You have to walk past a lot of bling to get to Eça (Av. Rio Branco 128, Centro, tel. 21/2524-2401, www.hstern.com.br/eca/ , noon–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., R$45–55). Located in the basement of H. Stern jewelers, this elegant restaurant is single-handedly responsible for the arrival of contemporary cuisine in Rio ’s business district. Celebrated Belgian chef Frédéric de Maeyer brings a Gallic sensibility and sense of inventiveness to the kitchen. The results—tuna with goat cheese sorbet and arugula or fresh fish in a pistachio crust with leek risotto—are sophisticated and surprising. For dessert, Maeyer gets (understandably) nationalistic and resorts to Belgian chocolate for the preparation of airy soufflés and tortes.
Ambiance is everything at Cais do Oriente (Rua Visconde de Itaboraí 8, Centro, tel. 21/2233-2531, www.caisdooriente.com.br , Tues.–Sat. noon–midnight, Sun.–Mon. noon–4 p.m., R$40–50), located in a stunningly renovated 19th-century warehouse. Actually there are several ambiances to choose from: the palmy open-air patio, the mezzanine lounge with a stage for live music performances, and the main salon that is sumptuously decorated with antiques, Oriental carpets, and gigantic mirrors. The menu, as varied as the surroundings, offers a mishmash of Asian and Mediterranean dishes prepared with a contemporary twist. The overall sensation is otherworldly.