Sometimes I wonder what would an acclaimed restaurant critic from the US would write about some of Rio’s restaurants. When I took a food journalism course with Alan Richman back in 2007, I remember honking at his ears that he should go on a food mission to Brazil. Oh my, what was I thinking? What audacity of mine! But with my naive sense of patriotism I was just trying to tell him – “look Alan, there is a country called Brazil!” If that day ever arrives, I assume his editor at GQ magazine, Michael Hainey, might probably send him to São Paulo, or, more likely, to both Rio and São Paulo.
Well, let me admit to you that after my last trip to Brazil, I am not so sure I will keep honking the same lyrics into Richman’s ears. In my opinion, no restaurant in the world should be reviewed regardless of its price. Here is the main issue: with Brazil’s booming economy, restaurant prices sky rocketed in the past few years. Food quality however, didn’t follow suit.
That bring us to Zuka. It’s one of the few places where I found a middle-ground. A restaurant that maintains its food quality on a constant basis, with a great atmosphere, and yes, expensive prices, but not outrageously so. Zuka is a versatile restaurant; whatever is the purpose – business lunch, romantic date, lunch with friends, dinner with friends – you name it, Zuka seems to fit the occasion.
Why? It has a little but of everything, just at the right dose. It is modern, but not techno. It is trendy but it doesn’t get out of date. Food-wise, the menu is structured in a way that sprinkles some exotic Brazilian ingredients with dishes and ingredients that are internationally accessible and familiar. But most importantly, Zuka has maintained itself as a good restaurant for at least a decade now.
There are many hits on the menu. The grilled tuna with pupunhatagliatelle and a horseradish infusion, photo above (Atum Semi Cru e Tagliatelle de Palmito com Infusão de Raiz Forte ao Leite)( stay tuned for the recipe coming up in the following posts) would not keep Zuka in the category of merely good. Oh no, we are talking here about great, truly divine. Although pupunha tagliatelle originated in the kitchens of DOM and his master chef Alex Atala in São Paulo, I suppose even he would be proud of this dish.
The Garlic-Bread-Crusted Shrimp with Lemon Risotto, photo below (Camarões em Crosta de Pão de Alho com Risotto de Limão Siciliano) is sheen and creamy, with hints of lemon zest perfuming and lightening the risotto while contrasting perfectly with each bite of crunchy crusted shrimp.
For those who are looking for a gamey taste, I highly recommend the Lamb with Passion Fruit Infused Baroa Mashed Potatoes ( batata baroa, aka mandioquinha is a tuber vegetable that tastes something between a potato, a yucca, and a carrot). The most notable component of the dish is the bold combination of tropical passion fruit with rural Baroa potatoes, but not to be forgotten is the sauce, that rounds up the meat and the tangy mashed potatoes.
Desserts tend to get lost in translation, and I mean from Portuguese to Portuguese. I’ll explain. Many desserts are titled one thing, perhaps to sound more attractive, but bears little resemblance to their descriptions. With White Chocolate Petit Gateaux, for instance, if you are expecting a white chocolate molten cake like I was, be ready for an individual almond cake with nothing molten about it, and a white chocolate sauce on the side. I might have been less disappointed if the description of the dish had been more accurate. The same goes for the Pistachio Brownie with Red Fruit and Vanilla Ice Cream. What brownie? That was a pistachio cake, and while it was a bit too sweet, it was still quite pleasant.
Egg Cream with Cinnamon Ice Cream (Ovos Moles com Sorvete de Canela, photo below) is a big revelation. I tend to have a barrier overOvos Moles; nearly every recipe I have ever tried, tasted overly sweet. To my surprise, not only was the description correct this time around, but the execution was the best I’ve tasted in quite a while. It proved that any dessert, when rightly dosed with sugar, can be spectacular. Paired with marshmallow ( again not overly sweet) and a fruit salad, this dessert is the perfect example that when you’re sampling Ludmilla’s creations, the next dish is always more exciting than the previous.
One my next post, I will write about chef Ludmilla Soares and my interview with her.
Rua Dias Ferreira 233, loja B
Leblon, Rio de Janeiro
Tel: ( 011-55-21) 3205-7154