Robert St. John column
Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008
For years I have been hearing about Brazilian steakhouses.
I have received several emails and had many discussions with numerous friends and acquaintances about the merits of restaurants that parade protein around the dining room on large metal sticks. “They’re great,” my friends say. “They come to your table with huge skewers of meat, carve it, and fill your plate. It’s a blast.”
My gym trainer goes all of the time. He’s been singing the praises of the all-one-can-eat meat extravaganza for months, but he weighs 300 pounds and could eat an entire baby calf for breakfast.
People wearing puffy pants carving meat tableside always seemed gimmicky to me. In my experience, restaurants that resort to gimmickry are lacking in other areas. Nevertheless, I added it to my to-do list and planned to visit a Brazilian steakhouse, soon.
Last week, my family and I were on the Gulf Coast, so I decided to try the much-lauded, Carnaval de Brasil, at the Imperial Palace casino in Biloxi.
The restaurant is located at the entrance just across from the hotel’s front desk. It is decorated in a tastefully festive manner and the main centerpiece of the room is an impressive salad bar.
People who know me know that I hate salad bars. The salad bar at the Carnaval de Brasil is not your everyday, ordinary, run-of-the-mill salad bar. It offered couscous, roasted asparagus, marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms, several upscale soups, and many other not-so-typical salad options.
Once seated, we were given the general run-down by our server. We were told that the small round cards at our place settings were the key to the game. When the card was flipped to green, the gauchos would come by our table and offer their skewered meat selections. Once we turned the card to red, we would be left alone.
We finished our salads, turned our cards over to green, and the meat onslaught began. Within seconds a skewer-wielding gaucho approached our table with a large sirloin steak seasoned with garlic and sea salt. He carved a small slice, let it dangle from the loin, and gave me a pleasant smile. I looked at him puzzled and wondered how the dangling meat was going to get from the skewered loin to my plate. He looked back, said nothing, and smiled. I looked back, puzzled.
He said, “Does that look good sir?”
I said, “That looks fine,” and still wondered how the meat was going to make it to my plate.
He looked at me, I looked back at him. After several more awkward seconds he nodded towards my bread and butter plate and said, “The tongs, sir.”
“Oh.” I said, and grabbed the small pair of tongs and used them to hold the dangling piece of sirloin while he cut the remaining sliver. “I’ve got it now,” I said.
Every Gaucho in the room must have heard that last statement because within seconds we were attacked on all sides by men brandishing large skewers of meat. One came with chicken wrapped in bacon, another with filet mignon wrapped in bacon. As I tried to take a bite of my sirloin another showed up with a pork loin, and then another with a turkey breast, and then Brazilian sausage, and then some other type of sausage. It was an all-out meat assault— an Atkins dieter’s paradise.
My plate was filling up quickly as our server stopped by and reminded us about flipping the card over. In all of the excitement we had forgotten about the card, and within five flank-filled minutes we had run out of room on our plates. We flipped our cards to red and settled in to the pace of the place.
During our break from the action, another server dropped by with a large bowl of garlic-mashed potatoes, greens, and fried plantains. Once we caught our breath, we flipped our cards back to green. Within seconds we received roasted leg of lamb and grilled pineapple. The Gauchos kept coming, this time with skewered fish, turkey, and dry-rubbed ribs.
My seven-year old son looked up from his plate and said, “How do Brazilians eat all of this?”
The food was good. The lamb and skewered pineapple were excellent and highlights of the meal. I am not a fan of meats wrapped in bacon, so I only nibbled at those.
The service was the best I have witnessed on the coast, post-Katrina. We arrived just as the restaurant opened for dinner and it was not crowded. I don’t know if that factored into our experience, but the servers were knowledgeable, hospitable, and overly prompt nonetheless.
The Carnaval de Brasil is fun. I will certainly return, though next time I’ll skip lunch.
For this week’s recipe, Key Lime Grilled Shrimp with Pecan-Spiked Rice, go to the column link on www.robertstjohn.com
(Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of seven books including the newly released New South Grilling. He can be reached at www.robertstjohn.com )