Rio- One of the few things that caught me off guard while I was living in Boston was its demographics. As I have mentioned before, there was a surprisingly large Thai community in Boston. What was even more surprising to me was that there was an even larger Brazilian community. The existence of a large Brazilian community meant the existence of a Brazilian micro-economy that comprised of services, shops, and restaurants that catered to the expats. Non-Brazilians like myself benefited from this micro-economy because we were able to tap into authentic Brazilian culture by visiting the Brazilian businesses.
Before Boston, the only Brazilian restaurants I’ve been to were rodizio (AYCE) churrascarias in the United States and Taiwan. I found the food at the Brazilian buffets to be generally enjoyable, but I had my doubts about their authenticity. My doubts were erased after visiting Brazilian restaurants in Boston when I found the food at the restaurants to more or less be similar (minus a few of the obviously included-to-please-locals items) to the rodizio churrascarias elsewhere. There was a hot and cold buffet with salads, vegetables, rice, pasta, and stewed/braised meat and fish. There was also a churrasco with various types of meats and sausages on rotating (rotatable) skewers roasting over an open fire. Even though there were definitely restaurants in the rodizio style in Boston, most of the restaurants that I visited (and that were more popular with local Brazilians) were cafeteria pay-by-weight style. This style of restaurant was more affordable because it did not impose a high fixed-price for numerous minimum-wage-earning diners that relied on these restaurants for their daily sustenance. The quality of food at these cafeteria-style restaurants also matched their economical prices. Whereas rodizio-style churrascarias served premiums cuts of high-grade meat grilled to the right temperature while retaining all their liquids, cafeteria-style Brazilian joints served diner-grade, less-desireable cuts that usually sits over the open fire for hours on end during non-busy hours. As you can imagine, dried-out and overdone meat was a common occurrence at Brazilian cafeterias.
Enter Rio, the newcomer to the rather paltry local Brazilian dining scene. It is a Brazilian steakhouse serving different types of meat grilled over the churrasco and both hot and cold buffets. The format of the restaurant is that of the rodizio- which I expected high-quality meat from. There is a huge difference between the price they charged for dinner ($30) and lunch ($15). My wife and I chose to make our first visit a lunch visit to gauge the quality of its (limited lunch) offerings before plunking down the $100+ for a family dinner there.
My wife immediately liked the unpretentious and non-fancy interior of the restaurant as we walked in.
She thought that the use of the distressed wood made the restaurant feel rustic, inviting, and cozy. I thought that it looked like a…recently opened restaurant.
As per usual with these types of restaurants, we were given “stop” and “go” coasters to indicate to the circulating “gaucho” whether we wanted to be served more meat.
Both my wife and I started the meal with a trip to the buffet.
There were pre-mixed vegetable salads, fresh and pickled vegetables, fruit salads, pasta salads, and legumes in the cold buffet. Everything was fresh and tasted like they were prepared a few hours earlier. I especially liked the bright, juicy, and crispy apple salad and the teeth-bouncing pasta salad.
My wife liked the leafy greens, sweet corn, cool hot peppers, and refreshing salsa.
She also liked the braised fish from the hot buffet.
She said that the fish had a tender texture and was full of flavours. She proclaimed it the best protein of the day.
I thought the title of the best protein of the day belonged to the lamb from the churrasco, which my wife did not try.
The lamb was the juiciest type of meat I had during the meal. The pieces I received were all cooked to a degree of doneness that was between medium well and well-done. This made the lamb a tiny bit hard to chew, but not to the point of jerky-like toughness. I thought that the tastiest aspects of the lamb were its slight gamey flavour and its just-right saltiness. Needless to say, when the one of the two best flavour elements of the best piece of meat in a Brazilian steakhouse meal was its saltiness, the other types of meat served must all be pretty underwhelming.
Both my wife and I agreed that the pork was the worst piece of meat we had.
Notice the drops of grease in the photograph? Those were the only hints of moisture we detected in the pork with any of our senses. The pork was dry on the outside, and extra dry on the inside. It was drier than pork jerky and much tougher to chew. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I noticed that I could hardly taste any seasoning at all. It was like I was eating low-sodium fat-filtered hypertension-preventing pork. Both my wife and I refused a second serving when the “cowboy” came around with the skewer of pork again.
The chicken was almost just as tough as the pork, but it was able to avoid being the worst meat of the meal because its fully-cooked and moisture-devoid texture was more palatable than that of the equally dry pork.
Unlike the pork, the chicken did not exceed meat jerky in terms of dryness, it was on par with jerky. In terms of the lack of saltiness or any other “flavor-ness”, it was as bland as the pork. I made use of the salt shaker more than once eating every single piece of the petite thighs.
The beef was a little better.
A minority number of slices we received actually had a detectable amount of moisture. Those same slices were also the only slices that had any hint of pinkness. The moisture and pinkness allowed those pieces to feel like an actual piece of grilled beef. There was also a distinct beefy flavour along with a detectable saltiness to the beef. I thought that this cut of beef I had at Rio actually tasted very much like a cut called “Picanha” (if I remembered correctly) that I frequently had at the Brazilian cafeterias in Boston. Like the Cafeteria versions, the best slices of beef were acceptable, while the other slices were merely tolerable.
In terms of texture, the sausage was much better than every piece of meat we were served.
The sausages weren’t overly dry. They were both easy to bite off and easy to bite through. They had textures that I would normally expect from any sausage. They had flavours that I felt could have come from any sausage. The sausages were very average-tasting. They were generic. They tasted like supermarket sausage – like a cheap, unidentifiable discount supermarket-brand sausage. They were so generic that I couldn’t even recall what they tasted like even though it has not been that long since I’ve had them.
I don’t know if you can tell from my descriptions of the food I ate, but the meal was pretty disappointing. Actually, it was very disappointing. The main part of the meal, the grilled, skewered meat, was mostly dry and flavourless. They had textures and flavours that did not even approach the most average-tasting rodizio style churrascarias I’ve been to. The best piece of meat actually matched the (non)tastiness of the most mediocre piece of meat served at Brazilian cafeteria style restaurants in Boston. The only part of the meal that approached tastiness were the fresh items from the buffet, but the items were only providing a supporting role. I guess when you are one of the only few Brazilian restaurants in the city, you could serve subpar food and charge $30 for it while still hoping to stay afloat. For me, I would not even think about paying $30 for meat similar to what I received. I don’t even think that the $15 I paid for lunch was worth it. I think a more reasonable price for the quality of meat served would be $2.49 per pound…actually, $2.49 per kilogram, with the first half kilo being free of charge.