Ricardo Manuel Pires Martins likes to brag about the popularity of his bar among Japanese tourists. We don’t begrudge him that, because if you’re in the market for seafood, particularly the less-cooked kind, as these tourists evidently are, Adega Pérola is your bar. Tucked on a commercial lane a few blocks behind the Art Deco condo-and-hotel jam that is the Copacabana beachside, Adega sticks close to its Iberian roots, with wine jugs lining the high wall shelves and a selection of about a hundred tapas stewing in their respective marinades behind the glass bar window.
The bar was opened in 1957 by a Portuguese family from the island of Madeira, changing only gradually (such as adding draft beer to their wine and longneck selection) in the decades since. Expect spice-heavy and tender seafood, a rarity for the battered-and-fried carioca palate, in addition to powerful side dishes, like marinated artichokes and goat cheese in pink pepper.
The tapas selection could hardly be more gringo-friendly – just point to what looks tastiest. Best sellers include the rollmops, sardines in vinegar, herbs and onions, the pérolas do mar, which includes shrimp, mussels and scallops, and the polvo ao vinagrette, octopus in tomato and onion sauce. Arenque (herring), truta (trout), and xerelete (“the horse-eyed jack” – check out the video to see where the name comes from) are all up for grabs. For sides, go local by trying the lightly bitter jiló, sometimes referred to in English as “scarlet eggplant,” and a food that Brazilians either love or hate. An eater with exotic tastes could try the ostrich sausage. Everything goes well with batata calabresa, small tender potatoes.
The bar staff may recommend the Brazilian wine J.P. from Rio Grande do Sul, though we caution that such a choice appeals more to the candy-sweet preferences of the carioca palate than the dry gringo one. We suggest the fabulous Terezópolis Gold lager or the Salinas cachaça (Brazilian rum) for national drinks.
“Japanese people come here and they eat!” says Martins, throwing his arms open wide, as though to indicate a gluttonous tourist chowing down. We’re happy to follow their lead.