I first discovered Rio's Brazilian at the Downtown Farmer's Market last summer. I bought one of their salgadinhos (savory pastries, not unlike an empanada), and immediately fell in love with their spicy malagueta sauce, a spicy/tangy/mildly sweet concoction that's good on eggs, burgers, fries, you name it! That day at the farmer's market, Rio's co-owner Ben, told me a bit about their products and mentioned the sauce & cheesebreads were available at Whole Foods. So I've been buying this fabulous sauce there ever since! I had heard over the winter months that the restaurant had opened on Pleasant Valley and East 4th, and I knew eventually I'd have to check it out.
So two friends and I trekked over on a Wednesday evening. It's a small building, and while there were some seats available inside, we decided to take advantage of the break in the recent 100 degree temperatures, and sit outside. As far as I could tell, there were 2 waitresses working the entire place, and ours was attentive and affable the entire time. The plethora of house flies though was an issue throughout the meal.
We started with a couple passion fruit juices as we studied the menu. Rarely do you find passion fruit juice with such great flavor, so that was a great treat to begin the meal. After some discussion over the menu, we each decided to order a Samba Combo, which offers a salgadinho of choice with your pick of a couple other items. That way, we could try a variety of the offerings.
I chose the chicken risoli salgadinho, with the yuca fries (apim frito) & collard green soup with bacon, sausage & potato (caldo verde). Amongst us, we also had the hearts of palm empadao and the yuca bolhino from the salgadino menu, the copacabana salad, and the cheese bread trio.
I liked the chicken salgadinho, though it's a very dense dough; it benefitted from the spicy malgueta sauce, that came with the fries, rather than the pineapple coconut one which was served with it. The yuca fries were really good, though the menu says they're sprinkled with parmesan, I couldn't really detect any. All of their fried items were fantastic in that they were warm, but not a hint of grease or oil -- someone's doing something right! The mug you see in the picture with the bread on it was the soup, which was very hearty; maybe not the best choice for really warm weather. Would love to try it again when it's 20 - 30 degrees cooler outside! A little bit of heat -- strong garlic or hot sauce (not sure the malagueta would work here, but maybe), would give it a bit more depth.
The heart of palm "cupcake" as they describe it, pictured above was the winner in terms of the pastry dough. It was nice and light, and not nearly as dense as the others. The yuca one was similar to the chicken that I had, a very thick mass of dough. (They were out of the spinach ricotta one which sounded really good.) The salad was tasty, nice fresh spinach, candied walnuts, beets, little bit of apple. When I tasted it, I could have sworn I was getting a vanilla-like flavor from the dressing, and looking back now at the menu, it is a peach white wine vinaigrette I was tasting. The one main disappointment of the meal however was their cheese bread; these were dense and had a very gummy texture. When I have had "pao de quejo" before, whether purchased frozen from Central Market then baked or at Fogo de Chao, they are light and airy, and completely addictive. I applaud the creativity in making basil & roasted red pepper flavored ones, but unfortunately none of us could really get past the texture, and couldn't discern the flavors.
I also appreciate that Rio's is making a lot of gluten-free items, and on their menu, they also state when their meat dishes can be made into vegetarian ones. We saw a couple of the "plates" at the table next to us, the chicken stroganoff and rice gnocchi, which both looked sizeable and good, and there's a torta/savory pie that sounds good for cooler weather. I will happily though, continue to buy the spicy malagueta sauce year-round, as it is very unique, and more importantly, tasty!