Le Pre Catalan, Rio De Janeiro

I wanted a really memorable meal in Rio de Janeiro and ended up experiencing the Amazonian-ingredients centric tasting menu at Le Pre Catalan namely because it was really close to my hotel (two blocks) and I could easily get a reservation, although this was really not necessary for the time of year being mostly off-peak. In fact, there was only two other French people that were already seated when I arrived for an 8pm booking. Perhaps there were more people later, as Brazilians are well known for their late dining times. When I made the reservation at the front desk, the conversation sort went like:

Receptionist: What time would like your booking?
Me: What time do you open?
Receptionist: 7pm
Me: Then 7:30 please
Receptionist: (raises eyebrows)
Me: Ok, make it 8pm please
Receptionist: OK (although still appearing rather non-plussed)

You enter the restaurant the easiest by catching the outside elevator just outside the Sofitel’s foyer up one floor where you are greeted and seated. The dining room is luxurious, though I noted it seemed a little bit faded – maybe that was just me. Tall ceilings and tall windows look out onto the esplanade where, at lunch, you probably get a reasonable view of the ocean. Upon seating, I’m immediately brought some garlic, herbed crisp bread as well as a pot of olive oil and butter for the bread to go later.

I’m also offered an impressive selection of bread. Bread with hazelnut. Whole-grained bread. Sultana. French bread. One that, I’m sure lost in translation, apparently liver bread but tasted a bit more light a sourdough. The butter was fantastic – soft, creamy, more importantly tasty and the oils were infused with some sort of herbs. Yum.

I was offered two menus. The seasonal menu was a playful one from the chef. Closed, you have a menu that reads like a meal backwards starting from coffee, dessert, mains, and appetisers. When opened, the menu expands into an interesting, playful menu. You can also order a la carte, or have the Amazonian menu which is what I was here to have. They reset the cutlery, and I have never seen so many pieces of silverware on the table at one time.

The first dishes were Tucunare fish brandade on coconut milk, Biju roll made of tapioca and stuffed with baby lobster and fresh Palm Cabbage and pepper jelly. The jelly was strangely sweet, and the palm cabbage much sweeter than what I was expecting. The fish was amazingly light, and almost tasted like the fresh ocean.

The next course was the Crab pastry with Bacuri chutney, tapioca Sagu pearls marinated with Caipirinha and açaí vinagrette. The crab had a very strong flavour, and the salad dressing surprisingly tart – maybe that was from the “caipirinha” soaking. The topica was expectedly chewy, much like you might expect in bubble tea.

The next course was a fish course, Pirarucu Fish in Caju crost and Tucupi and Jambu consomé. This was probably one of the best dishes. The fish had a very meaty texture, light, firm but also flavoursome. They poured a broth in and it was very salt and the caju fruit nestled in there. I’m not really sure what the fruit flesh really looks like but it reminded me of spinach in there.

And after they poured the broth in table-side.

They brought out a “Murici” sorbet, where the Amazonian fruit tastes a lot like cheese. Imagine a light sorbet that tastes a bit like parmesan and it was pretty bang on. Refreshing, but strange at the same time. One weird point here was they served the sorbet while I was still nowhere near finishing my fish. The only sore point of service for the entire night.

The next course was Moqueca Blinis and grilled shrimps with Brazillian nut cream. A rather large prawn, beautifully cooked and still super sweet that sat on top of a tart tomato compote that balanced the dish very well. Tapioca powder, some sort of cream and a grilled cake finished off the other textures.

Next, another fish dish Tambaqui Cutlet with smoked baroa potato mousse, with a herb sauce. The fish was meaty, and must have been very large with some of the bones in the fillet being quite massive. The potato mousse, on the other hand, reminded me of a cheese-and-bacon-ball type flavour. Super creamy. Super smoky to the point where it almost, but not quite, overpowered the fish element. This was definitely a flavour sensation and one that I wanted to linger for much of the evening.

And another view.

