Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RESTAURANT REVIEW - Docentes & Decentes (Fortaleza, Brazil)

One of the most popular styles of restaurant in Brazil is a combination bar-restaurant where people can go after work, with a group of friends on the weekend or with the extended family to celebrate a happy event in a large, animated, and often noisy atmosphere. These restaurants serve a variety of drinks, although beer (cerveja) is by far the largest seller, and casual food ranging from finger-food snacks to full course meals of local favorites. In my Brazilian hometown, Fortaleza, these bar-restaurants are all open-air, as the year-round tropical climate allows outdoor dining almost every night of the year. In cooler regions of Brazil, they often have both indoor and outdoor spaces. Such restaurants are often enormous establishments, and some of them seat several hundred customers at a time.

One of the best Fortaleza restaurants of this type is called Docentes & Decentes (which somewhat enigmatically translates in English as "Academicians & Decent Folks). It has been around for 23 years, and has two branches, one on a major commercial avenue, and the other in neighborhood Varjota, which is Fortaleza's "restaurant mecca".

I've only visited the Varjota branch, but I'm told that the menu and ambiance is the same in both branches. Docentes & Decentes is open all day and late into the night - from 10 a.m. until the final client decides to call it a night - and it's busy at almost all times. Evenings there is live acoustic music, usually a group playing Brazilian pop standards. The place has indoor and outdoor dining spaces, though the interior space is usually reserved for family, school or work celebrations. Outside there is space for about 250 people, and there is a large number of tables that seat groups for 6-10 persons. Most of the outdoor space is a large patio space, open to the air, though there is one section that has a roof - perfect for those few nights of the year when it rains.

The all-male waitstaff is very fast and efficient and is kept hopping by the Brazilian habit of ordering additional drinks and dishes throughout the meal. Beer is served in 600 ml (20 oz) bottles, which arrive in thermal covers to keep the beer icy-cold and which are shared by everyone at the table. Docentes & Decentes' customers seem to be of two minds as far as dining goes. There are those who look at the menu, order a complete meal, and leave it at that. They are far outnumbered by those who keep a menu handy at the table, ordering dish by dish as the mood strikes, always to be shared by all the diners at the table. It could be french-fries, pastels, bolinhos and other snack food, or it might be something more hardy, like crabs, a kilo or two of shrimp with garlic, carne de sol, or the house's signature dish - fresh black-eyed peas (feijão verde).

No one would consider Docentes & Decentes a temple of gastronomy - the whole point of the place is to meet friends and family, share drink, food and chat, hear some good music, and have a fun night out. However, the restaurant does put more thought and care into their food than many of its competitors, and there is rarely a dish that disappoints.  In many visits, I've never received cold fries, less-than-fresh shrimp, or warm beer - things which can ruin the experience at some other similar restaurants in Fortaleza. The service is friendly and professional. And the prices are fair - it's easy for a group of four or five to spend an evening at Docentes & Decentes, have several dishes of good food, and more than several beers, and end up paying about R$25 (USD $15) per person.

Docentes & Decentes, being situated away from the beachfront and major hotels, is not a tourist-oriented restaurant. It's a local's hangout. This means that the menu will be only in Portuguese, and the waiter is likely to speak that language only. However, for an authentic Brazilian night out, I'd highly recommend visitors to Fortaleza to try it out. Anyone at a neighboring table will help you out with ordering, even if there is a language barrier, and you'll soon end up a new set of Brazilian friends. Taxis in Fortaleza are safe and not expensive - from the beachfront hotel district to Docentes & Decentes, you can expect to pay R$10-15 (USD $6-10). If you go, remember to do yourself a favor, and order feijão verde - I can guarantee you'll love it.

In the next Flavors of Brazil post, I'll include a recipe for feijão verde Docentes & Decentes style.

Docentes & Decentes
Avenida Santos Dumont 6180
Bairro Papicu
Fortaleza, Brazil

Docentes & Decentes
Rua Ana Bilhar 1445
Bairro Varjota
Fortaleza, Brazil

1 comment:

  1. Besides the "feijao verde", the place have several tasty local dishes with reasonable prices. Yes, the waiter sometimes take too long to serve, but you don't need to go there on a Thursday, when EVERYBODY goes there and the place gets really crowded. Actually, all places in Fortaleza have a specific day at the week when it gets so crowded that there is no way to be well served, so my recommendation is: relax, baby, you're in the Sun's land!

    jennifer of Find a Plumber