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The Meaty and the Damned, or: How do Brazilians say ennui?

The Meaty and the Damned, or: How do Brazilians say ennui?
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  • The Meaty and the Damned, or: How do Brazilians say ennui?

    Post #1 - May 24th, 2005, 9:14 am
    Post #1 - May 24th, 2005, 9:14 am Post #1 - May 24th, 2005, 9:14 am
    The other night I watched a Mexican movie from the 1940s called Aventurera (Adventuress), which I highly recommend for combining all the best parts of a Carmen Miranda musical, the Lana Turner-Johnny Stompanato affair, and Reefer Madness. Ninon Sevilla, an actress who sort of contains her own Carol Burnett Show parody, plays Elena, an innocent young girl-- you can tell she's innocent because in the first ten minutes of the movie, she never takes a normal step, she only skips from one place to the next. Alas, as always in the movies, the more blissful the initial setting, the faster everything is going to go to hell, and soon after Elena discovers Mom making out with an old family friend, Mom runs off with him, Dad shoots himself, and luckily Elena has another old family friend who just happens to be a gangster working for the city's most notorious madam. After the madam's lame, mute assistant Rengo threatens to carve her face with his pocket knife, Elena sees the advantages of a career in the personal services sector, and soon is servicing drunken lechers upstairs while dancing in the brothel's unexpectedly spectacular (and seemingly financially unsustainable) dance numbers, though her career is not entirely without setbacks, mainly the fact that she has a tendency to start brawls on the dance floor at the slightest provocation, which prompts a couple of more threatened improvements by Rengo. Several more things happen and soon Elena is engaged to a rising young lawyer who knows nothing of her past, he takes her home to meet his highly respectable society mother, and who does she turn out to be but... the madam!

    That basic setup out of the way, the movie gets down to its real business, which is a war of wills between a vengeful Elena and the equally indomitable mother-in-law.

    One of the things I like about old movies is the grand, lurid emotionality they're willing to display; by comparison new movies may pile on the outlandish special effects but in terms of plots and emotion they are utterly drab and ordinary. Take for instance the Matrix sequels, in which the visuals get ever more enormously baroque but the relationship of Neo and Trinity turns into the sort of clingy, needy, mopey affair that your college roommate had with that stringy-haired girl who just wanted to sit around and talk about poetry when you wanted to crank up the Led Zep and get high. Movie characters once lived large, sinned big, suffered operatically; now they just get therapy on screen, even the epochal first arrival of aliens is merely a triggering event to help Jodie Foster work through her leftover issues with her dad (Contact) or Tom Cruise become a better one (the upcoming War of the Worlds). (On the other hand, Independence Day did have that wonderful first-act climax in which we were all encouraged to feel good because, though most of the residents of L.A. had just been incinerated, at least the stripper, her little girl, AND their dog were safe.)

    I was thinking of all that as I ate at Sal y Carvao in Wheaton or Downer's Grove or Oakbrook or wherever (why there? long story) the other night, having sold it to my family on the thrills of excess-- meat on swords! (That was enough to sell my sons.) Extravagant salad bar! Tonight-- we leeve and love like Brazeelians!

    Would that we had enjoyed the grand passions and carnivalian excess that the image promised. Certainly the sight of large meats roasting sacrificially on spits near open flames was promising. The inside, though, was done in clubman dark wood, indistinguishable from a McCormick and Schmick's, or a Steak & Ale of twenty years ago. Give it points for employing actual South Americans in fluffy shirts, not bored kids from Western Springs spotted with flair, but there was little enough theatricality in the way the same few meats came by on swords and were sliced off with obvious fear of either grease spilling, expensive meat falling, or "swords" impaling small children. Meanwhile, they aggressively pushed the inexpensive fillers, which my children snatched up as soon as they arrived. (Well, one kid was half price and the other free, so I can't begrudge that.)

    How was the quality? I know they don't use the finest cuts, I didn't expect that, so generally things were tasty and as tender as I expected, I admired that the sirloin had a discernable livery tang and the pork had real porky flavor. Too many things were wrapped in bacon (that's who eats bacon any more, GAF), and most of those were much less flavorful, I learned to stay away from those. The salad bar was a nice-looking spread, good fresh mozzarella balls, a chance to pile up on hearts of palm which my father used to devour and which you never see in restaurants any more. And yet, overall... ennh. To quote a song that was current when hearts of palm were, Is that all there is?

