Atmosphere: Informal cafe.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Friday and Saturday.
Pricing range: From $3.45 for an omelette to $7.25 for New York steak with shallots, with most main dishes in the $5 to $6 range.
Reservations: Advisable on weekends.
Credit cards: None, but personal checks are accepted with identification.
Special facilities: On the 32, 34 and 36 bus lines.
When we arrived at the Cafe de Ipanema about 7:15 on a recent Saturday night, the street outside the unassuming storefront restaurant was jammed with limousines. Since we were casually dressed and had four children in tow, we were relieved to find that the limousine passengers had disappeared into the nearby Georgetown Club and that the crowd at the Ipanema was an informal, rather young group, with Portuguese and Spanish conversations heard at several tables. Although the place was packed, our table for nine was waiting.
The Ipanema, which opened in October and claims to be the city's only Brazilian restaurant, is in the high-rent district -- 1524 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Georgetown. But it is a modest, cafe-style establishment where adventurous members of a family can sample a little-known foreign cuisine and less adventurous diners can find familiar things on the menu.
The restaurant is clean and well-lit, with a linoleum tile floor, formica tables placed close together and vinyl-covered chairs. The Brazilian ambience is provided both by the clientele and the tropically bright paintings that adorn the front windows and line the walls. There are macaws, jaguars, Amazon scenes, ruined temples, waterfalls and even Carmen Miranda against a Ri de Janeiro backdrop.
"They were painted by a Bolivian student," our waiter told us. He also brought us the news that the establishment had, as yet, no liquor license and, because of complaints from the local citizenry, patrons were no longer allowed to bring their own beer or wine. He suggested guarana, "a natural fruit drink from Brazil."
Latin American food seems to go better with beer, but we shrugged philosophically and ordered water for the adults and guarana for the children. There were no children's portions offered, so we ordered galinha Cafe de Ipanema for $5.25 to be divided by two of the children and one order of the house spaghetti ($3.95) for the other two.
The spaghetti, generously heaped in separate plates for each child, was unremarkable.
But the galinha, slices of chicken breast pounded tender and sauteed in a light, tangy lemon and butter sauce, was a discovery -- a better treatment of chicken breasts than I have eaten in many more expensive restaurants. Each child got three large slices of meat, rice and broccoli, the vegetable of the day.
Each of the five adults ordered something different, with the understanding that we would share. For starters, we ordered only a hot artichoke ($2.25) and a salada brasileria ($3.95) -- slices of avocado and hearts of palm. The artichoke was very well presented, with the heart already cut out and ready to eat, and served with a delicious, garlicky dressing.
Feijoada, the national dish of Brazil, is served only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, for $6.95. It consists of black beans, cooked with pork -- or, as our waiter put it, "with fresh ham and the tail of the pig and the foot of the pig."
It is served with rice, orange slices, collard greens and manioc (shredded cassava root), providing a variety of textures. Hardy souls also add a dash of crushed Brazillian red pepper to the dish, but the member of our group who ordered feijoada, being English, declined the hot stuff.
The rest of us thought the hot peppers would have improved the dish, but agreed that the meat was tender and that the beans had made a rich sauce. The other main dishes we particularly enjoyed were the sopa leao veloso, ($6.45), a spicy fish stew cooked in palm oil; and the grilled steak with onions ($5.25). The filet of sole amandine ($5.25) was a little dry. A slice order of fried plantains ($1.50), an extra order of black beans ($1.25) and a generous supply of french-type bread and butter made an interesting and ample meal.
We still had room for three desserts, however: a chocolate mousse ($1.50); a Romeu e Julieta ($1.50), a plate of sliced guava paste and Brazilian cheese; and a quindim ($1.50), a carmel custard with coconut. All were very good, although the adults got barely a taste of the chocolate mousse.
Coffee, this being a Brazilian restaurant, was excellent, although we were a little surprised that we were charged for the second round. The bill for five adults and four children came to $69.50, not including tip. Our own family of four could have eaten for less than $30.