Quick Rio Review
Was in Rio for 4 days.. wanted to share quick notes before I forget (trip is now 2 months ago). Wasn't a culinary experience, but some nice memories.
1) Avoid avoid avoid Zuka. Much better options on the same street. Zuka was terribly overpriced. The food had great ingredients, but prepared very poorly. Lemon risotto looked and tasted like sour curd (shocking bad). Breaded shrimp were overbreaded shrimp that could have been made at the olive garden. The bait and switch on wines is appalling -- twice sent bottle back because it was a different year than advertised on the menu. Food was the main event and felt like I paid $200 for nosebleeds at Yankee stadium on a Tuesday night and the other team failed to show up. Can't stress how overhyped this restaurant is! Please avoid.
2) Had a GREAT meal next door at Quadrucci. Warmed up with a drink at a bar (great) and food was great. Great lamp chops. Great risottos (we tried 2, a malbec and an arthichoke). Tapioca cream desert was so good my wife wouldn't let me finish it all (sometimes she lets me take it all down). I wish I went to this restaurant a second time. Oh yes, the mushroom puffs.. I ordered those twice. I'm not a mushroom guy but those mushroom tarts were so mushroomy.. the caprese ones were eh (wife ate those).
3) Had a quick lunch at an italian place called Prima. I had very low expecations, but the food was solid. Was not a fancy italian meal that would knock your socks off. But pasta perfectly cooked in well executed, not too fancy sauces... hit the spot
4) I think I had sorbet a place liked ?Vero?. Please order the lavander pink lemonade on my behalf. Amaaazing.
5) Went to Venga. A popular tapas place it seemed.. huge crowd. Food was disappointing, although the locals seemed to love it. One sausage dish felt like diced hot dog on a toothpick.
6) memory now stretching. We did a buffet on New Years (only think available). Was actually a pretty good experience. It was definitely premium pricing, but I thought it was fun to see all of the different salads, desserts, meats etc. Maybe there is a high-end one somewhere.. but the fun isn't to do it in a high end hotel, but with locals!
7) in St. Theresa we went to Bar do Mineiro. We hired a guide and he took us there for lunch as his go-to spot for Feijoda (spelling?). That stew just isn't my thing.. so I can't opine. What i do know is that we got there a little early and 1 hour later there was a line of 15 people waiting to go in. And my taxi driver was loving his food. My wife is vegetarian and ordered a salad.. that was just lettuce and avocado and heart of palm.. no dressing not good for her. For meat stew this seems like the popular place to go. Its not a place folks say you should go to though, so its a little off the map, which I liked. I forget the name of the 2 other places in St. Theresa we did not go to.. 1 is up a windy hill and fancy restaurant.. folks we spoke to said food sort of average at best so not worth it.. and there was another local-type spot in st. theresa (?sabor?), our taxi told us it was more expensive and not as good. St. Theresa looks like a touristy area anyway to me so many they are all tourist traps.
8) Churro from street vendor. Fantastic.
9) Academy of Cachacha for drinks. Not very fancy for such a fancy name! 1 block away from a super market and sort of divey feeling. But not a bad place to tell your friends you went to. Strong, albeit quite sour, drinks for us.
10) Late night pizza guanabara. Wow. Look at that cheese. Is there even tomato sauce!? Just cheese and bread. And packed late night. hung over was great.
11) Quick bite at a cafe ?now i can't remember? Simple place with great salads and light sandwiches. I got a chicken paillard and the chicken tasted like real chicken (not purdue)
I hope this helps. Spent vast majority of our time in Leblon/Ipanema. Don't see why would spend any time anywhere else really. Not sure if Rio is the city for us.
1) sorry to hear that your experience at Zuka was bad - and I am shocked to hear that! I don't go there often, but every single time I go - and I was there past January - the food was prepared perfectly as always. But, I had never tried their breaded shrimp... I usually order something from their grill - picanha burger, foie gras, seared tuna (this dish comes with a heart of palms sliced like a linguini with wasabi sauce that is amazing), etc.
4) Vero is an Italian gelateria in Ipanema. Great gelatos and sorbets, but flavors vary daily. I have never seen the lavender pink lemonade flavor. They offer classes on Tuesdays and Fridays mornings where they take you to the "feira"(street market) to buy the fruits and then teach you to make your own sorbet which you can take it with you afterwards... Anyway, they let you sample two flavors... If you are interested in Brazilian fruit ice creams, head to Mil Frutas (also in Ipanema, but at Rua Garcia D'Avila) - they have tons of fruits from the Amazon that you can only find in Brazil...
5) Venga! is a hip place, but not for their food. If you are interested in real tapas head to Entretapas in Botafogo (Rua Conde de Irajá).
