April 18th, 2015


Churrascaria rodizio

We had a lie-in and watched the Sky coverage of Ipswich Town's draw against Wolves using W's phone to display our home signal through our SlingBox. With one eye on the game I checked the opening hours of Real Gabinete Portugues Da Leitura, a vast library of Portuguese books built in the 1880s to promote Portuguese culture. The reading room is an atrium four stories high with a glazed cupola illuminating the book-lined walls. The collection of over 350,000 volumes contains some real rarities and most of these are available to browse by anyone who requests a reading card. It is renowned as one of the most spectacular libraries in the world and it is closed at weekends. Our Monday schedule was full so I had missed my chance.

Instead of negotiating the metro to visit the library and its nearby theatre, we went for breakfast at Stalos, a brightly coloured design conscious cafe bar with wonderful dishes under glass counters in front of a wall of illuminated bottles and glasses. There were people eating pizzas at the street front counter but we took a table inside and ordered a breakfast with crispy curls of bacon, toast, fried eggs, and coffee. The waiter seemed very surprised when we declined milk and sugar for the coffee and I understood his position when I tasted the brew. It was a very strong rich flavour. I loved it but I can imagine it being too much for many people.

Sated and buzzing with the caffeine we browsed the shops along the Avenida. There were clothes, shoes, stationery, and leather goods. There were electronics, books, gifts, and flip-flops. Flip-flops? Yes, an entire shop seemed entirely devoted to the casual sandals with a window crowded with the fashionable Brazilian Havaianas. Inside, entire walls were coated in the things and W was thrilled to discover that overstocks from the 2014 World Cup were selling at just under £5. When she looked closely at the shoes in England colours, a sullen sales assistant came to help. Having chosen her Havaianas, W noticed that the back of the shop was devoted to all manner of other goods, there were bags, hats, homewares and there were padlocks. The success of W's little lock from Buenos Aires had convinced us that we should buy slightly larger versions for our bigger bags. We chose combination locks as a more convenient technology for this need. Still without a smile, the young sales woman handed our purchases to a cashier and returned to the front of the shop.

Equipped with the height of fashionable beachwear, W had to return to the sands. We walked the block to the ocean road, crossed the busy highway, and flipped floppily along the promenade.

Back in the apartment, we passed the afternoon in gentle loafing with books and laptops.

As sunset approached we returned to the beach for sundowners. We chose a retro kiosk where beer mats curled under glass-topped tables as trapped flies mooched aimlessly among them. When darkness fell we headed north to find a rodizio. We had heard that Marius was one of the finest such steakhouses where waiters with long skewers of skillfully grilled meats carve portions at your table until you cry 'uncle'. Marius is notably expensive and lay at the far end of the beach, almost two miles away, and the cheaper Carretão was about half that distance. Carretão is noted, however, for its long queues. We decided to check out Carretão and only go on to Marius if the queues were offputting. We had the opposite problem. We were a bit early for Brazilian diners and Carretão was just too quiet for our comfort. Rodizio, like most buffets, needs a certain level of trade to maintain an appealing stock turnover and to encourage restauranteurs to offer the widest range.

To give Carretão time to fill up we went to Rondinella, the restaurant bar on the street corner at the beach front. We were looked after by a double act of two friendly waiters and their drinks measures were sufficiently generous that I wondered why they bothered with the jigger. “He has a … you say 'heavy hand'?” commented one as my second Campari was delivered at about 50% over spec. It seems that televised football is ubiquitous in Rio. The bar was far from full this early evening but immediately under the large television at the far end of the tented decking sat a couple who had found the only way to avoid watching a game.

After about an hour of large-scale drinking we returned to Carretão. It was still more quiet than we wished but we were hungry so in we went. The buffet was very varied. It even had sushi. But we moderated our grazing to leave room for the glorious grilled meats that were being paraded around the room. Every delivery presented me with the challenge of deciding between the delicious lightly charred crust or the delicious rare inner. Of course, I chose both each time and the waiter wielded his wickedly sharp knife to slice fine flesh onto my plate. We did not have the usual red/green stop/go discs on our table but it was quiet enough for the waiters to ask us personally if we wished to have any of their current offering. Mostly we said 'quero' (literally 'I want', which is the appropriate assent) but eventually we declined. Marius may have been able to offer us more variety but we were more than satisfied with our meal at Carretão.