Trip Report -- Rio and Buzios - LONG
Just back from 4 days in Rio and three in Buzios.
Stayed at the Fasano in Rio -- which was completely fabulous, but where the food + drink prices were twice what they were anywhere else we ate. The first day, I wanted a big fresh fruit plate to enjoy at the pool after my long, overnight flight. For 18 Real (about $10) -- I got a small plate with four tiny slices of mango, four of pinapple and I can't even remember what the other one was. Really, like 8 small bites all in. Not a great start! Caipirinas at Fasano were about $20 US each....on the beach, they are about $3 US and at the nice restaurants we went to they were about $5 US to $10 US....
For our first meal, we went to Siri Mole (in Ipanema) -- which is supposed to have really delicious traditional Brazilian seafood dishes from Bahia area (which is where my husband and I spent three wonderful weeks in 2008). They have acaraje (bean fritters stuffed with all kinds of yummy things and searved with a spicy sauce) to start, and main dishes (meant to be shared by two people) of things like bobo de camarao, moqueca, vatapa -- which are all seafood stews served in clay pots with sides of rice, farofa and another pureed substance that I'd like to say is a squash, but I'm not sure. We ate tons of these dishes in Bahia and loved them. At Siri, we ordered bobo de camarao (shrimp stew) and it was quite good. The atmosphere of the resto, however, was a huge downer for us, just very sterile and our waiter looked like he'd been waiting tables there for 50 years and hadn't cracked a smile in all those years. It was definitely not the greatest place to spend a hot beachy afternoon. Probably much better for dinner. Our bill was about $75 US w/ beer for my husband.
One thing to note about Rio -- most of the 'hip' restaurants don't take reservations after 8:30 at night. So, if you like to eat late like us, you have to go and put your name on a list and take your chances. Two other things to note: many restaurants will offer you (by bringing it to your table) some appetizers called the 'couvert' -- generally bread, oil/butter and perhaps some other things. There is a charge for this added to your bill if you accept, so if you don't want it, just say so (we always said no, bc we didn't want to fill up on bread...). Also, service is generally included in your bill, even if it isn't itemized as a line item. If you're not sure, just ask.
For dinner the first night, we went to Sushi Leblon (in Leblon). Supposed to be super hip, difficult to get a table. It was small and crowded and hip (though I wouldn't call it super hip). I'm pregnant, so I couldn't indulge like my husband did -- but we also ordered a few non-raw dishes, some of which were great, some of which were sub-par. One of the better things was an appetizer of sauteed garlic scapes with garlic and soy sauce. Simple and yummy (if a little too salty from too much soy). We also had shrimp wontons that were sub-par and a cucumber, immitation crab stick and squid salad (sunamono) in a vinegar suce that was also sub-par (made too far ahead of time). My husband had a sushi entree and a couple of extra rolls and said is was good, not great (we are spoiled by good sushi in NYC). We also had a soba dish w/ lemongrass, coconut and grilled seafood -- and it was also subpar -- the noodles basically had absorned all the sauce and were sticky and the seafood was far overcooked. All in - not impressed. Our bill was about $130 US w drinks and beer for my husband.
Day 2 in Rio, we had lunch at Market in Ipanema. It's a great place for lunch -- modern, airy, colorful with a menu full of juices, smoothies, tasty salads, pastas and grilled meats and fish. While we didn't try them, the deserts looked really tasty, too. Again here -- some of the things we ordered were great, others not so much. My husband started w/ a trio of tar tars -- two were fish, one was hearts of palm. He said they were tasty. I started with trio of gaspachos -- each one was literally about the size of a thimble and none were very tasty. A very disappointing dish. We then shared two salads, both were quite good. I also had a smoothie -- which was so so good. Our bill was about $60 US w/ beer for my husband.
Day 2 at night, we went to Oro -- a new restaurant in Jardim Botanico area (I think). It's modern and has rifts of molecular gastronomy in the dishes (one dish we had 'olives' which were just olive juice in a caviar like shell, the desert included a mouse that was 'cooked' in nitrogen tableside into a frozen treat). The food here was once again hit an miss. The idea is to order a number of dishes -- so we had two snacks (coronets of salmon tar tar and cheese puffs -- these were good, not revelatory in any way), two starters (bread w/ a cheesy creamy thing and a poached egg, which was very good, and steak tar tar, which my husband said was also very good), shared a pasta (a take on carbonara, which I think it the best carbonara I've ever had) and had two mains (duck rice, which was sloppy and tasteless, and very overcooked lamb with a risotto that was also not very good) and shared a desert (which was a lot of fun -- many takes on caramel -- they cooked the caramel mouse in nitrogen and served it with five other caramel deserts: a milky flan, a tapioca type flan with nuts/fruit in it, awesome mini churros stuffed w caramel [these were so good] and a couple more I can't remember. Sounds like a lot, but it was just right. Our bill was about $160 US, with drinks for my husband.
Day 3 was a Saturday - so we went to Casa de Feijoada (Ipanema) for a big feijoada lunch. It was totally perfect, monsterously huge and delicious! A really great meal. Very traditional and excellently prepared. We really enjoyed this meal. If you haven't had it -- you are served a huge bown of black beans, another of pig parts stewed in the beans, rice, farofa, rice, sauteed collard greens and oranges (the best part). You eat them all together on your plate and it's really delicious and filling. I highly recommend. Our bill was about $100 US with drinks for my husband.
At night, we were still so stuffed, but we went anaway back to Rua Das Ferriera (this is a great street for dinner -- sushi leblon is there, as is zuka, as is Venga (for tapas) and a yummy italian place where we ate (Quadrucci) for some salads and pastas. Our bill was was about $75 w/ drinks for my husband.
