The vibe at the former Siberia turned balmy with the opening of the Carnaval Lounge (2227 St. Claude Ave.; www.carnavallounge.com). The brightly renovated interior now includes Cozinha de Carnaval, where chef Gustavo Naar serves a menu inspired by Brazilian street food. Prior to overseeing Cozinha, Naar worked in restaurants including Vincent’s Italian Cuisine, Alex Patout’s on the Northshore, Juan’s Flying Burrito, Grand Isle, Estano and Arabella Casa di Pasta. At Carnaval, Naar applies that diverse experience to his native cuisine.
G: How did you discover the kitchen?
Naar: I was born in Rio de Janeiro and moved to the United States just shy of 4 years old. I grew up on the Northshore, but instead of spending the summers here, I would fly back to Brazil and spend the summers there with my dad. He’s the one that got me into cooking; then my mom. I would always watch my dad make Brazilian dishes like shrimp and fish moqueca, which is a dish cooked down in coconut milk with fish, shrimp, herbs and peppers, served over rice. That’s one of the first recipes I asked my dad for.
G: What were your inspirations for this menu?
N: The seasoning for the steaks is my grandma’s recipe, which I don’t have written down. It just stays in my head. I thought of all the times I’d go back to Brazil, eating street food. A lot of the menu (at Carnaval) is named after my family. My brother loves burgers, so I named the house burger the Leo. The marinades for the skewers were all passed down from my grandma to my mom and some from my dad’s side. My dad is originally from Egypt, so I put tabbouleh on the menu, named for him, just to have another vegetarian option.
G: How does this cuisine fit in with the way people eat in New Orleans?
N: On Mondays, we serve feijoada, which is black bean stew with all the leftover pieces of meat that you butchered all week, with carne seca and linguica, a Brazilian sausage. Normally feijoada is served on Sunday in Brazil, but I was like, you know what? I’m going to take a spin on red beans and rice and do feijoada instead.
I hope people will try some of the less familiar dishes, like the barbecued chicken hearts. A lot of people come in here, look at it and say, “Eh, I’m not sure.” And I say, “Just try one.” Somebody will have one, and the next thing you know, all 12 hearts on the skewer are gone. Those and the yuca fries — we are actually frying the root of the yuca plant. It’s a crunchier, starchier thick-cut potato that we’re doing for another vegetarian option.
The idea at Carnaval is that you can listen to some music, munch on a couple of steaks on a skewer and then keep going. We’ve got a couple of big entree plates like the [pork ribs dusted with farofa] and the Parmesan-crusted pork loin, but most of it is small plates. Come, hang out, enjoy the show. I don’t want you to feel like you have to sit. It’s a ‘make yourself at home’ kind of feel.