Barely Brazilian

A Brazilian's diet depends on his pocketbook as well as the region of his birth. In a country known for its economic discrepancies, only a small percentage indulge the carnivore's craving. The less affluent cook a variety of beans and local fish. Those in the Amazonian areas utilize an array of indigenous fruits, and fish for the wealth of the waters.

Sweets, however, are a tradition for nearly everyone, which is hardly surprising in a country that is ruled by the sugar cane. At the Vila the passion fruit crepe ($4.50), filled with cream and served over a puree of fruit, was a tart treat. The rice pudding brule ($3.50) also excelled, the rice having maintained its grain instead of disintegrating into a globular mass. The chocolate mousse with almonds ($3.50), however, was disappointing, a pudding-like mound too dense for my pleasure.

Despite my interest in it, dessert does not ensure success for a restaurant. Were the Vila to abandon its Continental theme (and its chef) and develop the flair of Brazil, it might seem an establishment likely to endure, perhaps even attract the many vacationing Brazilians who frequent Miami. As it stands now, it appears that only a handful of business diners and hotel guests who don't know better are giving the kitchen staff reason to return from whence they roam during their hours off duty.

And although transience has an upside -- the menu changes every three weeks, about the lifespan of a butterfly -- I found disturbing how very temporary the Vila seemed. Incomplete, like our expectations, would be an applicable word. For despite its being open a year, we saw Spackle on the walls where outlets should be. And the enormous showcase kitchen looked entirely too new, as if never properly used. It appeared similar to a set designed for television, awaiting an operator like Jeff Smith (we hardly ever spotted the real "frugal gourmet," heard pots clanging, or sniffed the sizzle of cooking food) to release it from sterility.

THE VILA RESTAURANT 5959 SW 70th St., South Miami; 669-9108. Open daily from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m., noon to 2:30 p.m., and 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

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