After the fish dish, they served another palette cleanser, a Caju granité. Sweet, and light, it tasted almost to me like a different lychee.

The next dish, Ox cutlet confit, crumbed with manioc flour, Jabuticaba sauce, banane marmelade with vegetables and bacon was full of strong flavours. The manioc flour, though very Amazonian, didn’t really do much for the croquette since it didn’t seem to be crispy enough. The oxtail, flavoursome and rich wasn’t as soft as I was hoping and I found myself needing to chew this a lot more. Probably a good candidate for some sous vede before the crumbing and frying part. A clever dish, but let down a little in execution. Still amazingly tasty.

From the side angle.

I was pretty much ready for dessert after all this food. In fact, I was probably ready for some sleep at this point. Nevertheless there was more, and what arrived was a Chocolat and coconut cream surprise, Amazonian fruits ice cream: Açaí, Cupuaçu and Taperebá. The “surprise” was actually a giant-sized macaroon filled with a coconut ice cream. The other ice creams proved lush as well, sweet, tart and creamy all very well balanced. Quite a generous serve as well.

You can see just how big that macaroon was (probably double sized).

Finally I had an espresso, and the petite fours (for two!) arrived. I only had a couple as I was seriously full at this stage.

They had two surprises for me at the end of the evening. One was this beautifully wrapped box of macaroons that I could take home, also being asked to give some customer feedback. The other was a physical copy of the Amazonian banquet menu that I just consumed so that I could write up and remember what I had.

Although this isn’t the sort of meal you have every night, it is one that, I think, is worth venturing for a special occasion or at least save up some of your dining budget for a special night out.

Name: Le Pre Catalan
Found at: Sofitel, Ave Atlantica, 4240, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Website: http://ww2.leprecatelan.com.br/

Felice Cafe, Rio de Janeiro

Another rainy day and a late afternoon hunger drove me to visit a place that looked welcoming not very far from where I was staying. They had a covered outdoor patio that made it even more appealing to enter when I really wanted to be on the beach and hoping for greater sunshine. Nevertheless, it was time for a late lunch and sat down to look at the menu.

They had an English menu, so I guess they must have a lot of tourists, or people from out of town. I could hear a couple of French ladies next to me catching up, although everyone else on the patio seemed to be locals, or at least, spoke a good amount of Portugese.

I ordered a mate tea whilst waiting, hoping for something that wasn’t so sweet, although they did bring a selection of sweeteners giving me the option of always adding sweetness to my desire. I find mate’s lack of sweetness, and strange bitterness quite tasty, although I know some people don’t like the taste.

Not having any steak yet, I decided to get the filet mignon that turned up perfectly pink on the inside. The chef had already well seasoned the meat (i.e. quite salty) and I did find the flesh a little bit more sinewy than I expected. Still very full of flavour, and served with a great salad, grilled mixed vegetables and a olive oil dressing with grilled garlic and smell flecks of chilli. Yum.

Also being a gelateria, I figured I should give dessert ago and I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed. They definitely know how to make ice cream here with it being very creamy and rich in flavour.

I also have to give them bonus points for offering free wifi to customers that allowed me to check email, read twitter whilst passing the time.

Name: Felice Cafe
Found at: Rua Gomes Carneiro, 30, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro 22071-110, Brazil (Ipanema)
Website: http://www.felice.com.br/

Sushi Leblon, Rio de Janeiro

Leblon is located at the far end of Ipanema, closer towards Barra and is easily walking distance if you have thirty of forty minutes to spare. It’s also home to one of the most trendy eating streets in the area, and also home to Sushi Leblon, a restaurant locally well known for using unusual combination of ingredients for Japanese style cuisine.

I decided to head out that way on one of the rainy days for lunch, where they open, maybe a little bit after since this is Brazil, at noon for their lunch service. I wasn’t the only one who turned up early, with another couple there obviously waiting for them to open. By the time that I left, maybe at one, it was busy, but not particularly booking-required style (although I did go in Rio’s off-peak season)

The menu is pretty extensive, and when I wanted to order a few of the interesting combinations as well as a sushi platter, my waitress looked rather alarmed and indicated it was going to be too much. We did a lot of gesturing as their English wasn’t great, and my touristic Portugese rather limited. I settled for three sample dishes, as well as a lychee-based caipirinha seeing as I was in an Asian restaurant.

