Blame it on Tio Pepe. If Baltimore's first Spanish restaurant weren't so incredibly successful, people wouldn't keep opening new ones. I suspect that's the real reason Rio Lisboa, a Brazilian-Portuguese restaurant, has turned into Rio Madrid, specializing in Brazilian and Spanish cuisine.
If it is, the owners are going to be disappointed. People don't flock to Tio Pepe because it's Spanish. They go for the food, yes, but mostly for the promise of a festive evening. To be festive, though, you have to have lots of customers having a good time.
You can't have only two tables filled and a bare stage (for the flamenco dancers on the weekend), as Rio Madrid did on a recent Wednesday evening. It's depressing.
Now that we've established what Rio Madrid isn't (another Tio Pepe), here's what it does offer: a large quantity of ethnic food, moderately priced. It's not inspired, but it's filling.
Take the feijoada completa, a classic Brazilian dish. (We'll get to the Spanish food in a minute.) The enormous murky plate of black beans included chunks of pork and slices of sausage. The flavor is OK, if a bit monotonous; but even the side dishes of collard greens, orange segments and ground yucca fail to make it very interesting.
Likewise, Rio Madrid's paella Valencia -- with clams, chicken, Spanish sausage and saffron rice -- was pleasant enough but not memorable.
A filet of sole Rio Madrid was one of those dishes that don't work, but you can't quite figure out why. Maybe the sole wasn't quite fresh enough, maybe the egg batter and the lemony, salty sauce were too much to do to the fish. Maybe the slices of fried potato that surrounded the filet made the dish seem heavier than it was. The best part of the meal was the fresh pineapple slices and fried bananas on the side.
First courses are limited, but you don't really need them. Dinners come with a small green salad, saffron rice, black beans and fried bananas. If you do want a starter, try the pleasant black bean soup or plump little shrimp in a heady garlic sauce. There's plenty of good bread to dip in it. If you're still hungry after that, the choices for dessert are a flan (how many different ways are there to say pleasant?) and a sweet-but-not-much-else rice pudding.
So it's not the most exciting meal you've ever had. Rio Madrid is still a decent little restaurant with absolutely superb service. True, there wasn't much competition for our waiter's attention; but I've been in plenty of restaurants where it didn't matter how few customers there were -- you still had to wait forever to get your food.
Where: 4700 Eastern Ave.
Hours: Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday, noon to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, noon to 11:30 p.m., closed Monday.
Credit cards accepted: MC, V.
Features: Spanish and Brazilian cuisine
Non-smoking section? Yes
Call: (410) 522-5092
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$6.95; entrees, $6.95-$16.95