During the days between meals -- we stopped at little lanchonettes for pastels and pao de queijos -- which were all a lot of fun and tasty. Also had juices at juice bars, coconut juice out of fresh young cold cocos on the beach, and some snacks on the beach (TRY GLOBOS! They are little donut shaped things sold by the bag that are puffed and crispy and can be either salty or sweet [salgado or dulce] -- they are cheap and YUMMY!). Being pregnant, I didn't try the empanadas on the beach, but I was sure tempted! These snacks are about $1 to $2 US each.
Day 4, we rented a car and began our drive to Buzios. It was a Sunday and we stopped on the side of the road not long after crossing the Niteroi bridge at a wonderful, huge churrascuria called Vacaria do Sul (estrada niteroi manhilha BR 101, kn 26.5, Itaborai). It was huge and awesome. Full of tables full of large brazilian families - with a big salad bar full of fresh salads in the middle and many skewers of delicious meat. We had a great time. I think we were the only tourists there and it was a lot of fun. The service was excellent -- although none of the servers really spoke much english, they kept checking on us and made sure we were well taken care of. I highly recommend if you are in Niteroi for some reason or if you are driving to/from Buzios. Our bill was about $100 with drinks for my husband.
For us, Buzios was a big disappointment. Our one previous trip to Rio was in Bahia and we had the most amazing time there -- some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen to in the world, world-class resorts and truely fresh and incredible seafood. Buzios is where Bridget Bardot vacationed in the 60s when it was a small fishing village. It because a playground for the rich and famous after that -- and now is highly developed (compared to Bahia). We stayed at Casas Brancas, which was well worn and a disappointment. On recommendation, we ate at two of their restaurants: the deck, which is a casual pizza place that was actually quite good) and Rocka, which is a short drive away on praia brava. The setting was pretty, although VERY windy, but the food was subpar (my husband has the local oystrs on the half shell, which were fresh but very minerally for his taste. He also had the fish tar tar, which he said was basic. I had an octopus carpaccio, which is just OK -- a bit 'fishy' tasting for octopus). We had crepes one night at this famous and crowded place on the main drag in town (rua das piedras) -- and they were just OK. And, for our last dinner, we went to the highly touted restaurant at Hotel Insolito -- and this was also just OK. I had a salad w/ langostinos to start that was very basic and just OK. My husband started with a seafood pasta dish that was good, not great. He had a brazilian lobster w/ a risotto -- lobster grossly overcooked and risotto just OK. And, I had a filet mignon with a cheesy starchy cake (don't think it was potato, but not quite sure what it was). The filet and the cheese cake were both quite good. We finished with profiteroles that were really yummy.
On our drive back from Buzios, we took Route 106 (coastal) and had hoped to stop somewhere for a big seafood lunch. We found a place, but it was so sub-par, I didn't bother to remember. All in, we were just not that impressed by Buzios, and especially not by the food. Back to Bahia for us...
BTW - eat before you get to the airport (or at least before you go through security for international departures in rio), because there is only a snack bar beyond that (with really tasty pao de queijo).
Stickies thanks for the great trip report. For Rio Galeão (Tom Jobim) if you are flying out of International Departures in Terminal 1 take the escalator up to the duty free level, there is a snack bar right in front of the escalators which offers hot sandwiches and maybe a few other things. The domestic departure lounges have less options, but there you can safely enter 20 minutes before your flight. In general for food in Galeão terminal 1 (American, Delta) has the most options on the 3o piso and terminal 2 (USAir) on the 2o piso. In terminal 1 there is a hidden churrascaria down the hallway which leads to the Polícia Federal and hotel. Guarulhos in SP has a lot more in the International departures area, but its really expensive (they put up a wall separating domestic and international about five years ago that limited the options/shot up the prices) and you still do better out in the terminal.
Siri Mole from what I recall had more traditional Rio white tablecloth service, definately a lot different than what you would encounter in Bahia (and certainly no Axé). Moquecas are usually served with "pirão" a porridge made with broth (in this case fish broth) and mandioca flour, which would be tinted orange from the dendê but pretty different from squash (abóbora) which certainly could have been served. Drinks certainly weren't on your list, but in the past they had a few different fruits for caipirinhas.
BTW, you can refuse an included 10% service charge if included when you aren't satisfied and Brazilians do refuse it. Cozinha Contemporânea tends to be a catch-all for anything slightly modern or most things upscale. There are some restaurants which do truely unique variations on Brazilian traditional foods, others which use fresh seasonal ingredients (a lot easier in Brazil), but many which just do culinary school riffs on International foods. Gastropubs are starting to take off now, that is the next thing you will see in the South and Southeast. I can probably do without many of the siri moles of Brazil, but I love a good pé sujo and roadside churrascaria... and some of the best options are on sitios and ranchos.
I would guess the langostinos you were served are what are called 'camarão de malasia" or a large fresh water prawn and are different from langoustines. I know they are fished in rivers in Espirito Santo and Bahia, not certain beyond there and I prefer regular shrimp. But in case you ever want to buy them retail that might help. They can go for between R$35 to maybe even R$40 per kilo (36/40 shrimp can be had for R$18 sometimes).
I am not too surprised by your observations of Buzios. I do enjoy that side of the bridge and liked the beach in Cabo Frio combined with a few evenings in Rio das Ostras (and hardly remember Buzios), but am not certain I would bother going much further than Maricá (far from a tourist destination but has some good beaches and its close) and some dining in Niteroi next time. You might enjoy Paraty or Angra with a trip to Ilha Grande (and its possible to do all 3) different from Bahia, but more similarities and lots of side boat trips you can make. Beyond Bahia there is a lot more to the Northeast so if you are sated on Rio, fly into Fortaleza and check out CE, PE, RN (Maranhao or Piaui if you want something less travelled).