In the movie "Chef," which is currently playing in Tucson theaters, a chef leaves his job at a Los Angeles restaurant following a berating from food critics, and ends up selling Cubano sandwiches from a food truck in Miami.
At Saint House Island Bistro & Rum Bar, 256 E. Congress Street, hospitality manager Jordan Mandell keeps a close eye on local movie times, because his Cubano sales reliably start to spike within minutes of "Chef’s" closing credits.
“That sandwich plays such a central role in the movie, and we have people coming down here from all over town wanting to experience it for themselves once they leave the theater,” said Mandell.
If a sandwich is able to produce a measurable bump in sales with fewer than two hours on the screen, just imagine what the weeks-long World Cup in Brazil has done to Saint House’s Caipirinha business.
Mandell tells me that the Caipirinha is the national beverage of Brazil, and Saint House has sold more of them in the past two weeks than it has in the past two months.
The cocktail is built around Cachaca, a spirit that has been distilled from sugarcane juice in Brazil since the 16th century. While it may resemble rum from its sugary source, Cachaca is made from the cane juice itself, where rum has traditionally been distilled from sugar byproducts such as molasses.
The cocktail’s architecture is profound in its simplicity, as Mandell demonstrated during a recent tasting.
He starts by quartering and muddling half of a lime in a cocktail shaker together with a brown sugar syrup known as demerara. To that he adds two ounces of the Cachaca and eight hand-cracked ice cubes. After an aerobic shake, Mandell pours the cocktail into a glass and it’s ready to enjoy.
“The Caipirinha has a distinct flavor that has become very popular,” said Mandell, “not quite a margarita, not quite a daiquiri.”
He explained that the Cachaca rests for one to two years in barrels made from a wood known as freijo, which is sourced from trees in the lower Amazon.
“Depending on how long it rests, the aging process introduces a range of flavors to the Cachaca,” he said.
“I personally pick up some pepper and grape seed on the one that’s been aged for a year, and un-ripened banana, honey and dried fruit on those that have spent more time in the barrel.”
While people have been drinking like Rio at Saint House this month, Mandell says that there’s been a lot of eating like Rio as well.
“There really isn’t anything on our menu that wouldn’t pair nicely with the Caipirinha,” he said, “but our Brazilian Steakhouse Tacos have been a particular favorite during World Cup.”
The taco’s foundation is Angus beef which has been braised for 12 hours. It’s combined with fried potatoes, arugula, caramelized onions, cotija cheese and a chimichurri sauce, all served in a flour tortilla with a side of black beans, rice and greens.
“The savory notes of the beef in the taco balance well with the sweeter notes in the Caipirinha,” Mandell points out.
“The flavors of this region are fun, adventurous, even a bit sexy,” said Mandell. “We just love introducing them to people for the first time, especially when we have the unique opportunity to make them their first Caipirinha.”
In 2018, Russia is scheduled to host the World Cup, which gives Natasha Kalina, of Tucson’s Kalina Russian Cuisine, four years to prepare. Bring on the borscht.
(Editor's Note: Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030-AM.)