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authentic flavors

Real, Tasty

Three tried-and-true treats and where to find them, no matter how far

September 16, 2007|Chris Rubin; Chris Erskine; Avital Binshtock

CACHACA

LOS ANGELES

Brazil's 'coolest export since the bikini wax'

Brazil leads the world in ethanol production, creating the biofuel from sugar cane. That same cheap and plentiful ingredient goes into cachaca (kah-SHAH-sah), the rum-like spirit of the country. It's what gives a unique kick to the caipirinha, the national cocktail, which ranks as Brazil's coolest export since the bossa nova and the bikini wax.

Cachaca is the third most consumed spirit (after vodka and soju) in the world. The drink began to catch on in Southern California in 2004, but like Mexico's tequila, cachaca recently has gone upscale with a handful of new luxury brands, such as Agua Luca, Cabana and Leblon.

Some sip cachaca straight, and any of the aforementioned labels reward that effort, but it reaches its full potential when mixed with muddled limes and sugar in the crisp caipirinha, a cooling cocktail that nimbly straddles the sweet-sour line. Cariocas, as residents of Rio call themselves, pack the two outposts of Academia da Cachaca, where nearly 100 labels of the stuff are available, along with many variations of the caipirinha, to quench their thirst.

Locally, drop in at Bar Nineteen12 at the Beverly Hills Hotel or Ciudad in downtown L.A. to try a classic caipirinha made with fresh ingredients.

Ciudad, 445 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 486-5171; Bar Nineteen12, Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 273-1912.

--Chris Rubin

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OLALLIEBERRIES

CAMBRIA

Love child of the blackberry and raspberry

Cambria, Calif., is almost too precious, a town made of candles and butterflies. It's what the world would look like if your grammy were in charge. But Cambria also is a prime nesting place of the underappreciated olallieberry.

Underappreciated what?

"We have so many guests who are surprised to learn that it's a real berry," says Marjorie Ott of the Olallieberry Inn. "They think we made it up."

Well, someone did. The olallieberry (pronounced oh-LA-la-berry) is the love child of the blackberry and European red raspberry. Developed at Oregon State in the late '40s for use in the Northwest, the olallieberry thrived better in California. It is found in moist, temperate zones such as Santa Cruz and around Cambria, where it's used in pies, preserves, lemonade and other sweet treats.

Larger and more tart than a blackberry, the olallie holds up well in baking. It has zing; it has character. So why isn't this berry more prevalent?

"They are low-producing when compared to a grape or tomato plant," says Aaron Linn of Linn's Fruit Bin. Although Linn's sells olallieberry products all year, the actual berry season is short--the end of May to the end of July.

Somehow, little berry, that only makes me want you more.

Linn's Fruit Bin, www.linnsfruitbin.com.

--Chris Erskine

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COFFEE

SEATTLE

Hot brews from the coffee capital

In Seattle, hometown of Starbucks, coffee is a topic locals debate with buzz-induced fervor. Among the city's most beloved indie purveyors:

Caffe Vita's employees locked their back-alley dumpsters when spies from other companies began making nighttime dives to find out what goes into Vita's divine espresso blend. Its execs travel the coffee-producing world to establish trade with farmers. At home, they oversee a small roasting factory and four cafes where customers can get their fill. www.caffevita.com.

Espresso Vivace comes up whenever you ask Seattle residents about their favorite coffee roaster. There's usually a line of customers out the door waiting for its dark, rich espresso, which has won a devoted fan base. www.espressovivace.com.

Lighthouse Roasters has just one location, though its owner is considering a new store in San Francisco. Its small space (six tables) is presided over by the redhead manning the bar. This is Chris Wilson, who says, "It's not really my boss' vision to take over the world." (206) 634-3140, www.lighthouseroasters.com.

Bauhaus Books & Coffee best embodies the Seattle ethic; it's an urban gem that attracts an eclectic intellectual crowd. Floor-to-ceiling windows afford a view of the Space Needle. In the staircase, a bulletin board overflows with community messages. (206) 625-1600.

--Avital Binshtock

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