Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rio Dos Camarãos Restaurant: A Review

Rio Dos Camarãos is an African restaurant located in the eastern suburb of Montreuil, about a five-minute walk from the metro station Robespierre. Tom and I first learned about it when we were surfing the Internet for restaurants serving Afro-centric cuisine. We found an intriguing photo of a banana-chocolate tart presented on a place mat made of bottle caps and followed the information trail to this spacious eatery.

Rio Dos Camarãos - façade
© Discover Paris!

When we saw the African statuettes in the window, we knew that we had arrived.

African statuettes
© Discover Paris!

The interior is simply decorated but the elements that chef and owner Alessandro Bella Ola and his wife have chosen to embellish the large dining room are unmistakably African. Handsome cloths cover the tables and large and small dolls dressed in colorful cloth are placed throughout the restaurant. Color photographs of Africans hang on the walls.

Table setting
© Discover Paris!

Dolls and wine rack
© Discover Paris!

Our waiter, whom we later learned was Chef Bella Ola, invited us to take a table. There, we studied the menu that listed a wide range of traditional African dishes, including Mafé, Ndolé, and Yassa.

We decided to order apéritifs while pondering what to order. Tom chose a blond beer from Cameroon called Castel. Served in a 65cl bottle, it was refreshing with a slight bitter taste. I ordered a Punch au bissap - a cocktail of rum and hibiscus juice. While suitably bracing due to the rum, I found that the flavor of hibiscus was not as strong as I expected (or would have liked). I felt the same about the non-alcoholic ginger juice that I ordered to accompany my meal.

Chef Bella Ola brought over a dish of spicy peanuts and corn nuts to accompany our beverages. Tom also ordered a small side dish of green banana chips, which really did taste like green (slightly unripe) banana. These were fun to crunch on.

After Chef Bella Ola served the beverages, he disappeared into the kitchen. A woman, whom we later learned was his wife, took over the table service.

We are always wary of ordering too much food at African restaurants, so when I spied an intriguing starter called Nyam ngond on the menu, I asked Chef whether it was copious. He assured us that we would receive a "truly appetizer-sized" portion, so we decided to order it. Chef graciously invited us to split it between us so that we'd be sure to have enough room for the main dish.

Nyam ngond
© Discover Paris!

Nyam ngond is a cake-like preparation of pumpkin seeds. It was presented as a flat disk resting on a mound of julienned carrot, zucchini, and cabbage. Instead of containing crunchy morsels of seeds, it was spongy and it had a flavor slightly reminiscent of fish broth. We later learned that it is a dish that is generally served as a main course on the day after family celebrations. We found the salad to be quite refreshing.

We both had a difficult time deciding which main course to choose from the wide variety on the menu. Tom finally settled on Mafé poulet fumé, otherwise known as smoked chicken in peanut sauce. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Madame Bella Ola brought a dish containing a mound of fluffy, white rice and a steaming cast-iron pot containing chicken with carrot and cabbage smothered in peanut sauce. The chicken was tender, the vegetables flavorful, and the rich sauce tempting. Simply delicious!

Mafé Poulet Fumé
© Discover Paris!

I decided to try the national dish of Cameroon, called Poulet D. G. I received a sizzling-hot iron plate containing a copious portion of stewed chicken legs, plantains, leeks, and red and green bell peppers. The chicken was tender and juicy and the plantains were just sweet enough to add balance to the spices in the dish. The vegetables added color and texture to this heavenly preparation.

Poulet D. G.
© Discover Paris!

The dessert menu offered some unusual choices. Tom opted for Tatin banane, a large slice of caramelized, upside-down banana pie served with two dollops of whipped cream. It was fashioned after the traditional Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin that is made with apples. The bananas were dense and chewy and tasted somewhat like the sun-dried bananas that one sometimes finds at specialty stores. Tom loved this, declaring that he could eat a slice every day!

Tatin banane
© Discover Paris!

I sprang for Crème brulée au citron vert. It looked like a traditional crème brulée with its burnt-sugar crust, but it had the bright pick-me-up flavor of lime rather than the mellow-me-down flavor of vanilla. I quite enjoyed it.

Chef Bella Ola, who hails from Cameroon, honored our request to come out from the kitchen at the end of our meal to pose for a photograph.

Chef Alexandre Bella Ola
© Discover Paris!

He proudly shared that Rio Dos Camarãos restaurant will celebrate twenty years of existence in November 2014. He is planning an entire remake of the menu at that time. We're looking forward to returning in the fall so that we can sample his new culinary creations!

Rio Dos Camarãos
55, rue Marceau
93100 Montreuil
Métro station: Robespierre (Line 9)


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