Rio is not lacking in almost-but-not-quite Italian restaurants, establishments where the risotto is served with Brazilian-style farofa (a flour-based side dish) or the imitation Parmesan cheese crumbled onto pasta sauces lacks the zing of the real thing. With that in mind, the appearance of yet another bar purporting to offer 'genuine Italian food' could justifiably be met with some scepticism. Positioning itself on famed foodie road Rua Dias Ferreira was a bold move for Stuzzi, but happily the bar and its tucker can hold its own even in such illustrious company.
Chef Paula Prandini certainly has the credentials; she comes fresh from a stint at Michelin-starred restaurant Il Griso in Lombardy, and learned her trade in France and Italy. The name Stuzzi comes from the Italian stuzzichini, meaning those little dishes you can have as starters or share with friends, tapas style. While there are some larger portions available, this is resolutely a bar rather than a restaurant so the food is designed to complement the social scene rather than take over. Having said that, the secret of good Italian food (and the reason so many so-called Italians in Rio fall short) is the quality of the ingredients, and Stuzzi does not cut corners. A Grana Padano cheese is tangy and crumbly as it should be, skinned tomatoes sweet and juicy, and potatoes friend with parmesan, drizzled with truffle oil and served with a perfectly-cooked fried egg (batata rústica trufada com crispies de parma e ovo frito, R$22.50) are sublimely good.
As one might hope from an Italian of any calibre, the wine list is extensive and while the focus is on Italians, there is a good selection of Latin American wines such as the hearty yet smooth Argentinian Alamas Malbec (R$70), a perfect accompaniment for the flavoursome dishes served here. If you don't fancy eating at all, the cocktail list (from R$19) ranges from classics including an excellent Kir Royale to their own inventions. The Sicília, which adds vodka, pear nectar and green grapes to the Italian liquor limoncello is one that stands out. While the staff are attentive, our experience on a busy night was that a few drinks didn't appear until the second reminder, something which needs ironing out.
Decor-wise, the emphasis is on understated chic with grey walls softened by the use of dark woods, a few seats outside and the kind of dim lighting that makes for good date material. Stuzzi's location means it's perfectly placed for a pre-meal drink before heading to one of the many statement restaurants like Sushi Leblon and its clientele are suitably glam. Happily, this is one Italian which will also attract guests who want to stay the whole night through.