Rockaway Beach Goes Rio

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 On the eve of the Oi Rio Pro, one needn’t explain the parallels that can be drawn between Rockaway’s increase in surf tourism with the coast of Peru, or the likeness of our new boardwalk to Avenida Atlântica in Brazil. What may be less obvious is the sense of community that these cultures share with those of our coastal town. Walk into any establishment on this peninsula and you will encounter locals who are there not just to eat, but to bathe in the collective light of Rockaway as a whole. Such was the case when I arrived at Chicks To Go on their opening weekend in March 2015, where I was kindly introduced to Chef Carlos Varella and his family by local surfer Daniel Queiroz. I was immediately struck by their warmth and eagerness to speak to new people.

Fast forward a year later to Chicks To Go’s first Anniversary, where I ran into Chef Carlos and his wife, model Andressa Junqueira again- and they were happy to share news that they were opening their own place on “Restaurant Row”: “Terra Brasilis beach bistro 96”, introducing Brazilian flavors with a “French Twist” to Rockaway. I was intrigued by their story, which begins in Santos, Brazil where Carlos began surfing at age 7, eventually becoming a professional surfer, winning a Hurley competition there as recently as 2013. And somehow became a professional soccer player as well. However, his roots in cuisine go just as far back, his mother-a chef of International cuisine and father a chef specializing in Italian.

But it was later during his seven years living in Mexico that Carlos’ future began to take a different path, transitioning his surfing career into more commercial modeling which initially started with Elite Models in Brazil. While there he began to learn Mexican cuisine, the result of an interest developed from cooking meals on surf trips around South America. In Mexico he met his future wife Andressa, also a Brazilian model, who was discovered at the age of 14 in her hometown of Minas Gerais.  Their careers eventually brought them to NYC in 2010, where Carlos began to work with well-known Peruvian Chef Emanuel Piqueiras of Panca, in the West Village. That same year Chef Piqueiras invited Carlos to surf in Rockaway where he was introduced to Leyla and Ximena Yrala - of Chicks To Go and La Cevichería and they have been coming here ever since.

Carlos went on to attend French Culinary School, graduating with a Diploma in 2015. Through Ximena and Leyla, Carlos was introduced to David Selig who invited him to participate in The Summer Shift last year, a pop-up with Ximena and Leyla called “Neighbors” representing a mix of Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine, at which time he and Andressa began to think about starting a life here with their children Nicolas and Kalani. A year later in May 2016 that dream has become reality with the opening this past Saturday of Terra Brasilis beach bistro 96 which I attended.

The atmosphere exuded warmth and community as displayed by lively conversation amidst terrific music. It was evident to me that beach bistro 96 will be yet another great addition in the Pantheon of local hangouts. On the menu at beach bistro 96 is Feijoada- the Brazilian National Dish which will be offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is sure to become a new Rockaway tradition. Terra Brasilis will also stay true to being “bistro” by serving French dishes such as Ratatouille.  In addition to Brazilian foods like Pao de Quejo, Tapioca, Pasteis and Coxinha, Chef Carlos is serving Temakis and a Mushroom Quinoto with Parmesan Shell. Furthermore, Chef Carlos is working with Nutritionist Angela Kurtz of Mt. Sinai Hospital to develop a vegan menu.

I look forward to watching this family welcomed here over the coming summer. Perhaps even more notable however, is Carlos and Andressa’s excitement to be meeting YOU. Go eat, sit down, stay a while!

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