Surely nothing feels more emblematic of the changing world economy than seeing well heeled Chinese tourists in Rio de Janeiro, one of the worldʼs boom cities, and one of itsʼ most beautiful, drinking caipirinhas, buying aquamarines and chugging to the top of the Corcovado to snap photos of Cristo Redentor, the enormous soapstone statue of Jesus Christ that guards this harbor with almost defiant grandiosity.
But since this space is more concerned with the eating habits and libations here in the Ciudade Maravillhosa, the “marvelous city”, Iʼd rather speak about gastronomy. Before I do, though, two brief words about my trip here. First of all, pictures donʼt do justice to an environment too breathtaking to describe; it really is more beautiful than the photos.
Secondly, I have to put in a plug for American Airlines International Business Class, the carrier that brought me here. Most of you know that the airline is restructuring financially, and that they have taken a major hit. Iʼm here to tell you the food, service and amenities are better than ever.
Beds lie flat, they give you Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones for a nice selection of In-Flight movies, and the cuisine is taken care of by two chefs with a now or one-time Vegas presence, Richard Sandoval of Isla in the TI, and Cindy Hutson of Miami whose Paris Las Vegas Ortanique, long gone, is still missed. (It never quite caught on here.) The food in Rio has surprised me in many ways. Cariocas love fried foods, which isnʼt what you expect in a beachy place. Everything turns into a croquette, even feijoada, a black bean stew currently re-invented by a woman chef at a trendy local eatery. (Read on.)
Then, there is the immense amount of garlic in dishes here. Brazilians consider garlic a food group. Who knew? Here are three places to eat in Rio, with more to follow later the next time Iʼm sober.
Casa de Feijoada
Feijoada is Brazilʼs national dish, and Cariocas are almost unanimous in proclaiming this feijoada, stewed black beans eaten with rice, various cuts of pork and side dishes, as the cityʼs (and therefore the countryʼs) best example. No argument here. This is a cozy place with rattan walls, fruit caipis served from pitchers, and family style service.
The feast begins with a tiny cup of garlicky bean soup, followed by tiny rusks of bread and a condiment tray of olives, spiced cheese cubes and mild red peppers. Then, a ceramic pot of beans and a bowl of white rice are brought, along with shredded kale, a dish containing pork cracklings and farofa (crunchy manioc flour) and fried manioc root.
The piece de resistance is a giant pot of meats swimming in more beans: linguica, a smoked sausage, ribs, chourico, another sausage, and carne seca, literally “dry meat”.
Natives and aficianados get the ears, tail and tongue, but they were nowhere found at my table, all gringos. Just put all the ingredients together and dig in. If you want the ear and so forth, just ask, or bring a matador. The meal is filing, but sensational.
(55) 21 2523 4994
Fogo de Chao
The noted chain has recently opened a gigantic concrete spaceship of a restaurant, designed by a student of fabled 104-year old architect Oscar Niemeyer, but what will impress you is inside. One may ask why one would want to eat in a rodizio that has a number of restaurants (17) in the United States. The answer is that the experience is profoundly different.
The format, multiple trips to a salad bar followed by gauchos gliding to your table with various cuts of beef, lamb and chicken on skewers until you cry tio (uncle) is similar. Iʼm a fan of grass-fed beef from Uruguay, the top cut here, as well as tasty cuts of beef from Brazil, ordered from a chart picturing a cow divided into 24 separate choices. Whatʼs more, the salad bar has items like pupunha, Brazilian Portuguese for hearts of palm, wonderful when fresh, arroz negro, a fluffy black rice, and other options not found on the American buffet here. The one downside is the price. At 92 Reals ($53) itʼs pricier than the experience in the US, even more so when one chooses an a la carte dessert
such as their delicious maracuna parfait, an unctuous passion fruit cream.
Av. Reporter Nestor Moreira 6/11, Botafogo. (55) 21 2542 1545.
Auto-didacte Katia Barbosa has been heavily influenced by Afro-Brazilian cooking. At her white hot, down home restaurant, located a brisk five minute walk from Metro San Christovao station, youʼll discover some of the most innovative, exciting fare in Rio.
When I first peeked at the menu and saw that an appetizer, cordeiritos, won the Doritos Challenge for 2010, I sniffed at the idea. Then I tasted it, minced, spiced lamb on a bed of creamy polenta topped with crunchy crumbs from the corn chips, and I saw the point.
Chef Katia loves to take festive Brazilian dishes such as feijoada and codfish with chick peas and onions, then combine them into bolinhos, delicious bite-sized croquettes. The feijoada ball is a black bean fritter with kale and bacon on the inside. Bolinho de bacalao is garbanzo bean based, like falafel, with a mild brandade-like center. Both are simply brilliant. Galinha a la Angola, stewed chicken with chilies, okra and onion, is one of the best dishes in the city. For dessert, donʼt miss cachaca flan, a coconut pudding in a rich sauce made from cane sugar, butter and the incendiary Brazilian spirit.
Rue Barao dse Iguatemi 379, Praca de Bandeira. (55) 21 2273-1035.
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