Monday, October 4, 2010

Bloggable by a thread

GERO, Rua Aníbal de Mendonçam 157, Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, TEL: 55-21/2239-8158

Normally, Gero would not be the kind of experience I would blog about. I said from the outset that I would not use this space to bemoan disappointing dining experiences, and this was a betrayal of huge proportions.

There we were in Ipanema, Rio’s trendiest neighborhood. Dining guides and accepted wisdom sent us to Gero, the first of the Fasano group, with promises of innovative Italian cuisine and fresh pasta prepared on the spot. Chris’ first comment should have alerted me. “This is a place that both Monica and Harriet could really get into”. Now, Monica is a Hollywood agent, with academy award winning clientele, and Harriet has a stunning home in the hills of Santa Barbara. A red flag should have gone up to tell me that this was going to be the kind of place where the glamorous outdid the gastronomic. I missed it.

As we settled into our respective caiprinhas and white wine, an array of breads and spreads was laid out before us. Saving my carbs for the pasta, I shunned all of this. It had been so long since I travelled in Europe that I had forgotten to beware of the customary “couvert” charge for the little starters that appear unordered – most definitely not on the house. The custom was replicated here, in this case boosting the bill by a whopping $25. Mercifully, we only found out about that later.

I had arrived with a decisive yearning for fish – and Italians do fish so well – but the price points on the menu dictated pasta. Grouper with basil sauce sounded good, but not so good as to warrant $40. Anyway, the pasta was what all the fuss was about. Since the gnocchi with calamari and scallops seemed to satisfy the pescatory requirement, I decided to go with that. Chris also compromised on the exorbitant lamb chops with truffles, ($60) and settled instead on pasta with foie gras. (My look of “oh how gross” was returned with the tart “Only you and Jillian Michaels could malign this combination”).

To start, we decided to split the green salad (splitting charge: $5). Though mostly green leaf lettuce, it was fresh and included a leaf of endive and a single spear of asparagus. All would have been well, had we not been offered what turned out to be an extra shot of olive oil. The salad had already been dressed, and this unnecessary flourish sent it over the top.

My misery reached full throttle when the gnocchi arrived. Tiny little morsels, they were immersed in a pool of butter. Rather than succulent scallops and perfectly grilled calamari sitting recognizably alongside them on the plate, the mollusks had been shaved to a nearly invisible (and correspondingly tasteless) skein.

I turned to Chris: “Can you believe how the gnocchi are swimming in butter?”

“Ever seen them doing the backstroke?” she cracked right back. It was the perfect joke at the perfect moment. But it dissolved the ire that I needed to send the dish back. Relief at finding humor in this horror of a restaurant mugging kept me from acting, and I suffered through the meal, picking at the dish and not quite being able to get through it. Chris polished off her two patties of foie gras, washed down by muscat to cut the richness. She looked quite green by the end of it, but that was to be expected, I sniffed.

It was Chris that found that elevating moment. In the bathroom of all places. There she found…a never-before-in-a-restaurant accoutrement…a dental floss dispenser. She came back to the table beaming. So there you have it. Not a food moment; not even mine, but bloggable, just by a thread.

Photo credit: Jan Chipchase

Notes on dining in Rio: Rio is not really known for its restaurants, and in fact, my favorite food moments in the city have been on the beach, where you can buy grilled shrimp with a splash of lime right from your beach chair. Still, we did have some pleasant dining experiences while we were there. Although none was to die for, here are a few I would happily go back to:

Carretao is a neighborhood churrascaria in Ipanema. At $29 for all you can eat grilled meat and elaborate salad bar, it was a good antidote to Gero, and more fun too. Drinks and dessert are extra.

Garcia & Rodrigues in Leblon is another down to earth place, and has a wine store and bakery on the premises as well as the restaurant.

Rio Scenarium is a nightclub in the hip Lapa neighborhood, recently reclaimed from drug traffickers. You will mostly be going for the live music, samba dancing, and three floors worth of Brazilian collectibles, but it has surprisingly good food. People from 20 -75 years of age are on the dance floor. Make a reservation, come early, or be prepared to wait in a very long line.

Opium’s patio on the Rua Farme de Amoedo in Ipanema is the perfect place to have a drink at the end of the day and watch people coming back from the beach. Beautifully presented but overpriced Japanese food.

No comments: