It’s kinda hard to tell if Tapizon is a restaurant with a lot of art… or an art gallery with a lot of food. Either way, there is an abundance of both.
Enter Main Street, and you pass a huge mural of… what? Appears to be a boy and a girl falling through a forest of vines, surrounded by dark birds. There is a propeller plane pattern found here and there on the walls, and a propeller plane pattern flying over a city. (I think the marking on the wing – NC865 – refers to a cargo plane of the time. But that’s just a guess.) There’s a fantastic photo of Pelé hitting one of his legendary windmill goals on one of the walls. And even the wall is fascinating, made of a material that makes it look like an ancient ruin.
There’s an entrance to the bar on the Tapizôn side, just off the back parking lot, with gold lettering on the window that makes it look like a classic grand saloon from a century ago. The ceiling lights are worth considering while you enjoy your classic Caipirinha cocktail. Even the lighting behind the bar is intriguing, bringing a mysterious blue hue to the room.
And of course, Tapizôn’s logo — an irregular circle topped by a caret — is a symbolic mystery. The joint gets confused. And entering, in this era of COVID, can also be confusing.
To their credit, the folks behind Tapizôn are very careful about masking and social distancing. Show up without a reservation (like I did), and you’ll be told nothing is available – even though there are unoccupied tables and unused bar seats. The distance must be maintained. And it is, even if it means turning away customers. But hey, it was a Saturday night, when you’d expect the new guy on Main Street to be busy.
Weekdays can be much less demanding. And the weekend brunch is downright relaxed. As brunch should be. Especially if you find solace in Brazil’s love of mixed exoticism. Of which there is much to find solace.
The house specialty, as it should be, is Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, made with lime, sugar and cachaça, a distillate of sugar cane, and a cousin of rum. Although its creator is lost to time, the drink appears to have originated in Portugal, which made the transition to the Portuguese colony of Brazil a natural next step, especially considering that sugar cane was grown in Brazil.
Today it is ubiquitous in Brazil, where it is consumed by the glass and full pitcher, as a refreshment and as a cough medicine. It’s a Swiss Army cocktail, with many uses. And as served at the Tapizôn, it’s sure to be good!
It actually comes in six different versions. There’s the 1918 Original, made with a choice of Leblon or Avua cachaca, for anyone who knows the difference. Capiruva is made with grapes. Capiroska with vodka, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Maracuja with passion fruit juice. The Tres Lima with lemon, mandarin and lime. And the Sakerinha with sake and kiwi. Tapizôn’s elbow pads will probably never leave the bar.
If they make it during weekend brunch, they’ll stumble upon a selection of dishes that meander between California and Cal-Brazilian — like grilled mini portobello with tabasco-glazed onions; Tapi-Ovos scrambled egg tacos; and the classic feijoada smoked meat stew with black beans, green cabbage and the grilled cassava porridge called farofa.
The fusion of cuisines gets even stronger at dinner, with a menu of dishes unparalleled in SoCal.
Although feijoada – the long-cooked beef or pork stew with beans – isn’t actually on the menu, there are many close cousins. Tapi-Tacos, made with tapioca flour, are stuffed with smoked beef brisket, smoked chicken, pulled pork and smoked tofu. You want black beans, they are available as a side dish. Smoked brisket and smoked tofu are also in the Tapi-Pot-Pie. And you get black beans in the bowls, with a choice of six proteins. You can also get a Classic Burger, Brazilian only, with yucca fries.
Not so long ago, it seemed like every restaurant that opened served different cuisine than anything we had ever seen before. Unfortunately, it’s been a while since this kind of culinary creativity visited us. We eat well these days. But we also eat familiar. And COVID has further curtailed that creativity.
Tapizôn sets a new standard for fusion cuisine, even in the midst of the omicron wave. And if the food means nothing to you, well, there is always the bar. Feijoada may not be your stew of choice. But the Caipirinha brings a lot of joy to the darkest days. Make mine a double.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance food critic based in Los Angeles. Email [email protected]
- Evaluation: 3 stars
- Address: 450 Main Street, El Segundo
- Information: 310-648-8401; www.tapizon.com
- Food: Modern Cal-Brazilian
- When: Brunch and happy hour, Saturday and Sunday; dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
- Details: Full bar; reservations essential
- Atmosphere: Quirky, art-filled space at the northern end of the El Segundo row of restaurants, with outdoor seating, a lively bar, and an entrance that takes some searching. A very fun room with the kind of food little known here in SoCal. And lots of cocktails.
- Prices: About $35 per person
- Suggested dishes: 7 Small Bites (Pratinhos) ($9-$17), 4 Tapi-Tacos ($10-$12), 2 Tapi-Pot-Pies ($15-$17), 4 Sopas & Saladas ($5-$14 ), 7 Prato Feito Bowls ($14-$21), 5 Burgers & Sliders ($15-$17), 7 Sides ($4-$9), 3 Desserts ($9-$12), 6 Caipirinhas (14 $)
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it write on it.)