Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Great food, drink in exotic Rio de Janeiro

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There are many incredible things to eat in Rio de Janeiro. Skewered shrimp, sold by a sweaty, shirtless man walking up and down Copacabana Beach, is not one of them. I know this because I asked a local whether the shrimp was safe.

"No," said Leandro, a young Brazilian lawyer. "I lost my uncle because of the shrimp."

"I'm so sorry," I said.

"Oh, it's OK," he said with a shrug. "He wasn't a very good uncle."

So, the shrimp was out; fresh coconut water, drank straight from the fruit, was in.

After the sun had set and the coconut water was gone, my friend Nadia and I ventured into Rio's streets to find some satisfying grub. And did we ever. Here are highlights from the four days we spent eating and drinking our way through the city:

Meat

FIRST, it should be said that if you are a carnivore, Rio is the place for you. That's because Brazil is famous for rodizio, a bona-fide meat extravaganza.

At these restaurants, waiters -- each carrying a big skewer of beef, chicken, pork or lamb -- cruise the tables so they can slice you a slab of whatever you want.

They stop serving only when you call it quits. (If you develop meat sweats, it may be time to throw in the napkin.)

We stopped in at Carretao Churrascaria (carretao.com.br), steps away from Copacabana, and were not disappointed. Every morsel was delectable; the best meat, in our opinion, was cupim, a tender piece of beef hump.

Not only were we in meat heaven, but there was also a hefty salad bar and a variety of sides, including rice, olives, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. All of this, including a carafe of red wine, coffee and one brownie -- turns out brownies are beloved everywhere -- cost us about $22 each.

We gave Carretao two big thumbs up. As well as two bloated bellies. With that in mind, a word of advice: don't wear tight clothing. Sweatpants, preferably with a drawstring waist, would be better. (carretao.com.br)

Seafood

THEY'RE so big!" said Nadia, as she surveyed the dish of shrimp, cooked in coconut milk and herbs, that had arrived at our table.

They were definitely big. Better yet, they were the most savoury shrimp we'd ever eaten. Sobrenatural, a seafood restaurant found in a small, artsy part of town called Santa Teresa, is worth the trek up the area's narrow, winding roads.

For roughly $44 each, we gorged on shrimp, rice, a mixed-greens salad and white wine. The restaurant itself was full; most were locals indulging in a mid-afternoon lunch. Tasty food aside, the fact that Rio's locals, or cariocas, flock there is added proof that Sobrenatural is a gem. (Rua Almirante Alexandrino, 432 -Santa Teresa)

Drinks

We learned only two Portuguese words while in Rio: obrigado, which means thank you; and caipirinha, which is the name of Brazil's yummy national drink. (Both words proved to be extremely useful.)

Caipirinhas are made with three main ingredients: sugar, limes and liquor called cachaca. Perhaps the best caipirinhas we drank while in Rio were at Café Sacrilégio, a restaurant and bar known for its live samba music. We ended up there our first night in town, when jet lag and a heavy meal at a bustling restaurant across the street, Antonio's Bar and Botequim, had left us sleepy. The band at Sacrilégio woke us up and kept us going; the guys had a room full of people, mostly women, dancing on the floor, at their tables and even at the bar in the back of the room.

And, oh, how the drinks were excellent. We sipped on pineapple caipirinhas -- sweet but not sickly so -- all night. Our bartender took his time crafting each one; the softly crushed chunks of fresh fruit sometimes clogged our straws.

The second-best caipirinhas, in our opinion? The ones we sipped while lazing under an umbrella at Ipanema, a gorgeous beach packed full of sunbathers. But we may have been swayed by the location. (sacrilegio.com.br)

Food with a view

Look up to Rio's sky and you'll spot the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, a stunning statue of Jesus Christ that's said to keep watch over the city.

Better yet, head up Corcovado Mountain to the statue's base and look down for panoramic views of the entire city.

While you're there, grab a seat at Restaurante Corcovado, a basic café with a patio. Food is average -- think grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and burgers -- but that's not the point. The view will leave you more than satisfied.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2011 D5

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