The Caipirinha

Yemanja Brasil, 2900 Missouri (at Pestalozzi), 314-771-7457

With all due respect to bartenders -- never bite that particular hand -- it doesn't take an expert to make a rum and Coke, just a good eye for proportions. Gin and tonic's a breeze, as are most of your basic single-mix concoctions. Yes, 'tis a pleasure to be simple and all, and these drinks have their merits, but seldom do you get the sense that a bartender has really worked at making them. If you want to see some muscle working toward an enlightened goal, head to Yemanja Brasil and witness owner Lemya Sidki cramming a pestle into a glass full of lime and sugar, because therein lies the secret -- some muscle -- that transforms a basic creation, the caipirinha, into a magic elixir.

The caipirinha's considered "the national drink of Brazil," and unlike the national drink of America, Bud Light (no wonder al-Qaida wants to destroy us), their drink's got flavor, a kick and a much better moniker.

Lemya Sidki says she makes about 200 caipirinhas on a busy night, drinks that work well with Yemanja's offering of Brazilian cuisine. She takes a whole lime, cuts it into quarters, and tosses them into the bottom of a short glass; she adds two-and-a-half tablespoons of sugar. Then out comes the pestle, and Sidki gets busy pushing and grinding the citrus/sugar combination into a gooey stew. She does this for a few minutes, and when she's finished the bottom third of the glass is filled with a natural lime syrup. She then fills the glass with cachaça, a Brazilian liquor that, unlike its brother, rum, is clear (cachaça's distilled not with molasses, as rum is, but with cane sugar alone) and flavorful, more willing to acquiesce to the lime's bitter strength.

The result resembles a short, saltless margarita and sort of tastes like one because of all that lime. But the caipirinha's got more of a backbone and will get weaklings drunk pronto, like after one of them (you can tell which tables are on their second or third helpings: their laughter borders on hysteria, and there's a lot of touching going on). The best part of the caipirinha, though, is about ten minutes into its existence. When the concoction is given time to mature, the ice starts to melt and meld with the citrus stew, and the ice becomes coated with a sort of glaze. When the drink itself has been downed, the ice remains, and it's sour and sweet and cold and delicious. Sucking on ice cubes has never been so satisfying.

 
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