Okay, so I pretty much never, ever have the desire to dine in places where you pay over $100 to have approximately 10 bites of food. But when I read about Beleza’s wacky menu, fusing organic ingredients and Brazilian flavors, I just had to taste it to believe it.
Upon entering the sleek, ultra-trendy spot at 905 Juniper in Atlanta, techno music pumping and strangers dining elbow-to-elbow in the cramped quarters, I almost turned around and left. Techno and loud strangers are two of my least favorite things in life. But I’d dragged my friend here to experience this anomaly with me, so for her sake I tried to ignore the clubby vibe and focus on the exotic morsels I ventured here for in the first place.
I must say reviewing the list of spirits on the menu helped in lifting mine, though I still longed for ear plugs and about five more feet between us and the next table. Being obsessed with all things ginger, I naturally chose the ginger and clementine caipirinha, which I soon learned consisted of ginger-infused Brazilian rum with some clementine pieces floating in it. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious and very potent with the flavor of ginger, but whew it was strong.
My friend’s beverage was much more smooth and mild. I gagged at first when she ordered the “Hanging Mary” because it sounded like a twist on a Bloody Mary, which I find vile and disgusting. Much to my surprise, the Hanging Mary tasted nothing like tomato juice. Instead it was like drinking a hot pepper, which is shockingly crisp and refreshing. This drink, featuring pepper vodka, pink peppercorns and sea salt shall indeed be mine on my next visit to Beleza. It apparently also includes juice from the tamarillo – a relative of the tomato – but luckily I could not taste it one bit.
Moving on to the solid dishes, we started with a bowl of olives, “raw, sun-dried and marinated in Bariani olive oil.” These were unlike any olives I’ve ever had in my life. They were tender, buttery and had not even the slightest hint of bitterness usually associated with olives. I always thought that the bitter bite was inherent to the olive, but apparently it can be removed, and believe me, you won’t miss it.
For the next of many courses, we each ordered the crab salad. Served ceviche style, it was light, pure and once again, amazing. Whenever I order crab, I tend to order it as part of a larger montage, never as the featured presentation because I’m not fully convinced that I like seafood. This time, though, I had a feeling that the crab could shine on its own without being overpowering, and Beleza did not let me down.
Perhaps the best offerings at Beleza are the starches. My friend ordered a pork tenderloin with spicy sweet potatoes to start. The pork was nothing special, but the taters were terrific and left us wanting more. We therefore ordered a sweet potato dish, hoping and praying that the flavoring was the same as the pork’s companions. Alas, it was not, but I wasn’t too disappointed. Our order of sweet potatoes was so sweet that it could have been dessert.
And now ladies and gentlemen – the one dish that will guarantee I return to Beleza – the forbidden rice. A black rice with a light, fresh pesto, some greens, squash and pistachios far exceeded any expectations I had when I walked in the door. I could not stop eating it and secretly wished that my friend wasn’t there so I could have it all to myself.
Though I was surprisingly full after my 10 or so bites of food, the desserts sounded so outrageous I had to try one. I ordered the acai sorbet with bananas and granola. Despite the amazing nutritional value of the acai berry, the sorbet lacked flavor. My pal went for the more traditional chocolate tart. Luckily she was too full to eat most of it, so I was able to get my fill. The sweet, milky taste of the tart was like a magnet to my spoon. For anyone who has tasted the creamy, Chinese White Rabbit candies, the tart tasted like a bunch of those mixed with chocolate. Mmmmm. The kicker is, though, there was no dairy in it.
At no point in the night was I ever aware that I was consuming healthy, organic food. Most of it tasted downright sinful. Although the obscene amount of money I spent for this meal was also a bit sinful, I don’t think my taste buds will be able to resist the forbidden rice for too long.