FOOD BITES :: Le Pre Catalan

by Richard Frisbie
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Oct 6, 2007

The best formal restaurant in Rio de Janeiro is Le Pre-Catalan in the Sofitel Rio Palace Hotel on Copacabana Beach. Last year, Chef Roland Villard, from the French Culinary Academy, redesigned the standard "classy" decor to create an expanded modern and stylish restaurant. In it, dining areas can be defined by drawing curtains around a table or tables, allowing a feeling of privacy.

In addition, the restaurant size can be doubled by opening a wall of French doors to what was once the huge curved front porch, now transformed into dramatically lighted additional seating with a front wall of glass. Le Pre-Catalan even sports an oval room of sculpted metal walls through which the kitchen, bathrooms and wine coolers are accessed. At one end an Eames chair is the only piece of furniture in the room, perfectly displayed as if in a museum. All of this is to say that Chef Roland's good taste extends far beyond the kitchen.

The prix fix menu

Le Pre-Catalan has a prix fix menu with three choices and a special, each with appetizer, entree and dessert. The menu reflects Chef Roland’s concern for healthy eating (he recently lost 30 lbs.) by offering at least one healthy choice in each category. The menu changes every fifteen days, but whatever it is, Chef Roland can always be counted upon to produce his modern interpretation of classic French cuisine using the freshest of Brazilian ingredients.

I started my dinner with a Cordier White Bordeaux (2003). It’s a perfect companion to seafood, with its sauvignon blanc grapes as a full-bodied, pale dry complement to the meal. (I love Bordeaux, especially white, so I admit that I’m biased!)

I’m So Confused!

I was confused several times throughout this meal, sometimes with no serious consequences, but sometimes . . . well, you’ll see. To begin with, I thought the appetizer was a cold soup, but it turned out to be hot. I don’t speak Portuguese, so mistakes in translation sometimes occur. This wasn’t one of those times. The course before the first (it gets worse) turned out to be the hot soup! It was a thick satiny watercress and Parmesan soup - yummy, rich and good - with a cold shooter of whipped sour cream over shrimp carpaccio to wake up the palate. I don’t know if Chef Roland was showing off, or if all the three-course meals have four courses, but it was a brilliant start to a perfect meal.

And the First Shall Be Second

It was a warm evening. I was so disappointed to have the hot soup served. Until I tasted it. Then the second soup (but first course) was served. It was a cool and refreshing bowl of true garden freshness that really lifted my spirits. Chef Roland’s healthy take on borsht is made with beet root and tomato, and with slices of Dover sole arranged in it instead of sour cream. I was in heaven! I’m sure that the wonderful wine had a hand in it too, but the pure flavors and beautiful presentation of the food made this the best meal of my visit to Rio de Janeiro.

"Birthday Cake" Shrimp

A dinner companion ordered the hearts of palm shrimp that was so pretty I had to photograph it. All I could think was "birthday cake" when I looked at it. The chef created and presented a work of art we could eat - magnificent! Also, as you look at these photos, notice the creative use of plates and bowls - some square, some triangular - but always white, and dressed with the food, not simply carrying it.

Sadly, we switched wines here, to a Argentina red, Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec 2006. I hated to see the Bordeaux leave the table, and the Malbec didn’t change my mind. My nose was filled with its great bouquet, and my mouth with a huge berry flavor, but I think that it should have been open longer (or perhaps it really isn’t a very complex wine). Still, it worked with my sea bass entree, not easy for a "hearty" red, so I’m not complaining.

Confusion Redux!

Another of Chef Roland’s healthy choices, the sea bass was fantastic, tasting like it had way more calories than it really did. The fish was buried beneath a rich mushroom and thyme sauce, and topped with shrimp. (To be more precise, I should say over-the-topped with shrimp!) What luscious flavors in my mouth - shrimp, mushroom and sea bass - that obviously was not too pretty to eat.

My confusion becomes apparent again here because I have no idea what that shooter of yellow was, or even what it tasted like. All I can say is that my notes describe it as "REALLY GOOD!" It certainly is pretty in the photograph.

Desserts! Desserts! Desserts!

Still confused, I was presented with the ’symphonie’ of desserts, a rolling cart of exquisite confectionery creations, and I thought I was told to pick the desserts for the whole table. Normally I don’t eat dessert, but I allowed myself to be tempted by one - a sweet blueberry crumble tart powdered with sugar that had more calories than I’d saved by eating the healthy courses!

Oh, but it was so good, and mostly fruit after all. Again - encouraged to pick more, I still thought for the table - I proceeded to fill a plate with these sweet calorie laden trifles. I picked a shooter of strawberries and mangoes with a layer of whipped cream, and a meringue snowball with strawberry sauce and sliced peanuts. Finally someone joked about how many desserts I picked for myself (!!) and I realized how confused I was.

I really needed a walk on the beach after eating all those desserts!

After dinner I toured the kitchen with Chef Roland Villard. I met and congratulated the pasty chef, and had a chance to see the smooth operation of a very busy kitchen with a jovial but hard working staff. Very impressive!

Chef Roland is the executive chef for the Sofitel Rio Palace in South America. His expertise and sensibility make any restaurant he directs one that must be visited!

If you go:

  • The Copacabana Palace
  • Rio Visitors Bureau
  • TAM Brazilian Airlines

    Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at, and He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]