Rio Lisboa serves up a lot of meal for the money

MATTERS OF TASTE

March 12, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Many's the aging yuppie who first visited ''ethnic'' restaurants as a college student in the '60s. Free from home and reveling in the sophisticated environment -- but poorer than church mice -- we sought new experiences, new tastes. If we could also fill our bellies for just a few dollars, so much the better.

But now we live in the '90s, not the '60s.

Just as we've become more sophisticated, more worldly, better able to afford ''nice'' restaurants, so have ethnic restaurants matured. Most just aren't cheap anymore and most don't serve college-student portions. We tend to go to these places for lots of reasons, but seldom to save money.

What a return to the past it was, then, for my husband and me to dine one recent Saturday at Rio Lisboa, the Brazilian-Portuguese restaurant on Eastern Avenue.

We had a lot of good food for not a lot of money. We tried dishes and condiments we'd never seen. We relaxed as bossa nova -- how's that for a '60s touch -- played in the background.

We liked, too, the camaraderie of Rio Lisboa, where the servers helped each other, where several diners visited between tables and where a large group celebrated a birthday.

Rio Lisboa, like its clientele, is lively -- with subtle floral wallpaper, huge and certainly not subtle paintings, plants thriving under fluorescent lights in the wide windows and plenty of trappings of the mother countries and the sea. Above our table hung a fish net filled with large fake shellfish.

For first-timers, the menu is slightly baffling. It does contain English subtitles, but they are brief, leaving diners to guess a bit what they are getting. Our waiter gladly described the nightly specials, but he, too, was brief.

We started with two soups: black bean and cream of potato and greens, each $2.50. The black bean was velvety and almost pure bean, except for a showering of white rice and onion. It did not have even a hint of that smokiness common to many black bean soups. I found it delightful.

The cream of potato was pretty with leafy green bits floating amid potato chunks in a creamy broth. The vegetables were tender and tasty but the broth was a bit thin and grainy.

For entrees, we chose churrasco misto, described as ''mixed sish kabob, beef, pork, sausage'' and frutinhous do mar a bulhao, mixed seafood in garlic sauce. Each was $13.95.

Sish kabob? Shish kebab? However it's spelled, this was like no other we had ever seen. My husband's huge platter held a browned wedge of chicken breast, a pork chop, a small steak and some wonderful sausage. Wonderful even to me, who often shuns sausage because of its uncertain lineage.

The rest of the platter? The chicken was good, though without much seasoning. But the chop and the steak, both blackened, had been so heavily imbued with garlic that it was nearly impossible to taste which was which. Both were good.

My platter, equally huge, was home to at least half a dozen mussels, four clams, several shrimp and a few scallops, wading in the delicious orange-tinged garlic sauce. The shellfish were tender and the sauce tangy.

With our entrees came -- family-style -- black beans, rice, fried bananas and a homemade relish.

The beans were a thicker version of my soup; the seasoned rice was nice; the banana chunks added little to our entrees; the vinegar-and-oil- based relish made a fine bread dip.

For dessert, we tried quindao ($2.50) and a fruit cake ($3.50). The waiter described the former as a coconut flan, but it seemed more of a creme caramel with a coconut crust. It was tall, light and rich. The white cake had cream filling and icing under a beautiful layer of intricately cut peaches, kiwi, strawberries and grapes. It, too, was light, but rich.

The service had been accommodating, though the meal was not especially well-paced: the salads had been served before the soup and the entrees arrived mid-salad. By the end of our meal, the restaurant was full and it was difficult to find someone to bring a second cup of coffee or refill our water glasses. When we told the waiter that he had not charged us for our two glasses of wine, he brought us complimentary port -- rosy cool and refreshing. A nice gesture, indeed.

Our bill, with the wine, coffee and two cocktails, was $55.55. Not '60s cheap, to be sure, but a lot for the money.

***

Rio Lisboa

4700 Eastern Ave.

522-5092

Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Reservations: Recommended on weekends.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Limited access.

Smoking: Separate areas designated.

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