Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rio - Pork, Special 4U!

Hello, my name is Jim and I'm a food whore. Thats why this post will be the longest, its food related.

Instead of a day by day progression through the wonderful world of culinary Rio here is a list of places we tried and loved along with some stories and general comments.

Marina Hotel
Av. Delfim Moreira
630 - Leblon
Rio de Janeiro 22441-000

Its a good introduction to the food scene and how things will differ from home. Try the Club Sandwich. I know, it sounds boring but when the plate arrives you will notice the subtle differences. First, its made with ground pork, bacon and ham. Pork-o-rama, a harbinger of things to come. Also notice the fried egg, you will see this again, on eveything. Cheese, lots of cheese. They will bring you additional salt but black pepper does not appear on any table in Rio.

Primary rule of eating in Rio: You bettter like pork, cheese and salt or you are in trouble.

Definitely order a coffee. They will ask you if you want a double or single. Sounds strange, doesnt it? Not really and be prepared, all coffee in Rio is espresso. I, for one, loved the fact that the whole city completely understood my addiction to strong coffee. MY PEOPLE, YOU KNOW ME! lol. Don't be silly and ask for decaf, they won't understand what you're talking about. As Juvenal said, 'Why take the caffeine out of coffee, its why you drink it, no?'

Couldnt agree with you more, Juvenal!

Also try the free breakfast bar here. Definitely help yourself to a plate of fruit: papaya, guava, kiwi and a host of fruits you will not recognize. I particularly like the big green pimply fruit that tasted like a grape. Now that you have that out of the way go back for the Brasileiro breakfast. Take two slices of buttery cheese bread, add some cheese (just for adhesion of other ingredients) and some ham (about 1/2 pound), add some more cheese, making sure there is enough so when you melt the whole thing under the broiler the ham and bread totally disappear in a sea of melted cheese. Enjoy! Oh, dont forget to add salt, you know, because the ham and cheese dont have nearly enough! lol

Rua Barão da Tôrre
667 - Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro

Sushi, I could eat my weight in sushi. When Dutch recommended we try Tenkai for sushi I had to contain my squeals. I think I've eaten enough sushi to form a small island. In Dallas, the best fare comes from Teppo. Tenkai makes Teppo seem like Jimshi (for those of you that remember my ill-fated burrito sized attempt at making sushi at home). Everything was so squeaky fresh and immaculately presented. The Buritoro Sashimi just melted in our mouths, 15 pieces of lovely, buttery yellowtail tuna and at the whopping cost of $6. We almost ordered another one but we remembered the other 400 items previously ordered that had not yet arrived.

The sushi was not the only highlight here, there were Caipirinhas -- Sake Caipirinhas. Standard Capirinhas are great, the lime and Cachaca are bitingly refreshing, but the Sake Caipirinhas are smooth and velvety, pairing nicely with the subtle flavors of the sushi.

The real highlight here was our server, Francesco or simply Cesco to his friends, he was easily the best looking man we saw in Rio. 23 years old, full time student and full time server and just two years into learning English. We bonded over our love of languages, umm, yeah, languages, I'll go with that. When we tallied up our bill it was rather large. In Rio there is an automatic 10% added in for gratuity. Since Cesco went out of his way to make us all comfortable we gave him another 10%, R$50, or about US$20. You would have thought by his expression we had given him the Hope Diamond. My guess is people dont usually go beyond the included gratuity. He thanked us profusely, we did the same and told him we'd be back.

We came back. The second time we had more people so we opted for the sushi 'boat'. We saw a group enjoying the 'boat' on the last trip so we ordered it. A 'boat' comes is sizes, so we got the one for 4; a big wooden boat that spanned our table for six, end to end with little room for anything else. A boat has a list of items on it, no substitutions. Cesco made substitutions, lots of them, expensive substitutions. Plus he brought out other plates 'on him'.

When we left from our second round Cesco asked "You will come back to Rio, no?" Well, duh, of course we will! "I'll wait for you", he said. I think he meant I'll look for you but its a nice thought just the same.

Various locations

Looking for a quick crepe fix? Try Bibi, its fantastic. Thinking your crepe will be of the light fare variety made infamous by the French? Think again, this isnt France. The crepe is definitely heavier in texture and its brimming with ingredients. Try the ham (yes, more pork!), cheese (yes, more cheese!), tomato and oregano crepe. Dont forget to smother it in the salted garlic butter that will come with!

Rua Barão da Torre
218 Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro, 22411-000

No trip to Brasil is complete without visiting a churrascaria, a 'steakhouse' Brasileiro style. If you live in Dallas, no doubt you've heard of or been to Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil. These are excellent but mere child's play compared to the de facto churrascaria of Rio, Porcao.

Our happy Porcao staff!

If you don't like meat, you are in trouble. Slab upon slab will be brought into your proximity. Don't bother with the little stop and go sign that indicates whether or not you want more, they ignore it. See the guy on the right of picture? One of the many knife wielding servers ready to slice you a piece of whatever they were carrying. But this guy had a pitch everytime he came around.

Agentinian baby beef, very special for you!
Filet in bacon, special for you!
Frog hearts in garlic butter, so very, very special, and all for you!