7) Santa Tereza has a great appeal for Europeans for its authentic feel, and view of the city, but it is harder to get there (not all cab drivers are willing to go there, especially at night). Bar do Mineiro is ok, but not great place - "Simplesmente" next door used to offer "caldinho de feijão"(black bean soup without all that meat of the feijoada, rice, etc) that was huge and tasty - but I haven't been there in ages. I imagine that one of the restaurants that you mentioned is "Aprazível" - food used to be better, haven't been there in ages - but the view is quite nice. I stopped going there because prices went up, quality went down... Not all places are tourist traps, but you have to go with locals... One place not to be missed is Alda Maria for amazing Portuguese sweets - but it is off the main area. And since your wife is vegetarian, you should have gone to restaurants like Gula Gula, Doce Delícia, Delirio Tropical, just to list a few that would have a better selection of salads - and all have a branch in the area you stayed. You would probably be better off to have gone to Dois em Cena at RioSul shopping mall - they have a tasty feijoada on Fridays and would have a better selection for you wife to eat...
8) IMHO, churros from street vendors are too greasy. I prefer the mini-churros at Miam Miam and Entretapas (both in Botafogo).
9) Academia da Cachaça - you probably ordered a regular "caipirinha" which are made with limes, so they are quite sour if you don't sweeten it enough. And cachaça is a quite strong alcoholic beverage - great aged cachaças available there to drink pure (cowboy). If you have tasted batidas, usually they are sweeter. I always have one with coconut that is semi-frozen that is very yummy (cocadinha gelada).
10) Pizzaria Guanabara - is a hang out place at Baixo Leblon but not a foodie place!!! Want good pizza? Go to Jardim Botanico - two great opitons: Bráz and Mamma Jamma.
Leblon/Ipanema area is trendy and hip, but if you were looking for a culinary experience you would have to head out of that area. Great places in Rio with great food if you know where to go and what to order... To those of you who have been to NYC, it is like you stayed only at Times Square area and hoped to find only great food places... To find great food, one sometimes have to venture far out of one's comfort zone...
Rio has been quite expensive overall, but it is a beautiful city and worth a visit...
Thank you for such a comprehensive reply! I wish I read your suggestions before going to Rio. If the restaurants in Leblon/Ipanema are Times Square, indeed there are many terrible reviews out there (Sushi Leblon, Zuka, Cafe Jobi, Quadrucci, and so many other often cited/reviewed restaurants all being in Leblon for example)!
In terms of Zuka, that was the destination restaurant we went to. The general reviews on Zuka are quite positive (e.g. on tripadvisor), although many say "they don't get the hype" (for all online reviews, I like to read the 5-star reviews as much as the 1-star reviews). So I was unsure if place could live up to the hype. Indeed, put me in the latter camp (indeed, I would go worse). My wife and I did not finish many of our dishes.. we felt the quality of ingredients to be very high.. but execution better on paper than on plate! And for very high prices. To say the least.. wish one of us ordered the Tuna instead. Perhaps we went on a bad day
P.S. I did write my review very quickly and perhaps should have taken care to note that street churros are not for the divine.. but a tasty street-food snack experience. Same for Pizza Guanabara.. just noting what I found there vs. seeking it out. Very much a late night scene. I went there to see what pizza the locals seemed to eat.. I think it is unfair to call this place the Sbarro of Rio... but you seem to be local so I will defer to you.
P.P.S. is Leblon really equivalent to Times Square, and not to say Soho? Not saying Soho is a bastion of culinary excellence, but if I went to some of the highest price restaurants in NY they would not be in Times Square?
It is always hard to find a restaurant that everything on the menu is perfect - sometimes because it caters to specific taste of the locals... For instance, the majority of Brazilians like really sweet desserts, so in average, the typical dessert will be on the sweeter side (Brigadeiro is a popular sweet, but too sweet for me in most places). Unfortunately, I also found out that lots of people prefer their meat cooked medium - for instance, I often have problems when ordering magret du canard that usually comes over-cooked...There are places that you can only order one or two specific dishes...
In average, São Paulo have better restaurants and service than Rio - it is often said that since Rio has wonderful beaches, people don't care as much for great food...
It is hard to compare NYC to Rio. I compared Leblon/Ipanema to Times Square in the sense that tourists feel more confortable and safer in those areas - and don't tend to stray away from that area (most Brazilians choose to stay closer to Times Square when in NYC...) You are right to compare it to Soho (the square foot is one of the most expensive in Rio), Leblon is supposed to be hip as Soho and nice to stroll around, but I can't recall any amazing restaurant in the area... Many ok, good places. (To be honest, I only go to Soho when I visit NYC to go to Kee's Chocolates - amazing creme brulee chocolates!) =D
There are great places in Ipanema/Leblon area, but there are also lots of so so places that are crowded not for their food, but for their hype location (you were on the right street, Dias Ferreira is considered the main restaurant street in Leblon - I always enjoy the Brazlian-Asian food at Sawasdee, the all-you-can-eat sides at CT Boucherie, the savory snacks at Chico & Alayde and the dishes I previously mentioned at Zuka - but even these places have some hit-&-miss dishes...)
Hope your past experience won't stop you to come to Rio if you get another chance...