I, and the others in the restaurant, ordered one of the sushi dishes that required little fried quails eggs. I got full vantage point of the preparation area since I was sitting at the sushi counter looking at how they organised it.

Beautifully paired and definitely excessively decadent, the quail egg nigiri came topped with a bit of salt and truffle oil, and then came with a piece of butterfish nigiri. The fish match was perfect since it was rich, and creamy in the mouth, much like the perfectly cooked egg whose yolk still burst when eating it. Umami, creamy, a great combination that I must remember.

I had also ordered the ceviche which had a good selection of different seafood, flavours and was delightful.

My final sushi was based on my love for grilled eel (unagi) and was well prepared, tasty and was definitely plenty for lunch.

Sushi Leblon is definitely one of those finer sushi restaurants you’ll find in this area. You get very high quality, although you pay the equivalent of London fine sushi restaurant prices for it.

Name: Sushi Leblon
Found at: R. Dias Ferreira, 256 – Leblon Rio de Janeiro, 22431-050, Brazil
Website: http://www.sushileblon.com/

Brazil Balada Mix, Rio de Janeiro

Balada Mix is one of those chain cafe restaurants that I am told you can find around Rio de Janeiro. Maybe even around Brazil. We went here for a client lunch and it was so nice just walking around in the warm sun.

My English sun-deprivation really showed since I was always looking for the chair under the sun whilst all my colleagues sought out those in the shade.

Balada Mix’s menu offered very typical Brazilian lunch time things – everything from salads, sandwiches, pastas and plenty of juices.

Overwhelmed by choice and with the translation help, I chose a refreshingly beautiful mint and pineapple juice. You can tell from the foam how freshly squeezed it was.

I figured I was going to try eat a bit healthier and went for a turkey sandwich. Classically matched by mozzarella, pesto and some other salads, there was a lot of cheese. Almost too much to the point where I was starting to pull out chunks because it is, frankly, too tasteless to really be eating other than melted, or in smaller bits for texture.

Still, the side salad that also arrived was very nice. Complete with soy beans and lightly dressed.

Name: Balada Mix
Found at: Various locations (this one was in an open air shopping centre in Barra)
Website: http://baladamixrestaurante.com.br/

Azteka Mexican Restaurant in Rio de Janeiro

I know it’s a bit strange to be eating mexican in Brazil, but I had read a number of good reviews about this place and didn’t really feel like any of the heavy Brazil options for dinner. One of the reasons Azteka, located on the main tourist street in Ipanema, gets good reviews is that it is owned by mexican owners and the food is apparently very authentic.

They serve a pretty strong caipirinha.

And, of course, they make a mean margherita as well.

Inside they have a TV screen that proved popular with Brazil playing in the Confederation Cup and probably about eight or ten small tables inside with room for a few more on the street pavement outside.

I opted for some nachos while I waited which turned out pretty tasty. The chicken topping was flavoursome and the cheese just starting to melt. The chips were light, and tasted like they had been freshly made. All very good signs.

By this time I had finished off one of my drinks and was starting to get a bit more peckish. I was a bit undecided since there looked to be so many good options.

I ended up ordering a mole-chicken burrito with a spicy (piccante) sauce. Knowing that Brazilians don’t really use a lot of chili, I was interested to see if spicy was actually going to be really spicy. It was hot, pleasantly so and a good balance of flavour. It wasn’t really like the deep flavoured mole chicken really needed it. This burrito was also slightly different since it also had a been toasted afterwards, a pleasant surprise that worked really well.

All in all, I was pretty happy with this food choice and can highly recommend this place.

Name: Azteka
Found at: Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 156 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Website: http://www.azteka-rio.com/