By Felicity Clarke, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Don’t be duped by international prevalence and vast marketing budgets – Doritos are not the last word in corn chips. Exciting evidence has emerged to support this in the form of the nacho dish at Blue Agave, the newly opened Mexican bar and restaurant on Rua Vinicius de Moraes in Ipanema.
After a rapid two month renovation transforming a disused shop unit into a stylish yet cozy bar, American chefs Richard Nelson and Jason Galeria opened Blue Agave last weekend. Serving a simple menu of snacks and meals, the pair are bringing a fresh Mexican flavor to Zona Sul.
“Being from California I grew up eating Mexican food and I just love it”, says Galeria, who trained in Rio and previously worked at Gibo Brambini and GT Brasiline. “Mexican food fits so well with Rio because it’s fresh and healthy”.
Despite the international appeal of the cuisine and the availability of ingredients, Mexican restaurants are sparse in Rio, something which struck Richard Nelson, who trained amongst top chefs across the US, “You do an internet search for Mexican restaurants in California and you get over 3,743 results, yet there are only a handful in the whole of Rio de Janeiro”.
Named after the base plant ingredient of tequila, Blue Agave is a welcome addition to the list. The menu features Mexican staples tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas, and of course the aforementioned nachos which are something special: a haphazard heap of fresh-from-the-fryer chips that have a lightly salted flavor and a deeply pleasing crunch, all layered with melted cheese, lettuce, beans, sour cream and a sharp homemade salsa doing a tangy sweet dance all over the show.
With two chefs running the joint it’s not surprising there’s a clear focus on fresh, well prepared food. It’s the reasonable prices come as a surprise. Food ranges from R$4.50 for a taco to R$15 for the full baked enchiladas with rice and beans.
As Nelsons says, “Mexican food shouldn’t be expensive. It should be tasty snack food that you can enjoy with a beer or margarita, on the way to or from the beach or while watching a game”.
Like any right-thinking bar owners in Rio, Nelson and Galeria have installed a TV screen for the sports (read football). What marks them out as a bit different is that the TV wasn’t their only décor consideration. With bare brick, stained glass features, wooden fittings, dimmer lighting and a patchwork of vintage Brahma beer tiles installed in the stairway, attention has been paid to the aesthetics and it pays off in creating a subtly characterful yet relaxed environment.
Nelson and Galeria have plans to build on their foundation by expanding their range of tequilas and flexing their culinary creativity further with a specials board. “We’ll have a fillet mignon and a fresh salmon dish,” enthuses Nelson, “and if I can get hold of green tomatoes, we’ll definitely do a salsa verde”.
With a good food, a cool-yet-comfortable environment and a prime central Ipanema location, Blue Agave is a promising new opening that’s worth a visit for the nachos alone.
For more information call (21) 3592-9271/8351-7056, or visit at Vinicius de Morae 68 in Ipanema, open Noon – 2 AM daily.