By Nathan M. Walters, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - While many think of fine dining in Rio being centered around the beaches of Zona Sul (South Zone), along with many facets of Carioca culture, there are plenty of gems to be discovered throughout the Cidade Maravilhosa. Tucked away in a relatively unassuming neighborhood of Praça da Bandeira in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone), Aconchego Carioca (loosely translated as Cozy Carioca) is authentic Brazilian kitchen at its finest.
The restaurant has won the endearment of many visitors, tourists and Carioca alike. Not only because the food is delicious, which it is, but also because the dynamic personality at the helm of Aconchego, Kátia Barbosa, makes certain that every part of the dining experience is infused with the love and care that is all but absent in many other eateries in Rio.
To say Barbosa is charismatic is an understatement; she has the energy of a young child and the attentiveness of a caring mother. She started Aconchego some six years ago with here sister-in-law in a small neighborhood bar.
At the time she acted as chef, hostess, waiter and cleaner of the restaurant which now sits in front of Achonchego’s current location, the same one for the past three years, Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 379.
Her idea was simple: Brazilian food is great and needs to be shared. “There was an idea that Brazilian food was inferior, that good food only came from outside the country.” An emotional Barbosa states, “I wanted to change that, to re-establish the tradition and value in our cuisine, in our ingredients.”
The change in the view of Brazilian cuisine ushered in by chefs like Barbosa started with a simple dish that is now recreated across Brazil: bolinho de feijoada (feijoada ball). Aconchego’s bolinho de feijoada kick-started the restaurants popularity.
“After we added it to the menu we started having two hour lines,” recalls Barbosa, “It is still our most popular.”
The bolinho de feijoada is only one of the many innovative and delicious items on the menu at Aconchego. The whole menu is focused on representing the variety of Brazilian cuisine in a forward-thinking manner, a large selection of dishes from all regions of the continent-sized country.
In addition to great food, the restaurant also maintains one of Rio’s most impressive beer list.
Barbosa’s innovative recipes combined with her focus on quality have paid off; the restaurant is usually full with a mixed crowd of locals and tourists waiting patiently outside.
The present location is expanding to accommodate more guests though, for now, Barbosa has no plans of opening another location in Rio. “I want to ensure the quality of the experience here and I can’t do that at two places. When I am here I can watch and make sure the food, the service, the experience is perfect.”
It is successes like Aconchego Carioca that are making Zona Norte a more popular destination in Rio, and that brings satisfaction to Barbosa, “I am happy because through the restaurant I have been able to help people, the workers here and the community. Plus, I am helping bring integrity back to Brazilian cuisine.”
Barbosa will travel later this year to France to make feijoada for some fifty attendees at a culinary conference. No need to book a ticket to Paris though. “Here is my home,” states Barbosa, and sometimes the best nourishment comes from a home cooked meal.