    Around the walls is a modernist design of a tropical aquarium... when the lights are turned low for dancing, strange and exotic fish appear in a glow of phosphorescent pastel colors... a word about the famous "Theatrical Nights" on Thursday nights... Actors and actresses, famous and not so famous, come here after the theatre on these nights and put on an impromptu performance the likes of which you will never forget.

    That is, needless to say, not a description of Sal y Carvao in Wheaton or wherever, but rather the College Inn, as described by John Drury in Dining in Chicago (1931), and demonstrating how another age lived and danced and loved. Once there was real showmanship in the act of dining; yet somehow we became afraid of showmanship, it became associated with prefabness, Disneyesque and Melmanesque cuteness, with being had. Even the famous chefs who are able to bring it back in their food (at the likes of Moto) wind up being constrained to do so within an environment whose art museum hushedness assures the public that art, and perhaps science-- but nothing so vulgar as entertainment-- will be taking place on the premises.

    For the conservative diner, Sal y Carvao offers the propect of showmanship with the assurance of its actual absence; it offers the outward appearance of dining adventure while assuring you that there will never be a sauce you do not like, a meat or dish you do not recognize, a foreign word used that you do not recognize. There's not even a choice to be made, it all comes to you. (Yet it comes so frequently and intrusively that you can't simply tune your meal out, as you can at most places serving the business meal crowd.) Long before it was over, I was bored with it, and do not tell me that Fogo de Chao is better at this or that, because I was bored with the category, the whole concept. Until they start setting sworded meats on fire and flinging sizzling pieces from across the room while on horseback, I'm not going back.

    Sal & Carvao Churrascaria
    3008 Finley Rd.
    Downers Grove, IL 60515
    Phone: 630-512-0900

    New College Inn
    Randolph & Clark Streets
    Open for luncheon, thé dansant, dinner, after-the-theatre supper, and until the milkman comes
    Cover charge after 9:30 is $1.00. Saturday nights, $1.50. On Theatrical Nights, $2.00.
    Maitre d'Hotel: J. Braun
    Last edited by Mike G on May 24th, 2005, 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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  • Post #2 - May 24th, 2005, 9:27 am
    Post #2 - May 24th, 2005, 9:27 am Post #2 - May 24th, 2005, 9:27 am
    Very interesting (and well done) report (although I skipped that movie stuff :wink: ).

    I do kinda disagree with your overall point. The Brazilan rodizio/churascarria is a rather tried (and established) restaurant bit. For years, I said to the Condiment Queen, why none in Chicago. I could not imagine a better climate for the idea. And well, if I put my money where my instincts were, I think I'd be a bit richer today...But it is really about taking a "real" concept, and applying it in a place where it'd go over well.

    And of course (if this matters), I love the whole concept. I've eaten at these kinda places in Brazil, NYC, Miami and Chicago, and never once did I walk away less than VERY happy. I cannot speak to Sal y Carveo, but the other places, well they always do it well. Great meats, great service, great sides, great salad bar, fun, etc. I know Gary argues that at the end of the day, he'd rather a steak from Smith and Wollensky or Mortons, but for me given the choice, I'd rather leeve like a Brazilian cowboy.

    I AM glad they've taken over.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #3 - May 24th, 2005, 9:51 am
    Post #3 - May 24th, 2005, 9:51 am Post #3 - May 24th, 2005, 9:51 am
    I'm making my first venture to Brazil this fall where I will be visiting the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio and Florianopolis over 10 days. I look forward to trying a Churrascaria or two there to compare. From what I read, the price point is certainly lower at Fogo in Sao Paulo--$12-15 US.

    My take on Churrascaria is that, in Brazil, it is our equivalent of mid priced dining. In the good old US, we have assumed that it's luxury dining because it carries a luxury dining price.

    I agree with Mike to a certain degree that the quality of meats at a Churrascaria doesn't really knock your socks off. But, I also agree with Rob that, at least until recently, it was a unique dining experience that one couldn't experience everywhere.
  • Post #4 - May 24th, 2005, 10:08 am
    Post #4 - May 24th, 2005, 10:08 am Post #4 - May 24th, 2005, 10:08 am
    YourPalWill wrote:I'm making my first venture to Brazil this fall where I will be visiting the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio and Florianopolis over 10 days. I look forward to trying a Churrascaria or two there to compare. From what I read, the price point is certainly lower at Fogo in Sao Paulo--$12-15 US.


