Ipanema leaves little Brazil and modernizes its menu

Twenty years ago, Little Brazil was one of Times Square’s main tourist attractions. A single block of 46th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues housed approximately seven restaurants, as well as grocery and liquor stores, haberdasheries, doctors’ offices, and a second-floor store displaying colorful swimwear and sometimes skimpy – which seemed to invite people ready to take a tropical vacation. But even before the pandemic started, the neighborhood was in decline and there were only three restaurants left: Emporium Brasil, Via Brasil and Ipanema. Founded in 1979 and named after a famous beach in Rio, Ipanema closed shortly after the outbreak of COVID, only to come back to life a few weeks ago.

The new alternative entrance to Ipanema.

Now located near the Empire State Building among a gaggle of new hotels — 10 blocks south of Little Brazil — the restaurant is still run by founder Alfredo Pedro’s sons, Carlos and Victor. The menu has been condensed, the prices are higher and the premises more sumptuous. Near the front of the restaurant, the bar is much embellished: fern leaves hang like Spanish moss from a varnished tower palm, and scattered bright lights dazzle drinkers as bartenders make their moves in the shadows. . We sat enjoying the scene while sipping caipirinhas ($18).

As a starter snack, we ordered bacalhau not a bra ($20). Normally this dish is a simple Portuguese casserole of scrambled eggs, potatoes and salted cod, but here it has been transformed into a delicate round mousse with crispy filaments of potato on top. It was tasty, but made us crave the more filling original. Unfortunately, classic Brazilian bar snacks like pao de queijo (bouncy cheese balls), coxinha de frango (chicken nuggets) and pasteis (empanadas) listed on the old menu are now gone, despite being sold during the day at Bica, the restaurant. to take away without a seat next to it. Sandwiches which are staples of Brazilian tavern cuisine are also missing from the restaurant menu. The new Ipanema is not the kind of place you want to grab a drink and a sandwich at the bar.

A square glass on the bar with a lime wedge on the rim.

The perfect caipirinha from Ipanema.

A yellowish puck with a yellow crusty layer then filaments on top.

Bacalhau no bras was our snack bar.

We quickly moved to a table in the casual dining room, outfitted with tulip light fixtures among rows of hanging white ropes, both about what I couldn’t tell. Through an archway, a more formal dining room with white tablecloths and shelves of books almost looked like a library. First, we explored the starters, divided into hot and cold, which proved as visually appealing as our salt cod mousse had been, via chefs Giancarlo Junyent and Andre Pavlik.

An indentation with small clams and a yellowish broth with golden toast resting on the side.

Called simply “clams”.

A small bowl called simply “clams” ($17) sported a delicious slice of garlic toast wobbling around its wide rim, tucking in to a few fragrant manila clams with leeks and herbs in a flavor-packed broth brackish. Other hot entrees include steamed mussels with white wine and tomatoes, and pork belly with celeriac and pickled onions. For vegetarians, there is a mushroom starter, polenta and a poached egg.

Among the cold starters, the so-called “beetroot” salad included ricotta and dill; it was good, but didn’t taste typically brazilian or portuguese, despite its port wine dressing. Other entrees included ceviche in a leche de tigre marinade with purple sweet potatoes and chicken mousseline; note that the menu should use Spanish and French, rather than Portuguese, to describe its offerings. The dishes in this section of the menu were good, but if you were looking for familiar Brazilian flavors, you were out of luck.

Nevertheless, when it came to starters, we looked for more orthodox Brazilian recipes. Feijoada ($32), considered the national dish, was right, a series of dishes featuring a pot of black beans bubbling with chunks of pork (though we didn’t discover any pigs’ ears or tails) , including a particularly delicious sausage. Other containers contained rice sprinkled with perfectly moist chives, toasted cassava flour called farofa to sprinkle on top, and a bowl of shredded, barely cooked cabbage, as is customary, with segments of tangerine on top. These all provide bites that are alternately leafy, porky, salty, and sweet.

A series of bowls, with a black bowl on the left filled with black beans, with a cube of pork above it lifted on a spoon.

The black bean stew in the feijoada contains a profusion of different pork parts.

An orange broth where various shells stand out.

Afro-Brazilian muqueca is a seafood stew.

There is really only one dish on the menu that reflects Afro-Brazilian cuisine, which for me is the highlight of Brazilian cuisine. Muqueca ($48) is a seafood stew evoking Brazil’s colonial history, featuring ocean creatures in a thick broth mixed with dende (palm oil) and coconut milk, two tropical products, the first native to West Africa and imparting a beautiful orange color and loamy flavor. Loaded with equal amounts of halibut, mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid, Ipanema’s version looks great, but the flavor comes off pale. This version lacks the oily spiciness that characterizes the best examples I’ve tasted over the years.

In some ways, the best part of our meal was the desserts by pastry chef Alejandro Nicolon. We ordered two. The best was a slice of chocolate salame ($14) with caramel sauce scribbled over an adjacent guarani cherry sorbet. Sour, sweet and chocolatey, it was the richness of the chocolate and the contrasting tartness of the berries that lingered on the tongue and brought our entire meal together.

Having dined at the original location years ago, I missed the cheerful vibe, informality and fried potatoes of the original joint. But is Ipanema the future of Brazilian cuisine in New York? Whether or not I will always miss Little Brazil and its more rooted culinary traditions.

Ipanema is located at 3 West 36th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Herald Square

A slice of round chocolate bread with a tapered scoop of scribbled sorbet with sauce on the side.

Chocolate salame with guarani cherry sorbet and caramel sauce.

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