The Brazilian steak houses opening around the East Bay offer a dining experience known as churrasco, which in Portuguese means, "I’m going to eat tender, juicy grilled meat until I bust the waistband of my slacks."
OK, it doesn’t actually mean that. But I remember friends in Brazil preparing a day or two prior to an evening at the churrascaria by keeping to a light diet and exercising as though they were training for a triathlon. Like when our ancestors would grill mastodon over a crackling fire, the Brazilian steak house concept is all-you-can-eat. And, it turns out, our survival instinct kicks right in and tells us that all we can eat is quite a lot.
The pregame (get it—game?) events generally involve a caipirinha, a cocktail made with a feisty Brazilian spirit called cachaça, limes, and sugar. Then there’s the salad bar, called that to imply it’s packed with produce. In addition to vegetable-oriented dishes such as marinated hearts of palm, chopped mango, and sautéed asparagus, however, the spread offers enough cured meats, cheeses, and rich soups to fill you up until the end of winter.
But heading into hibernation before the main event is, of course, not allowed. This is the moment the roaming table servers—often dressed in fetching cowboy-esque suits with neckerchiefs to resemble southern Brazilian gauchos—sharpen their carving knives and prepare to hoist huge meat-laden skewers to each table.
Once you give the signal—typically by flipping a coaster to its green (as in go) side—everything from tiny chicken hearts to cartoonishly large rib eye is offered hot on skewers from the fire to your plate. Whether you like lamb chops or pork ribs, chicken drumsticks or culotte steak (a specialty known as picanha), or all of the above and more, you direct the parade of cowboys to carve off tender meat at exactly the doneness you like—they know where to slice—from rare to well. The meats are relatively unadorned, well seared on the outside and succulent and juicy inside. Paired with a big, old red wine, your meaty feast will satisfy in the most primordial way.
And we were really only kidding about busting out of your pants. If you wear a loose-fitting outfit, you should be just fine.
The Meat-up Spots
Taste the trend at these local churrascarias.
Brasas do Brazil
Opened: Summer 2018
Price (for all-you-can-eat): Weekday lunch $30; dinner and weekends $60 (children ages 7–12 get 50 percent off; 6 and under eat free).
Kinds of meat: 18, including garlic steak, filet mignon with bacon, linguica sausage, and chicken hearts.
Waiters’ attire: Dark shirt and pants with red neckerchiefs.
Salad bar highlights: Deviled eggs, chicken salad, and garlic bread.
Bonus bites: Feijoada (black bean stew with pork meat and sausage), farofa (baked yucca flour with bacon), and cheese bread. Concord, brasasbrazil.com.
Price (for all-you-can-eat): Weekday lunch $30 ($40 on Sunday); dinner and weekends $53 (children ages 6–12 get 50 percent off; 5 and under eat free).
Kinds of meat: 16, including filet mignon, skirt steak, and bacon-wrapped chicken.
Waiters’ attire: Red shirt with black neckerchief, or black shirt with red neckerchief.
Salad bar highlights: Fried polenta, mango salad, and crab salad.
Bonus bites: Chicken stroganoff, lobster bisque, and cauliflower gratin. Oakland, galeto.com.
Opened: Summer 2019
Price (for all-you-can-eat): Weekday lunch $37; dinner and weekends $60 (children ages 7–12 get 50 percent off; 6 and under eat free).
Kinds of meat: 17, including rib eye, lamb rib chops, bacon-wrapped chicken, and Parmesan-crusted pork tenderloin.
Waiters’ attire: Studded belt and red neckerchief.
Salad bar highlights: Artichoke hearts, deviled eggs, and candied bacon.
Bonus bites: Brazilian cheese bread, caramelized bananas, and brown sugar–crusted grilled pineapple. Walnut Creek, galpaogauchousa.com.
Texas de Brazil, Concord (in the Veranda shopping center). texasdebrazil.com.