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Tempero do Brasil brings the Amazon to the Ave.

Entering Tempero do Brasil is to leave the Ave.'s cold, wet, paved sidewalk behind and step into a warm, vibrant South American world. Housed at the north end of University Way just before Cowen Park, this small, cozy restaurant is the best place in Seattle you haven't tried yet. Forget the Pho and pack up the pizza, because you've just been officially invited to the Bahia.

Just inside the patio, which is enclosed during the winter months, patrons are welcomed with lush green plants hanging from the canopy's ceiling and heating lamps that feel like you've stepped into the Amazon. The aroma emanating from beyond the tiled kitchen doorway is alluring. The walls are taxi-cab yellow and fire-engine red, and all are adorned with sharp-framed photographs of South American relics, people and places. Live music begins around 8 p.m. on weekends, and just before then, Tempero starts to fill up.

The wait staff is friendly and welcoming, and soon you'll feel like you're in someone's family kitchen. Don't be afraid to ask how to say some of the menu items because staff will gladly teach you the proper Portuguese pronunciation. And when you butcher the title of your dinner anyway, you'll just get a forgiving "oh-that's-cute" smile.

Start your evening with one of four unique Tira-Gostos, or appetizers. One of the most popular items is the Casquinha de Siri ($8.95), which is baked shredded crab meat tossed with finely diced green peppers, onions, a little garlic and cilantro.

Tempero do Brasil offers a variety of entrees that will suit the tastes of any student while still maintaining the fabulous tastes and local essences south of the equator.

The Frutos do Mar, the seafood entrees, are listed first and foremost and are touted as Tempero's specialties. One option is the Moqueca de Peixe ($16.95), which is a halibut fish filet sauteed with vegetables in coconut milk, lime juice and palm oil. The fish is fresh and cooked to perfection -- light and flaky but not dry. Other seafood options include prawns and codfish, and Tempero do Brasil also offers several chicken-based dishes, all of which are made with white breast meat.

Vegetarians can savor a similar coconut-citrus sauce with the primavera ($10.95), which includes diced potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, green peppers, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash all sauteed in coconut milk, garlic, lime juice and a splash of tomato sauce. The sheer combination of colors on the plate is so striking, it looks almost pretty enough to frame.

For a taste of real everyday Brasilian fare, go for the house special. Described by staff as "the national passion enjoyed every weekend in Brasil," the Feijoada ($15.95) is a traditional savory stew of black beans cooked slowly with meats including ham hock, sausage and beef.

Although you won't have any room for dessert, only a fool would pass up Tempero's sweet Sobremesas. A Seattle exclusive, Tempero boasts the Musse de Maracuja ($5.25), a delicate, airy passion fruit mousse drizzled lightly with honey and crowned with mint leaves. Don't bother sharing -- you might start a brawl.

For patrons who dream in chocolate, try the Bolo Musse de Chocolate ($4.95), chocolate mousse cake that Tempero's frequent fliers rave is "amazing." If you cheer for cheesecake or panhandle for pudding, then opt for the Pudim de Leite ($3.95), the Brazilian version of caramel flan. Lighter than cheesecake, this little wedge of caramel wonder is so sweet and creamy, be thankful you're in public. Home alone, you'd lick the plate.

Tempero do Brasil is a bit pricier than most eats on the Ave. and the receipt is not itemized, so diners can't divvy up the check. But when considering the warmth of both the food and the staff, and the overwhelming originality of the dishes and decor, the tab is totally worthwhile. Gather your friends for an instant culinary vacation, or impress someone special with cuisine unlike anything they've tried before. Step out of Seattle for a moment and jet-set down the Ave. to Tempero do Brasil. The Bahia is waiting for you.

Tempero do Brasil is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. -- 10 p.m. and is located at 5628 University Way NE. Large groups should make reservations at (206) 523-6229, and more information, including a menu, is available online at temperodobrasil.net.

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