brazil. The sound of the infectious samba music percussion beats, smell of the steaming plates of food and sight of the live samba dancing were all hypnotizing.
Local Brazilian restaurant, Beach Bistro 96, owned by Rockaway locals, Chef Carlos Varella and his wife, Andressa Junqueira, dished up a Carnival feast featuring Brazilian food, samba music and dancing.
“Carnival plays a major role in our Brazilian culture,” said Junquiera, a native of Belo Horizonte, the capital city of southeastern Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. “Carlos and I wanted to share our love for the food and music of Carnival with Rockaway,” she said.
Carnival, Brazil’s annual event is traditionally held before Lent kicks off, prior to the season of fasting leading up to Easter. It began in the 1830s as a continuation of the Portuguese tradition of celebrating and indulging on the day before Lent begins. Lent is the 46-day period observed primarily by Roman Catholics as a means of sacrifice and abstinence in preparation for Easter. Today, the celebration includes live music, massive street performances, dancing, floats, costumes and culinary delights.
At Beach Bistro, Rockaway locals and visitors heralding from Manhattan, Brooklyn and other areas of Queens, gathered for the cornucopia of experiences feverishly anticipated. They feasted on feijoada completa, Brazil’s national dish, which some also refer to as Brazilian soul food. It consisted of black beans stewed with prime cuts of pork, and sides of rice, collard greens, farofa and fresh orange slices. Also offered on the pre-fix menu was an assortment of deserts and Brazil’s national cocktail, caipirinha, a refreshing summertime drink.
Rockaway Park residents and friends, Kathy Woods and Rose Lonigro expressed their jubilation over the food and overall atmosphere. “The feijoada was so tasty and the servings were perfect, plus who could resist this atmosphere?” Woods said. Lonigro piped in, “A perfect way to experience something new right here in Rockaway!”
The menu of festivities also included a live performance of samba dancing by professional Latin dancer, Diana Sobrino, Samba New York’s Princess of the Drums 2016. Sobrino, the enchanting amazon-like woman who greeted me at the front door, fascinated onlookers. Her deceivingly effortless electric footwork, as her hips shook and swung as though detached from her body, was mesmerizing. As one guest commented, “It’s crazy how the top half of her body keeps up with how fast her feet are moving.”
On the Latin dance circuit, Sobrino, a native of Spain, is popularly known for her prowess in the Latin dance genres of samba, flamenco and LA style salsa. Besides being a professional dancer, Sobrino also offers dance lessons. For information, contact Sobrino on her Instagram page, dianaspain.
One family, hailing from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, joined Sobrino on the dance floor. Soon other folks jumped in, children and adults alike, all enjoying the frenetic beat of the samba music.
Perhaps one of the most popular music and dance styles ever to emerge from Brazil, samba is a Brazilian musical genre and dance style, with its roots in Africa via the West African slave trade and African religious traditions, particularly of Angola and the Congo, through the samba de roda genre of the northeastern state of Bahia, from which it derived. Today, samba is prided by Brazilians as the rhythm of Carnival.
It’s not too late for you to join in the Carnival festivities at Beach Bistro. They will be serving up another round this weekend on Saturday, March 4 and Sunday, March 5. Lunch reservations are from noon to 5 p.m. Space is limited. Beach Bistro is located 95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd. Call 718-474-6000 to make a reservation.
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