    In vancouver a year ago I ate at a relatively new churrascaria there. The lunch price point was about the same -- $18CDN I think -- and, well, it was horrid. I've rarely had a worse meal. It was really, really wretched.

    I've had a fine meal in Chicago at Fogo, and an even better meal in Dallas at "Texas de Brazil". I like the type of food, but I rarely think it's worth the money. Lunch is, almost always, a much better value...
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #5 - May 24th, 2005, 10:42 am
    Post #5 - May 24th, 2005, 10:42 am Post #5 - May 24th, 2005, 10:42 am
    Will, I have to think that this version is so Americanized (or even Olde English-- basically this was dark woods and roast beef) that your version will be quite different. I ate at a non-chain place that did this in Vegas about 15 years ago, and remember being more impressed with the variety and authenticity at that one (admittedly, my experience base was totally different then too).

    for me given the choice, I'd rather leeve like a Brazilian cowboy.


    Given the choice, next time I'll do it at El Llano, and get lots more atmosphere for lots less money.
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  • Post #6 - May 24th, 2005, 10:53 am
    Post #6 - May 24th, 2005, 10:53 am Post #6 - May 24th, 2005, 10:53 am
    Will, I think that you will really enjoy Brazil. The big cities are hyper-cosmopolitan and "American" in a way that you will recognize as similar to LA, NYC, Chicago (but much more so) and quite different from anything in the Old World and most of the new. Rio is possibly the most beautiful city in the world. Caipirinhas on the beach, Cariocas on the beach, Bahian street food... I need to get back there.

    Anyway, about churrascarias. I take Mike's criticism with a smile and a grain of salt. After all, he questions whether oysters are worth eating.

    I don't want to be a cultural proctor, but remember that rodizio/churrascaria is the food of the austere cowboy, the food of the pampas, and not the lusty Afro-Latino food of Bahia. Mike, you've got Miranda on your mind and Gardel on your plate.

    Rodizios are minor roadside attractions, like truck stops and waffle houses in Kansas. The city churrascarias repackage the country cooking for an urban audience. (There are many more variety meats on hand than what one sees at the fancy city places.) It is what it is, and I have to say that if Mike were stuck in a rural part of Southern Brazil or Argentina, he might perish from ennui. Beef is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, in my experience.

    Which brings up a point that I make every so often: just because a country (or in this case, a region of a country) is interesting, or beautiful, or politically, historically, cuturally or economically remarkable does not mean that the food is noteworthy in either its flavor or variety. I enjoy Argentine food. But relatively speaking it is rather a simple cuisine that involves a lot of meat and a streamlined repertoire of Italian and Spanish dishes. What they do with steak, pizza and ice cream, I like. Costa Rican food largely does not exist as a distinct form any more than North Dakotan food. Dominican food hardly distinguishes itself from Cuban and Puerto Rican. Indeed, it is largely (not exclusively, though) a simplified subset of those and it has little of the spice and variety of it's poor island-mate. But the DR and CR are wonderful places with great people. As regards churrascarias and rodizios, I can see some folks not enjoying a bounty of grilled meats, but it is a legitimate, "authentic" form.

    (Though I would point out that Fogo is better, despite the constant transparent shilling to the contrary on the other board.)

    And another thing that is not really related to the original post: almost every discussion about Latin American food here (and in general) seems to get back to the comparison with Mexican food. Mike didn't do it this time, but the comparison always seems to be lurking in the background: I was disappointed that the Puerto Rican or Cuban or Colombian food was not more spicy, more like something from a Mexican restaurant. Yeah, and how come Canadian food doesn't taste like Jamaican. The same phenomenon at an intellectually lower level explains why the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian (and Costa Rican) places in Chicago serve burritos.

    Back to the point: Yes, the rodizio style is meaty and maybe monotonous. (Though I don't understand the short shrift given to the salad bar, really. I mean, that's a very big part of the experience.) I, like Mike, want more. I want a Bahian place. That is food I could work into heavy rotation. In the meantime, I enjoy Fogo a few times a year.

    PS, Mike later wrote: "I have to think that this version is so Americanized." No, not really. The big and realtively quite expensive churrascarias in Rio are quite like the big city churrascarias here. You might also be scandalized to know that Brazilians absolutely adore huge shopping malls, down to the multi-culti food courts and that they simply cannot get enough of Disney World and the other Orlando attractions, such that a professor of mine at UF wrote much regarding the unfortunate and vast transfer of GNP away from Brazil and to a US company. Again, Rio is not Guadalajara. Think Manhattan (and Long Island) dropped onto Waikiki, sort of.
  • Post #7 - May 24th, 2005, 1:27 pm
    Post #7 - May 24th, 2005, 1:27 pm Post #7 - May 24th, 2005, 1:27 pm
    Ultimately my real point about both meat and salad bar is how little of it would be out of place at an Elks Club Prime Rib Night in Grand Rapids in 1974. (Hell, in '74 you would even have had the puffy sleeves.)

