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There are a select number of truly great restaurants in Rio that can make any occasion special. Over recent years restaurant prices in general have increased significantly in Rio, especially in American-dollar terms, and the restaurants listed below are no exception, but the quality compares favorably to similarly priced restaurants in New York, Paris or London. Wine lists, except where noted below, are relatively extensive, but also completely shameless in terms of markup (a phenomenon not isolated to Rio de Janeiro). While there are some excellent restaurants in some of the 5-star hotels (Cipriani, Fasano al Mare, Le Pre Catalan), these haven't been included below.
Roberta Sudbrack - Former presidential chef Roberta Sudbrack opened her eponymous restaurant a few years ago in Jardim Botanico, and is turning out some of the best food in Rio. Friday and Saturday dinners are a fixed price, set-menu affair usually comprising 5 to 8 small dishes, so don't expect to be able to order a la carte. Dishes tend to be made up of few ingredients, each of impeccable quality, delicated prepared and beautifully presented. An example is a brunoise of blanched asparagus and tiny cubes of crispy fried bread, atop which is a single perfect egg yolk so delicately poached that a single brush of the fork causes it to dissolve completely. Expect to pay over $100 per person plus drinks and tip. Weekday fare is a bit less elaborate. Winelist is by Mondovino director (and Rio resident) Jonathan Nossiter, and has some unusual selections worth trying. Reservations are essential.
Olympe - Now that chef Claude Troisgros (of the 3-star Troisgros family) is a famous TV personality, he doesn't spend quite as much time in his Jardim Botanico restaurant, but the kitchen still turns out some amazing fare. The menu combines elaborate technique with local ingredients, so the result is a style you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. There is an a la carte menu or a chef's tasting menu; both are sound choices.
Gero - The first outpost in Rio of the São Paulo-based Fasano empire (now joined by the Hotel Fasano and the upscale sandwich restaurant Forneria), situated on a corner in a residential area of Ipanema. Italian cuisine of astounding quality coupled with impeccable service. Fasano imports his own wines, many of which are excellent but his markups are considered among the highestin Brazil.
Mr. Lam - If you have a group of four or more, book a table at this upscale Chinese restaurant overlooking the Lagoa and choose the tasting menu with Peking duck. You get a table-full of starters, a table-full of main courses (which may include an utterly transcendent sweet-and-sour shrimp) and finish off with a gorgeous, crispy-skinned Peking duck, complete with pancakes, scallions and hoi-sin sauce.
Careme Bistrot - Chef Flavia Quaresma has also now become a TV personnality, but can still be found in here Botafogo restaurant most weekends. If you're hungry, go for the 10-course tasting menu, which is a memorable culinary experience. The fare is a step above bistrot cuisine but relatively true to its french roots. Winelist is compact, but relatively fair, as is the corkage policy.