A delicious taste of South America awaits in a strip mall in Addison. Seriously.
The shopping area surrounding Rio's, 1600 W. Lake St., is better manicured and shinier than we've come to expect from such ubiquitous strip malls. And once inside, the exquisite decor ups the ante even more.
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Rio's1600 W. Lake St., Addison, (630) 773-3370, riosaddison.com
Cuisine: South American
Setting: Glamorous, well-appointed room with white leather booths
Entrees: $17 to $28
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
A floor-to-ceiling glass wall that doubles as a wine display separates the front bar from the main dining space. White leather chairs studded with gold pins in the front room give way to spacious white leather booths in the back, while dramatic 15-foot ceilings frame a gigantic, hand-painted wall mural depicting the Maya Mountains and the famous 100-foot Christ the Redeemer statue that watches over Rio de Janeiro.
Tango music swirling around the grand room does much to summon the distinct South American feeling you get only from having been there, but making something taste authentically South American when it is born, grown and processed in North America is a tricky proposition, and not only for this restaurant.
Our food experience at Rio's carried a bit of a hit and miss component, while the service, though making all the effort, appeared hurried and more than a bit frazzled as our server was also the hostess. For a meal that, for two, can easily reach $90, the absolute necessity of a proper description and presentation by a trained server cannot be overlooked, especially considering the palpable material effort made in most every other aspect.
But aside from this, there was a great spirit to the place that, because of the many other patrons enjoying themselves, made a Tuesday night seem quite exciting.
Long, fried strips of pita bread with a trio of dipping sauces -- creamy jalapeņo, a fragrant chimichurri and a thick, butter-like relish were a great amuse, and wine too, with a dozen or so choices most available by the -- quite generously poured -- glass, went down easy.
Rio's leans more toward Peruvian and Brazilian dishes than it does to Argentine ones (with the exception of the most expensive dish on the menu, the bife de chorizo, or N.Y. strip steak). A prevalence of seafood, potatoes, corn and pasta means that most ingredients are as familiar to us in North America as anything else. But it's the combinations, the sauces and spices, such as black mint, yellow chili peppers and coconut milk, that add that exotic, truly differentiating aspect to even a dish as simple as steak over pasta.
Here, fettuccini a la diabla con churrasco translates as pan-fried sirloin steak split in two that tastes like it was grilled (a successful feat) as it sits atop a nest of pasta yellowed by melted cheese and a Peruvian pepper, and warmed by a delightful heat.
By contrast, a white fish ceviche felt off. Although the accompanying sauce, Peruvian rocoto and yellow pepper, and white, oversized Peruvian corn, were tasty, the too-big fish pieces did not appear to have marinated for nearly enough time, resulting in stringy bites.
Another seafood effort, the cau cau de mariscos -- various seafood elaborated by black mint, small chunks of potatoes, as well as peas and a side of rice -- made for a nice stewlike dish, but the promise of tender scallops, mussels, shrimp, calamari and octopus was alas overly reliant on tough calamari.
But it was another meat dish that more than restored our good faith in the establishment -- the anticuchos. Three skewers of fresh, chargrilled tender chunks of beef heart topped with Andean dry peppers were everything a good carnivore could ever wish for and quite possibly the best thing we ate all night.
Everything else after, like the two slices of dense, almost cheesecakey flan with strawberries, felt like a good bonus.
• Reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.