    I'm not looking for Mexicanness but at a salad bar that contained, essentially, a caprese salad among other things, some Brazilianness that was distinguishable from Englishness would be nice. (Yeah, they have the Portuguese sausages in theory, but we never actually saw them.) To my mind the Brazilian shtick, at least at Sal y Carvao, is a thin veneer over classic American men's club or steakhouse dining of a past age, which is plainly its appeal to a certain crowd. To which, evidently, I don't belong....
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #8 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm
    Post #8 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm Post #8 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm
    FWIW, for those of you who visit New York, Churrascaria Plataforma there (the uptown version) is simply spectacular and worth every penny of the $48 price tag. The "salad bar" includes boiled quail eggs, a creamy stew with salt cod, feijoada, as well as various cured meats and cheeses.

    A cutting board of wonderful salmon makes its rounds on a cart as does a whole suckling pig.
  • Post #9 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm
    Post #9 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm Post #9 - May 24th, 2005, 1:53 pm
    A refreshing change from the hyped up churrascarias around here, would definitely be Brasilia in Newark. No B.S., only what you came there for - the meat. Caiparinhas by the pitcher, long tables with people crammed inside, and only the meats are served at the table. No funny uniforms, no stone walls or fountains. Just a huge, cavernous space filled with carnivores. There is a salad bar, which remains largely untouched as people really don't go there for it. You can get fries, black beans, and plantains at the salad bar if you want them, or else you can just sit back and wait for the meat to come to you. (At least used to be) $18 pp, anytime.

    Brasilia
    99 Monroe St (S of Ferry)
    Newark, New Jersey
    973-589-8682
    http://www.brasiliagrill.com
    there's food, and then there's food
  • Post #10 - May 24th, 2005, 2:06 pm
    Post #10 - May 24th, 2005, 2:06 pm Post #10 - May 24th, 2005, 2:06 pm
    Vital Information wrote:Very interesting (and well done) report (although I skipped that movie stuff :wink: ).


    I didn't--the movie was great, as were the actors playing the despoiled ingenue and her nemesis the mother-in-law/madam.
    Chicago is my spiritual chow home
  • Post #11 - May 24th, 2005, 2:51 pm
    Post #11 - May 24th, 2005, 2:51 pm Post #11 - May 24th, 2005, 2:51 pm
    Hey, Mike, I said you weren't complaining about the lack of Mexican-ness.

    Re the salad bar, that is an interesting thing, the salad bar. Brazilians aren't much for green vegetables around the house, not as best I could tell as I tried in vain to find any anywhere. Of course, fruits present a much different story. No one loves fruit and fruit juice as much, I'm sure. But the crazy salad bar is an essential element of the "fancy" version of churrascerias. So maybe that's not an American concept per se but it does seem maybe to be based more on a business model than a tradition.

    I would venture that the version at Fogo fairly represents what passes for salad, or more accurately, antipasto, in Brazil. Hearts of palm, olives, prosciutto and other cold-cuts, Italian cheeses, etc. Brazil is rather Italian influenced in certain ways. Sure, not so much as Argentina, but the influence is clear.

    A final word. I have been, luckily or otherwise, to every one of the places mentioned in this string. For a long time the way I avoided business dinners at the local Ruth's Chris was to suggest the local Churrascaria. At the time, it was amajor accomplishment as I was somewhat of an obsessed Brasilofile.

    I have to say that I still think Fogo is tops, though I would probably give the edge to the Texas branches. The kind of places Rich mentions in Newark (and they exist as well in Miami, Tampa, Toronto and SoCal) I don't think fairly compare mostly because of the salad bar. I've even seen in a strip mall in Tampa a $9.99 all-U-can-eat Rodizio, which might push too far in the other direction, though I do aim to find out. I wish we had one here.
  • Post #12 - May 24th, 2005, 3:31 pm
    Post #12 - May 24th, 2005, 3:31 pm Post #12 - May 24th, 2005, 3:31 pm
    JeffB wrote:I have been, luckily or otherwise, to every one of the places mentioned in this string.