Everything was very special for you! Damn man, are you getting a commission per slab? But really, it was special. The beef was excellent and very tasty, not just because it had been marinated in salt and garlic butter before being grilled to its 'special for you' perfection. One of the favorites was the pork loin that had been marinated in a garlic butter. It was about 2 inches thick but barely needed a chew before it melted in your mouth.

The happy Porcao carnivores

Are you a non-smoker? Well, 'not so special' for you then. You're going to hate the fact that outside of the Rio airport there are virtually no non-smoking sections anywhere. People generally smoke while they eat too; pork in one hand, cigarette in the other.

Feel uncomfortable dining out with hookers? Again, 'not so special' for you. We had a blast when a group of older men came in with their 'dates', both of which were about 40 years younger and drop dead gorgeous. We particularly liked the one lady that left the tag on the outside of her skin tight white dress, she was obviously just being pratical, the dress was most likely going back the next day.

Dutch made nice with the restaurant manager (first pic, on the left). When he found out Dutch was from New York we discovered another interesting fact about Brasileiros, most want visas to the US. Restaurant manager boy would not let the visa conversation drop, somehow knowing that Dutch would know the right people to get him a visa. He relentlessly pursued it, even offering to meet us after dinner to carry on the conversation. Dang hoss, let it go!

Let me say first that I will defintely revisit Porcao on my return to Rio, however, for two days following that meal I felt like I was retaining the Pacific Ocean in my stomach. Maybe it was all the salt or maybe its that I'm mostly vegetarian now and I overloaded my system with meat, regardless, that feeling was not so special for me.

Arab Copacabana
Av. Atlantica
1936 Copacabana
Rio de Janeiro 2235-6698

One night we decided to taxi it down to Copa. We had abmitions of going to the street fair to pick up some presents but wound up taking a lengthy dinner at Arab. Its the subtle differences that we noticed first. Hummous is made from the usual ingredients but they added black beans and vinegar. Tasty but way off course from authentic hummous. Cheese tarts were defintely feta based but they had used a bit of cardomon to spice it up, again very tasty.

Each one of us ordered a sampler platter. We almost hid in shame when all of the plates hit the table. There must of been 30 plates of food, smaller than regular dinner plates but still, we almost had to annex an adjoining table to make room for everything. We managed to finish just about everything though, face saved.

The best part of Arab Copacabana is the al fresco dining. A cool breeze constantly made it way around us and the salty sea air smelled just as good as the lamb kabobs.

Dominos Pizza
Yeah, I can see you rolling your eyes back in your head. You went all the way to Rio to eat pizza? Well, that particular day we left our cushy digs by the beach and walked deep into the neighborhood where the real people live to hunt out bikes to rent for the day. It was past lunch time and we were starving. We all descended on the Dominos because it was close. No, the pizza isnt much different. But they do something interesting, they serve it with a dessert pizza: carmelized bananas, sugar and cinnamon. Wow, its was fantastic! If you see a Dominos definitely stop in for the Banana Pizza!

One side note, they serve ketchup with pizza. I dont know if this is the way they eat it in Rio or if they thought that since we were Americans, ketchup would be the appropriate condiment.

Rua Joana Angélica
40 Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro

OH. MY. GOD. This goes down in history as one of my top 3 meals, ever.

It was our last evening in Rio so we decided to go out with a bang. Dutch had been here before and he knew that this would be the perfect place for closing dinner. Did I mention Dutch has exquisite taste?

We unanimously decided to try the Tasting Menu; seven courses (plus dessert) selected by the chef. It was pricey for Rio R$120 or US$50 but what the heck! We had our champagne toast and the parade of plates began. I'm simply going to list the courses without commentary, I think they speak for themselves. But please, if you ever find yourself in Rio, you owe it to yourself to try this place!

  • Altantic Cod in Coarse Salt; vanilla and prosecco seasoned vegetables.
  • Veal Filet Mignon; white beans, tomatoes and rosemary.
  • Cashew Nut Crusted Tuna in Balsamic-Teriyaki Sauce; horseradish whipped potatoes.
  • Duck Breast In Thyme Honey Glaze; potato pear gratin and cardamon sauce.
  • Skirt Steak In White Pepper Caramel; leek and potato confit.
  • Shrimp Risotto; lemon and green apples.
  • Fresh Foie Gras Steak; mini pancakes and Grand Mariner jam.
  • Fresh pot of cream; homemade cinnamon ice cream.

There wasnt much conversation during dinner. Once Dutch did threaten to stab me in the hand with his fork if I continued to distract him from his foie gras, but that was about it.

At the end of meal we all wanted the chef to come out and take a bow. Everyone agreed this was a top 3 meal, we had to see the mastermind. She was about 20, maybe, she still had braces! lol I was totally speechless. She told us her secret to making everything perfect was pratice - 'I insist that we keep making it until I like the way it tastes!'

I asked her if she would mind if I took a menu. Not at all, she unraveled one from its binding, signed it and gave me a dual cheek kiss for luck.


Blogger theclamwhisperer said...

This is an incredible culinary commentary! I've got a Travel folder of all the places I want to go so I've printed your Rio blog out so that WHEN I get there, I'll take your suggestions in hand. Massive pork and cigarettes could be a challenge...but if you can be a vegetarian and rave, I'll do the same. Thanks so much for all the good insights and advice.

7:02 PM

Blogger Jim said...

You are most welcome! Rio is a city where meals seemed to be soemthing linger over until the wee hours.

9:55 PM


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