CAMBRIDGE (CBS) - Two years ago, I went to Muqueca on a first date. Recently, we finally got around to a return visit (not to celebrate our anniversary, though, because my boyfriend thought re-doing the first date would be too cheesy). When we first tried Muqueca, a Brazilian seafood restaurant with a focus on cuisine from Espírito Santo, it was in a small corner spot on Cambridge Street in Inman Square -- cozy, lively, and loud. Since then, it has moved to a larger space down the street, making it a little less intimate but still quite homey.
Muqueca is named for moqueca -- a traditional Brazilian slow-cooked stew containing fish and shellfish, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and a few other components. The reason for the spelling discrepancy is unclear; the "o" version is used throughout the menu. There are plenty of other things on the menu to try (a friend of mine reports enjoying the shrimp bobó), but I'd recommend going for the namesake, which is served in an authentic clay pot imported directly from Brazil. For a variation, try ordering the Bahian version, which includes palm oil and coconut milk. On the side, you'll receive rice and pirão -- a fish-based gravy made with cassava flour.
On my first visit, I don't recall a liquor license - -just fruit juices and frozen "mocktails." Now, though, there's a full bar, so I felt I had to try their version of the national drink of Brazil, a caipirinha. A mix of cachaça, sugar, and lime, it's similar to a mojito, but stronger (and tastier, I think!) Interesting translation note: caipirinha is the diminutive version of caipira, which translates fairly closely to "hillbilly."
Muqueca's decor, like the service, is cheerful and welcoming. One brick wall features colorful oil paintings, ostensibly of Brazilian scenes, and the back wall is turquoise, covered with a fishing net and whimsical fish sculptures.
Our latest visit was the night of the infamous tornado, and as we watched the never-ending lightning and downpours through the window, we decided to get dessert just to stay dry a little bit longer. The table next to us, who had already paid and were about to leave, ended up ordering another pitcher of sangria.
It's a good thing we stuck around; the dessert menu was fantastic -- and not just because of the tasty offerings. No, it was the menu itself that piqued our interest. The descriptions made us laugh almost embarrassingly loudly. "Just a flan? Not really! This is a flan with a twist," read the chocolate flan description. "It will melt in your mouth hitting all the bud-tastes of your tongue. You will not regret having one. In fact, you will beg for more." Well, we were too full to beg for more, but it was certainly tasty. (My favorite description, though, was for the regular flan. You were born for this," it insists. Indeed!)
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.
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