La Casserole balances between tradition and the ‘boil’ of Largo do Arouche

La Casserole balances between tradition and the ‘boil’ of Largo do Arouche

It’s Friday night in Largo do Arouche. Groups of well-dressed friends chatter in front of the French restaurant La Casserole — some of them wait to enter the house, while others wait to go to Infini, a bar owned by the same owners and open inside the same property, in the center of São Paulo.

Right next door is a gay sauna. A few meters away, people chat while drinking beers at the bar on the corner. At Mercado das Flores, a new bar welcomes couples, seated among plants. There’s a hot dog van in front of the ground floor, a drink spot nearby.

Homeless people try to get some change, but are soon turned away by security. It’s good to be smart with cell phones. Meanwhile, the LGBTQIA+ community begins to boil and occupy Avenida Vieira de Carvalho, which connects Arouche to Praça da República.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the heart of all this activity is La Casserole, which for 68 years has kept waiters lined up serving classic French cuisine in the same place. But this does not mean that space has stopped in time or that its roots have not generated branches and fruits.

For three generations at the address, the Henry family has created a small ecosystem with businesses that are in every way different — but, at the same time, harmonious. This is the case of the ultramodern Infini drinks bar, which is hidden inside the Casserole’s former events room. There is also the Bar das Flores, which works inside a flower shop opposite the restaurant. Finally, the ground floor serves drinks to a younger audience.

But it all starts more than half a century ago, when the restaurant opened at a time when the region represented the most sophisticated in the capital. It was when houses like Fasano and Rubaiyat had units there in Vieira de Carvalho, before following the flow of the city’s growth and going up towards the Jardins.

In the 1990s, the mood shifted to decadent glamour, portrayed even on television. It was in Arouche, for example, that the bankrupt family lived, but full of pomp, from the humorous “Sai de Baixo”, released in 1996 on Globo. But this region of São Paulo has changed once again — and it’s becoming a cool place, as well as the square, which underwent a renovation in 2020.

“We had a little bit of difficulty at that time, when this change of axis in the city started. But never to the point of questioning whether we should move or not”, says Marie Henry, 65, who now runs the business with her son Leo, 31. It was his parents, Fortunée Henry and Roger Henry, who opened Casserole in May 1954.

She says that there has been no lack of invitations in recent years to move to Itaim Bibi, the Jardins region or a mall. “I’ve always denied them all.”

“There are people who call us to let us know that they are leaving another city to come and eat such a dish”, completes Leo Henry. That is why it is unthinkable that any of the medallions on the menu will undergo any change.

The specialty there is classic French cuisine. Some recipes are prepared practically the same way since the opening, such as the snails, served in Burgundy style, in garlic and herb butter, from R$ 78. The steak tartare follows the same path, with minced meat and served raw. with fries, for R$74. The same goes for the filet au poivre, filet mignon in a mild pepper sauce plus creamed potatoes, which costs R$89.

But this demand for tradition does not stifle the kitchen or the environment. The house classics section is followed by a series of vegetarian and pasta suggestions that certainly do not appear in traditional French recipe books. These are Marie’s creations to please a wider range of customers. Among the dishes, the black rice with seafood (R$ 87) and the barley risotto with mini-vegetables and cassava chips (R$ 59) stand out.

The salon also underwent discreet touches here and there. The last renovation was at the end of 2019. “People enter Casserole and say that everything is the same. It’s just not”, says Leo. “We changed the color of the walls, the paintings changed, we removed the chandeliers”, he lists.

If within the restaurant the watchword is tradition, the surroundings follow the drumbeat of experimentation —especially after Leo joined the business, about ten years ago. “Before I even entered, I understood that Casserole was not a place to bring a bunch of new proposals, but to respect your identity,” he says.

Leo started exploring the possibilities of Largo do Arouche in 2019 with the opening of Térreo, a bar with good and cheap drinks aimed at a young audience. Soon the Infini project began, the space for high-end cocktails and sophisticated architecture created in partnership with businessman Facundo Guerra and chef Daniela França. The new house shares the property with the restaurant since the end of 2021.

The opening of Infini inspired the creation of yet another bar, at Mercado das Flores, the traditional space for buying plants that has been in operation since 1927 in Largo do Arouche. “The Flower Market was one of the reasons that led my grandparents to choose the place to open the restaurant”, says Leo. The florist’s owner jokes that the business dated all these years, but only now decided to get married.

“Getting out of the car and walking straight into a restaurant is an experience like anywhere else,” says Casserole’s owner. But he argues that the difference lies in the address and in its options — like starting the night with a drink at a flower shop or combining dinner in a classic French house with a party in Vieira de Carvalho.

As you leave the restaurant and leave the red facade of La Casserole behind, the fauna of the Arouche presents itself once again. People enter the sauna, couples make love in the square, friends wait in the queues, but also homeless people and all kinds of people pass towards Cracolândia, which spreads through neighboring streets, alleys and avenues. “It’s people who are here in the neighborhood, they’re not a thorn in the side”, says Leo.

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