Since its opening around Thanksgiving, Ipanema has been getting noticed. The dining room was hopping both nights we went, once on a Tuesday and again on a Friday. Several customers come in two or three times a week, according to Wilinski. Things are going well, he says. Then he asserts that he must continue to improve. That’s the kind of attitude that helps ensure a restaurant’s continued success.
To provide this authentic experience, Wilinski brings in resources from all over the country. Many of the spices and staples like yucca flour are brought in from New York. His staff, all of Brazilian heritage, have come from as far away as New Jersey and Massachusetts. The television over the bar broadcasts Brazilian news, soccer and some excellent videos of Brazilian musicians. In the dining room, the focus is the buffet and the fellows buzzing around the room with the skewers.
The dinner buffet runs $18.95 and is worth every penny. You can select from 20 to 25 hot and cold offerings. From the potato salad to the black beans to the stewed eggplant, one is treated to familiar foods with pleasing twists that give them all a little zing. I fell in love with the crunchiness and slight pungency of the red beans in yucca flour. The black beans are tickled with garlic, onions and a few other spices that Wilinski would not divulge. He is protective of his kitchen’s secrets and I like that. He sums it up: “Our beans have taste.” They sure do. Buffet selections change regularly, but you can usually find fish or shrimp, beans, rice, several salads and those heavenly fried bananas, which help cleanse and prepare the palate for the restaurant’s raison d’etre — the meat.
You will notice the little red-and-green table tents on every table. As you might guess, green means go. Red is stop. Turn the green side up and those fellows with the skewers will begin visiting. They will bring you the churrasco — lamb, chicken, sausage, turkey, pork and pineapple, all seared over real hardwood charcoal (no briquettes here). Take your pick, but be afraid of none. Again, Wilinski would not divulge much about the preparation of the meats except to say that rock salt plays a big part. Each is juicy, tender and sliced however you like it at the table. The highlight is the picanha, small slabs of prime rib so beautifully medium rare and robust that it will bring tears to your eyes. When you begin to feel the buttons popping loose, turn the card to red and try a key lime tart or chocolate mousse. And don’t forget to partake of one of the traditional Brazilian cocktails. Wilinski highly recommends a caipirinha — a potent mix of sugar, lime juice and cachaca, a liquor made from distilled sugarcane.
Ipanema Grill is the kind of place I love to love. I walked in and thought, “I hope this place does it for me,” and then it did. Excellent and interesting food, smiling service and good value -it doesn’t get much better than that. S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
Ipanema Grill ($$$)
12379 Gayton Road
Tuesday through Saturday, Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Dinner 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday brunch 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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