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Oct 6, 2009 08:34 AM

[Rio de Janeiro] Siri Mole & Cia, mediocre Bahian chow

Last night I opted to try a highly recommended restaurant, famous for it's Bahian cuisine, Siri Mole in Copacabana. What a waste! Bahian food has deep roots in African cuisine, with a touch of native ingredients and some Portuguese, but it's mostly the African. Bright red dende oil, made from the nuts of a palm (and refined for diesel fuel, no kidding), coconut milk, peanuts, dried shrimp, okra are some of those African touches. I began cooking Bahian food around 1980, and can do a decent job with certain dishes, especially moqueca, a stew of coconut milk, grated onions and garlic, hot peppers and dende oil; the main ingredient is usually shrimp, fish, soft shell crab (siri mole). I stick with shrimp. I've made it for literally hundreds of people, twice for 200 at a time.

So, moqueca de camarĂ£o it was. Oh, the price? Ridiculous at 93 reais, about 50 bucks!!!! Why did I do that? It was maybe 30% as good as mine, but for 50 bucks, I could make a better moqueca for 20 or more folks. I cook my rice in a mixture of coconut milk and water. Theirs was plain, maybe parboiled, like Uncle Ben's. My moqueca just has more flavor, deeper flavors, more complex. I can't believe this place is so lauded, and SO expensive (but I've noticed all Bahian places in Rio are expensive). Maybe I should open a Bahian place in Portland....but it would be too much for those folks. "Where's the tofu burrito list," they'd whine. Don't get me started. So, if you're in Rio, do not go to Siri Mole.

P.S. Not only was the moqueca just average, the after-dinner espresso was nasty. I didn't drink it, I didn't pay for it. This is friggin' Brazil, and I have yet to have any coffee really worth drinking. But since I roast my own beans, and brew with a great Italian espresso machine, I'm spoiled. Coffee in Brazil is not fresh, not really, it's ground in advance, and they tell me here, sometimes polluted with cereal grains to stretch the yield, and just not very good. Sorry, Brazil, but, in general, coffee in bars and restaurants really isn't that great. It's better in peoples' homes. But not always. I think it used to be better. There's an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. So show me the good stuff!!!!!

I've been shooting lots of food photos, will post more reports later, but here's a link to photos (includes photos of musicians too..)

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  1. Hello sambamaster.There is not much need for someone who cooks moqueca to pay 93 reais for it, true. A baiana eats this stuff at home, or very cheaply at a neighborhood restaurant. The best moqueca I've ever had was at a beach shack in Ilheus, Bahia, and it was dirt cheap.

    Fine dining experiences in Brazil are expensive, and baiana restaurants are usually upscale in Sao Paulo, Rio, and even Florianopolis, where I also had a moqueca. Siri e Mole is a haute cuisine experience, not a hole in the wall in Salvador.

    I wouldn't call the food mediocre though. And the ingredients are fresh and of good quality.I didn't have the coffee. Based soley on price to value compared to a genuine home cooked moqueca, or beach shack in Bahia, is understandable, but Siri e Mole is a fine upscale restaurant to have a moqueca or bobo de camarao. Gentrified but not pedestrian at all.

    There is a place in Sao Paulo called Amadeus that has a similar service.I've enjoyed both times I've been, and chef Isis Rangel is a baiano.

    2 Replies
    1. re: streetgourmetla

      To each his own. I've had good moqueca in Rio, Salvador, my house. And I know that Bahian chow commands a high price in Rio especially.

      But, 1) I wouldn't call the Siri Mole restaurant I was in was not a particularly upscale ambience; I don't need baianas, etc. But this place was just about average. Nothing special. It certainly didn't seem like a 50 buck per entree and higher sort of place. 2) The moqueca I had was not very good. It was mediocre. It lacked complexity, it lacked depth. It was so so. To me. You may have had better experiences there. Maybe they have a new chef, I don't know. But it was not a good meal. Had it been 5 bucks, it would have been a bad value in my opinion because, to me, it WAS mediocre. Maybe the ingredients were fresh and of good quality, but maybe they were not in the correct proportions. Maybe they forgot something. But, and this is the crux, if I pay more than 50 bucks for an ala carte entree made from mostly very simple ingredients and maybe 8-10 ounces of modest shrimp, well it had better ROCK AND ROLL. I'm not complaining about the price itself, I'm stating that, just because it's considered a fine dining restaurant, doesn't make it so, and doesn't give them an excuse to coast, serving the kind of food I had.

      And the coffee was absolutely terrible. The worst I've had in Brazil this trip....

      I would never go back, nor recommend it to anyone.

      1. re: sambamaster

        In that neighborhood, Arpoador, there aren't many baiano options. There are so many great restaurants in Rio, but you gotta know our way around the bus and metro, which are fantastic. What other places do you prefer in the tourist area? Ipanema? Copa? Arpoador?