Two years ago, Rafa Costa e Silva, the former right hand of Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, returned to his home city ready to start a new phase in his career. He and his wife to be, Malena Cardiel, the former front house person at Mugaritz, dreamed of opening a restaurant – but of a different kind!
They managed to find a perfect old house in Botafogo, a lovely area in Rio de Janeiro, and they converted it to make it suitable for Lasai.
The name ‘Lasai’ means tranquillity in the Basque language, and the couple wanted the house to reflect this. They had a strong wish to create a place where guests could enjoy good food and drink, forgetting the busy Rio de Janeiro outside.
At the same time, Rafa (his nick name) realised that the main problem in running a restaurant in Brazil was to get quality produce from reliable sources – a problem of which many of his colleagues had warned him. So, following the lessons he had learned at Mugaritz, he created his own vegetable farm just outside the city, a year before opening the restaurant.
It was a great privilege for me to be among the first diners at Lasai, and, returning a week later, to see how the new venture had developed in that short time.
Lasai is a restaurant like none other in Brazil. Rafa Costa e Silva is a humble but talented young chef, who manages to focus on the right things.
He invests in quality, and plans for the future. He recognises gifted chefs and other staff members who are willing to participate in the development of the profession, and he and Malena make them all feel part of one family.
At Lasai you will find many elements that have been inspired by Mugaritz, from the kitchen working structure to the mise en place organisation. However, on the plate you will find Rafa’s cuisine with a unique style that presents his own vision of Brazilian cuisine, blending with his international experience.
Elegance at Lasai is synonymous with quality and simplicity, and this is a formula for long lasting success in the restaurant business. Conceptually, Lasai manages to take Brazilian haute cuisine to another level. It is a restaurant with a strong philosophy that connects all strands together – from the choice of interior design and furniture, using wood from old houses, giving a stylish ambiance - to the choice of wine, giving preference to natural wines. The plates and knives have been designed and made by artisans and artists.
At Mugaritz, Malena has caught the attention of many people who see her as the perfect hostess. Now that she is in her own house, she has surpassed herself. Lasai is a house run by a young couple and the atmosphere is casual, chic and welcoming.
On the table, instead of a classic flower vase, the main ingredient of the day - coming from Lasai’s gardens – sits inside a glass dome. You have two choices of menu – the first is titled ‘Don’t tell me stories’ and you can decide which ingredients you like best, and can chose your favourite options of dishes. In the second menu, titled ‘Festival’, the chef surprises you!
Together with the beautiful wine list, signed by sommelier, Oliver González, it is possible to try the creations of the house mixologist, Rodolfo Werner, and also a variety of exciting beers and artisan cachaças. Both Gonzales and Werner are stars in their own right, and are an important addition to the house and its high standards (with an extra dash of coolness!).
The signature dish of the house, already famous, is ‘The breakfast egg’ whereby the egg white is made of a cream of yams and coconut, the yolk is a real egg yolk, and it is served with a crunchy salted air dried beef strip. The vegetables on the menu play a leading role, together with delicate dashis and broths full of flavour and aromas. However, you will also get the very best wagyu and unusual fish compositions - all masterfully cooked. The desserts are minimalistic and delicious – from artisan cheese with a papaya ‘membrillo style’ to delicate ice cream – all reduced in sugar and with the full flavour of the fruit!
In a country with strong multicultural influences, from Japanese to European, Lasai’s menus reflect the Brazil of today – embracing these various influences as part of its own identity.
In favour of ‘nose to tale’ cooking, seasonal produce, sustainable farming and foraging, Rafa Costa e Silva is doing something that Brazilian haute cuisine has never seen before. A new star is born in the Brazilian gastro-heaven! One to watch closely!
Rua Conde de Irajá, 191
Rio de Janeiro
Photo © Rafael Costa e Silva by Tomas Rangel