It’s a Carioca cliché that only tourists eat at Rio’s usually lackluster seaside restaurants, but when the much-awaited Hotel Fasano, designed by Philippe Starck, opened in August 2007, Rio’s rich and hungry were forced to make an exception for Fasano Al Mare (Av. Vieira Souto 80, Ipanema, tel. 21/3202-4000, www.fasano.com.br, 6:30–10:30 a.m., noon–4 p.m. and 7 p.m.–1 a.m. daily with extended weekend hours, R$80–100). In fact, this gorgeous restaurant is all about the ocean. Aside from bewitching views of Ipanema beach, the inspired maritime decor includes polished sea shells and Murano glass lamps that resemble octopus tentacles. Then there is the menu, offering seafood delights prepared by Luca Gozzani, a three-star Michelin chef imported from Italy.
São Paulo’s Rogério Fasano, hotelier and restaurateur extraordinaire, is also the man behind the Carioca version of Gero (Rua Anibal de Mendonça 157, Ipanema, tel. 21/2239-8158, www.fasano.com.br/gerorio, noon–4 p.m. and 7 p.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Fri., noon–2 a.m. Sat., noon–midnight Sun., R$60–80), routinely considered the one of the top Italian restaurants in the city. The simple decor—skylights, blond wood floors, and exposed brick walls hung with black and white photos—belies the fact that even Rio’s rich and trendy sometimes find themselves on the waiting list to dine here. Avoid the crush and high prices and come for a three-course R$70 lunch during the week, when you can partake of delicious Italian classics such as an impeccable ravioli stuffed with mozzarella in a basic tomato sauce as well as the more refined likes of quail stuffed with foie gras and saffron risotto.
For simpler Italian fare, head to La Forneria (Rua Maria Quitéria 136, Ipanema, tel. 21/2287-0335, www.laforneria.com.br, noon–1 a.m. Sun.–Thurs., noon–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat., R$28–38). This pleasantly rustic house with a privileged view of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas serves up more than 30 types of delicious thin crust pizza baked in a wood-burning oven. Try the del Contadino, which is topped with buffalo mozzarella, camembert, fresh figs, and prosciutto.
The sushi chefs at Sushi Leblon (Rua Dias Ferreira 256, Leblon, tel. 21/2512-7830, noon–4 p.m. and 7 p.m.–1:30 a.m. Mon.–Fri., noon–1:30 a.m. Sat., 1:30 p.m.–midnight Sun., R$45–55) are actually from the northeastern coastal state of Ceará, a region with a strong fishing tradition. Once they acquired Japanese preparation techniques, there was no stopping them. As a result, this sophisticated address has attracted a loyal following. Both visually striking and appetizing, the sushi prepared always includes startling innovations such as eel sushi with quail’s eggs and truffle oil. Non-sushi fare is equally creative: Try the sea urchin ceviche seasoned with ginger, pimenta, and Sicilian limes.
Antiquarius (Rua Aristides Espinola 19, Leblon, tel. 21/2294-1049, www.antiquarius.com.br, noon–2 a.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–midnight Sun., R$70–90) is indisputably one of Rio’s finest restaurants. When it opened in 1977, Brazilians were amazed to discover that Portuguese cuisine went far beyond its signature specialty of bacalhau (salted cod). This elegant eatery offers up this classic—neophytes should try the simplest version, roasted in the finest olive oil with onions, garlic, and olives. Diners can also sample lesser-known regional delicacies, such as duck risotto with olives and paio sausage, or lobster with lemon rice and couve, as well as some truly delectable desserts. Rounding out the experience are antique furnishings, fresh flowers, and fine English porcelain along with impeccable service.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition