FEAST:BRAZIL Just when SF starts to cool down, it’s time to consider wiggling your toes in the fluffy sand of Ipanema, with a caipirinha in hand, no? Now that World Cup fever has subsided, hit up Rio de Janeiro before the Olympics start in August 2016. If you love the beach and/or the gays and a tropical vibe (raises hand), then Ipanema or Leblon is for you. I snagged an apartment just blocks from the beach, and as a solo female traveler, I felt safe the entire time. I have a post on what I learned about the beach culture of Rio on tablehopper.com (you’ll find it in the “Jetsetter” section). It’s a bit too long to share here. So, let’s talk about where to eat!
You’ll need to experience a Brazilian churrascaria, and I dug my lunch at Porcão Rio after my visit to the top of nearby Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). The restaurant is huge, with a pretty view, and I could not believe the spread. Lunch was R$112 (about $50), featuring the biggest salad bar you’ll ever see in your life. But save some room, because the parade of meats is coming! Waddle out of there and then go pass out on the beach like the elephant seal you feel like.
Also on the checklist: feijoada, a hearty stew traditionally served on Saturday afternoon — although I’ve heard other Brazilian cities have different preferred days. A classic place (58 years old and counting) called Garden between Ipanema and Leblon was excellent, with garlicky black beans, beef tongue, pig’s ear and tail, linguiça, and thin air-dried meat, plus the classic accompaniments of shredded kale, aipim frito (fried yuca), farofa (toasted manioc flour, made from yuca), white rice, and orange supremes. Older crowd, and I dug the classy vibe. Also: heavy wine pours.
I am a huge fan of Brazilian/Portuguese pizza (it comes with hard-boiled egg, black olive, onion, and ham), and I found a good one at Alessandro E Federico in Leblon. Be sure to ask for the crazy hot piri piri sauce. It wasn’t the most amazing pizza of my life, but sitting on the terrace drinking sparkling rosé with a sexy carioca crowd did a lot.
You have to visit the Hippie Fair in Ipanema on Sundays so you can track down the Bahian food stand and try acarajé! An Afro-Brazilian dish from Bahia, by way of Nigeria, it will blow your mind. It’s a black-eyed pea fritter fried in dendê (palm oil), slathered with vatapá (a thick, rich, and spicy sauce made from shrimp, coconut milk, bread, cashews or peanuts), garlic, onion, and more dendê. And then it gets topped with baby fried shrimp. Request a few shakes of the hot sauce. Boom.
You’ll definitely want to hang out at a few of the botecos/botequims that feel like Spanish tapas bars — it’s where you’ll drink chopps (draft beers) and snack on petiscos like bolinhos (croquettes) and savory pasteis (little tarts). There’s the old-school Jobi, while Bar Bracarense had some of my favorite bites (like coxinha de frango with catupiry cheese).
One of my top Rio moments was brunch at the Copacabana Palace. Talk about a grand dame. Seriously, pinch me. Sunday brunch at Pérgula Restaurant is quite the spread (for R$170, about $75) — if it’s not too hot, you have to sit outside near the pool. From caviar and blini to platters of seafood, hot dishes, and desserts, the entire experience is truly glamorous. Be sure to try the sparkling wine from Cave Geisse, made in Brazil.
Check out Bip Bip for live music one evening, it’s such a groovy scene. Lot of history at this tiny place (since 1968) that spills out onto the street, and you can walk nearby to Restaurante O Caranguejo, a fab no-frills seafood joint. There’s a counter where you can stand and order a warm shrimp empada and a chopp and make new friends.
Via Sete in Ipanema has a fun scene and outdoor terrace. Get the grilled picanha (such tender and flavorful steak). Great spot for lunch and people watching.
For a special experience, however, head up to the hills of Santa Teresa and dine at
Aprazível. Let me paint a picture: a twinkling view, trees surrounding the open terrace, birds chirping, bossa nova playing, a smashing wine list with many Brazilian wines (a rarity in Rio), such nice servers, and freshly grilled hearts of palm, still in the stalk. Yes, this exists.
If there’s any way you can swing it, you have to stay at the Hotel Santa Teresa, a total dream of a place that used to be a coffee plantation, and is the picture of rustic chic. Think about it, even for a night so you can explore Santa Teresa, a bohemian neighborhood with galleries and cafés. (Although it’s not entirely a place you’ll want to walk around at night unescorted, jus’ sayin’.)
And there are a bunch of must-see sights, of course, like the colonial Centro area (don’t miss a visit to the Confeitaria Colombo, it’s gorgeous), the Jardim Botânico, and the Museu do Arte Contemporânea in Niterói. Just hop on over to the jetsetter section on tablehopper.com for more. Boa viagem!
Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe for more at www.tablehopper.com. Get her app: Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats. On Twitter: @tablehopper.