Jan 24, 2009

Roberta Sudbrack: best restaurant in Rio?

Until I went for dinner at Roberta Sudbrack's restaurant, I hadn't fully understood what all the fuss was about. The city is not known for its gastronomic scene as São Paulo is, and I was a bit skeptical. But... what a dinner! The only thing that ever came close, in Rio, was dinner at Claude Troisgros' Olympe with the man himself, but then again... how could it not be great, right?

But back to Roberta Sudbrack: the girl is one hell of a cook!

Dinner started with amazing breads, warm from the oven, the best butter and perfect little gougères, warm fluffy pastry clouds.

Our tasting menu started with her signature okra "caviar": the seeds mimic that ploc-ploc mouthfeel. Alongside, shrimp, brunoise of tomato and a generous drizzle of an outstading olive oil.

The same incredible oil was present in the next dish, tuna in a very light confit (chef says she doesn't do it sous vide, but simply does a quick version of the traditional confit mehod, using olive oil). The paper thin toasted bread gave the ensemble the needed crunch.

Then came a very delicate broth made with lagostim shells, in a bowl similar to those used by Brazilian indians. In it came mushrooms and fat morsels of lagostim (a small cousin of the lobster). Uncannily light and complex, each individual flavour alive and whole.

The main course had been pre-ordered by food lover and blogger Constance Escobar. Suckling pig with ever-so-tender flesh and a golden, crisp crust.

As a side, an impossibly silky portion of mashed potatoes, Robuchon style. An aside: to see a full report of this same dinner on Constance's blog, please click here.

We were content - very content - but still hungry for more.

I'm a bit ashamed to confess that I asked for seconds of our first dessert, the best banana ice cream I've ever had. It's made with the ripest bananas Roberta can find - their peels full of black spots already - and nothing more, not even sugar. Banana in its purest possible guise.

The second dessert had, of course, to be an anti-climax. It was a donut-style pastry dusted with sugar and paired with crème anglaise. Good, not great.

And what could I possibly say about the mignardises? Beautiful, dainty, delicious. Candied marmelo (a Brazilian fruit), chocolate candies that tasted of an old childhood treat called Kri. Brigadeiro, another childhood favourite, in a spoon. Mignardises comfort-chics.

It was a perfect dinner. Perfect company, perfect food, perfect wine (Chassagne Montrachet Vielles Vignes 2005, Pillot, Bourgogne, app. US$ 130/bottle).

Roberta Sudbrack: Av. Lineu de Paula Machado, 916, Jardim Botânico, tel. (21) 3874-0139

Post script: it came to my attention in July 2009 that a reader of this blog followed my recommendation, dined at the restaurant and had a bad experience. It could have been an off-night, but I though it might be fair to other readers to hear what he had to say:

"Dear Alexandra,

First of all, thank you for your very useful blog on Brazil for Insiders. I was just in Rio and made great use of it. I am a big foodie and I love to travel across the world to try new opportunities.

Your advise was almost 100% correct. The only exception was Roberta Sudbrack, which was a TERRIBLE disappointment. I went there last Saturday night and had one of the worst meals I have ever had in a restaurant of this class. First of all, I arrived at 9:30 PM to find I was the ONLY table there for that night – on a Saturday! That set off alarms in my head, but I decided to stay anyway, hoping maybe it was just the economy that was scaring people away.

I was wrong. The food was boring, bland and strangely textured. I requested the 8-course tasting menu with a small amount of wine to be matched to each course. For the jamon serrano with melon ice cream (not exactly an original or difficult dish to create), I was given a glass of sweet Brazilian sparkling wine! For the next course (a single piece of cold white asparagus with some crunchy almonds on top which my 12-year old daughter could have made), I was given another Brazilian sparkling wine, this time a dry one!

My main course was duck confit, paired with a very cheap Chilean red wine that I could have picked up in a wine store for 5 euros a bottle back home. The wines were all uniformly cheap and terrible, but each glass was billed to me at 25 Brazilian reals each – by far the most I have ever been charged for a glass of wine. I would not have minded if the wines were good quality or even if they were well matched to the food, but none were.

The food had no theme, no identity. No use was made of local ingredients – the asparagus was Peruvian, the ham from Spain, the duck confit might as well have come from France. It was the most boring, unimaginative food I have been served in many years. And the final insult was delivered by the bill – one of the most expensive meals I have ever eaten. Oh, and no credit cards accepted unless it’s MasterCard.

Rio has a lot of great restaurants – I greatly enjoyed Satyricon the next night, which rescued my memory of Rio after the horrendous disappointment delivered by Sudbrack.

I would ask you to consider removing your endorsement of the restaurant from your blog so other people don’t travel to Rio and have another experience like mine. Your experience in January clearly does not seem representative of what’s going on at that place. Certainly the people of Rio seem to agree – nobody showed up on a Saturday night.



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