We took a city bus to reach the restaurant from where we were staying in Flamengo. I found during our time in Rio that the drivers ignore red lights, accelerate towards jaywalkers and generally don't seem to have any fear for their own lives. As we screeched around corners faster than I felt should have been possible, I wondered at our choice of mass transit. How could pedestrians ever dare to step in front of what was so obviously a madmen bent on their demise. I was already a bundle of nervous energy without the looming threat of a collision, I tend to get this way before we go dine at a nice restaurant and today was no exception.
My excitement always begins to build as I get ready, don my one somewhat acceptable "fancy outfit", and head out the door. My palms get clammy with anticipation as try to imagine what the restaurant might be like and if we are lucky enough to meet the chef, if he will have a moment to chat with us.
Thomas Troisgros, along with his father Claude, run several restaurants in Rio including Olympe.
Knowing that he came from three star Michelin heritage did nothing to calm me as we held on for dear life while barreling through the streets of Rio hoping we were on the right bus, unsure of our stop and praying that we might make it. Finally arriving at what we hoped was our destination, we froggered our way across the busy road and found ourselves suddenly on a peaceful side street lined with trees.
"Being able to proudly showcase the unique products made nearby not only serves to draw your community together, it also shows those from afar how vibrant this community is."
I had forgotten for a moment that we were in an massive unpredictable city known for crime, with favelas and luxury high rises occupying the same neighborhoods. Sometimes it's best to take precautions against people with less than honorable intentions when catering to an upscale crowd. Ushering us in, he quietly locked the door behind us and led us to our table.
As we settled into a corner tucked away from the door, I finally could relax. We had made it, and I was famished! Sparking water had never tasted so good, and my basil smash was just the thing I needed to unwind. Trying to decide on which menu to choose, I spied the chef making his way to our table.
Standing in a dining room named for his grandmother, he shared that he began training with Daniel Boulud at the age early age of twelve and as he told us of his experience and history, I sheepishly wondered what I was doing at age twelve... It definitely was not working with one of the most well known names in the restaurant world. From the CIA in New York once he was 18 to the kitchens of Boulud’s DB Bistro, he moved onto to a stint at Mugaritz in Spain before coming home to the city he was born in.
His dad Claude came here in the late 1970s with a keen sense of adventure and looking to explore a new country. Since then the Troisgros name has become known around the world for their attention to detail and appreciation for the finest ingredients. I love a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that has been adopted by the family; “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye". It speaks of the passion and love that they hold for cuisine and the nuances that make good food great.
Excusing himself to the kitchen, he asked us to trust him so that he could show us the best of what Brazil has to offer and watching him walk away I wondered what might be coming our way.
Coming from San Francisco, phrases like “farm to table” and “locally sourced” are easily taken for granted. But during my travels, I've realized truly how special these terms are. Being able to proudly showcase the unique products made nearby not only serves to draw your community together, it also shows those from afar how vibrant this community is.
Every dish the chef created for us spoke of his country, the diversity of Brazil and his skill at meshing traditional techniques with local ingredients. Our introduction to the menu began with tuna from the northern coast paired with foie gras from the area surrounding Sao Paolo all sitting atop a yuca chip. With pickled beets and flowers, the dish had something to stimulate every taste bud in our mouths, a rule the chef lives by.
"Great food isn't just a meal, it's a cultural lesson if you have the right mindset and there's a lovely story waiting to be heard with every bite you take."
I had never before imagined a savory course with vanilla let alone on a lobster dish. Paired with a Viognier Chardonnay blend, the natural vanilla notes in the wine sang with the Slipper Lobster and crispy potatoes, the luscious sauce tying it all together in a way that made each bite seem a sin. My mind kept telling me this must be dessert as my mouth disagreed, the two battling in my mind as each opulent bite begged to be had. It was such a cool experience to try something so new and foreign that challenged me to rework the way I think. I have a friend that says he “loves more than anything else first times”, and I'm starting to understand what he means.
Trying new foods and flavor combinations forces you to change your view of the world. Its a way to expand your mind and challenge perceptions of what you might have previously thought. That's exactly what Thomas Troisgros did for me that afternoon. He made me think and challenged my beliefs, while simultaneously showing me the beauty of Brazil all spectacularly arranged on a plate. Great food isn't just a meal, it's a cultural lesson if you have the right mindset and there's a lovely story waiting to be heard with every bite you take.
As we were leaving, the maître d’ offered to call us a cab and I chuckled silently to myself, we would leave the same way way we came, but I wouldn't dare tell them that. I already knew the look of nervousness that would come into their eyes when they heard that two gringos would dare to experiment with the local transit. It's a look like they might see us on the news that night, listed as a missing person or perhaps found mugged and beaten. I didn't want to ruin the moment as we stepped into the warm afternoons sunlight. Momentarily blinded, we left the luxurious interior hearing the faintest of clicks as the door locked behind us. Preparing for the roller coaster ride home, hands clasped, I knew we had found a very special place in this capricious city.