    Not sure it's been mentioned in this thread, but I had an excellent, super-carnivorous meal at Asado. Have you tried it? If so, how does it compare? I know, based on friends who've been to several of the downtown spots, that it's less expensive ($28.50 pp). But I haven't tried the others to compare.

    Asado Brazillian Grill
    1010 Church Street
    Evanston
  • Post #13 - May 24th, 2005, 4:10 pm
    Post #13 - May 24th, 2005, 4:10 pm Post #13 - May 24th, 2005, 4:10 pm
    Your Pal Will wrote:

    I'm making my first venture to Brazil this fall where I will be visiting the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio and Florianopolis over 10 days.

    Will, Florianopolis is a wonderful city, I think you will really enjoy it, especially after the hectic big cities, especially Sao Paulo. Not too far out of Florianopolis, you can (or I should say could, it's been many years since I was in Brasil) find seafood restaurants on the beach serving wonderful stuffed crab (casquinho do siri).

    FWIW, Brasilians in that part of the country sometimes compare residents of Florianopolis to cariocas (residents of Rio) for their general approach to and love of life.

    I've said it before and won't belabor the point, but when I lived there, rodizios as a restaurant style really didn't exist. Churrasco was a family thing, or something that would be prepared by a specialist for a large gathering somewhere outside of town, much the way people in Wisconsin will hire out a pig roast.

    A very typical, and worthwhile meal, to have in a restaurant is a feijoada on Saturday. Feijoada is something that many families either don't make because it's not their heritage. I lived with a family where the father was first generation Brasilian of Italian heritage and the mother third generation of Portuguese heritage. Many of my colleagues were of German, Polish, Swedish, descent. They all appreciated a feijoada, but did not cook it at home, but rather ate it out, even though they all had the obligatory rice and beans at every meal. My experience also was that each family had their preferred bean and served it always. Perhaps if your family bean wasn't black (ours wasn't) you didn't make feijoada. Who knows?

    I agree that the salad bar at a rodizio is more of an antipasto. The general vegetable we at at home was a dinner plate of whole Boston lettuce leaves lightly sprinkled with vinegar and oil. This was for a family household of 11 people.

    Fruit is, however, another matter completely. If you have the chance to try fresh cashew fruit, do. It is one of my favorite fruits. Also not to be missed are the many varieties of banana, which are generally given a hyphenated name to describe their taste, as in banana-figa, banana-laranja, banana-manzana. Most families I knew usually had whole stems of at least two types of bananas hanging outside the kitchen.

    How are you getting from Sao Paulo to Florianopolis? In between, in the state of Parana, is one of the last remaining stretches of the forests that used to descend from the highlands right to the waters edge. It has been made some type of eco-preserve, and has apparently a sizeable population of native monkeys.
  • Post #14 - May 24th, 2005, 4:29 pm
    Post #14 - May 24th, 2005, 4:29 pm Post #14 - May 24th, 2005, 4:29 pm
    Thanks, Annieb. I'm actually headed to Floripa in search of what may one day be my retirement home. I'll be looking at a number of options at the various beaches there. Do you have a favorite that would be a quiet restful place to escape from City Life?

    Unfortunately due to the limited amount oif time that I will be there, i'm taking advantage of the Brazil Air pass that Varig offers rater than taking the bus between destinations. My current itinerary is Sao Paulo to Rio to Floripa.

    I'd love to talk to you over coffee or a meal regarding your Brzilian experiences.
  • Post #15 - May 25th, 2005, 8:04 am
    Post #15 - May 25th, 2005, 8:04 am Post #15 - May 25th, 2005, 8:04 am
    I had dinner at the Rodizio in Salt Lake, UT a few years ago, and my husband ate there just a week or 2 ago. We both enjoyed the meat. I also liked the salad bar, though he said "salad bar? we went for MEAT, woman!"
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
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  • Post #16 - August 18th, 2006, 10:27 am
    Post #16 - August 18th, 2006, 10:27 am Post #16 - August 18th, 2006, 10:27 am
    I am adding absolutely nothing to the collective knowledge of churrascaria in this post, but I had to make two quick notes:

    JeffB wrote:Mike, you've got Miranda on your mind and Gardel on your plate.


    Awesome!


    JeffB wrote:Costa Rican food largely does not exist as a distinct form any more than North Dakotan food.


    umm...

    The New York Times wrote:ON the Potomac riverfront here in Georgetown is a big, new high-end restaurant whose unlikely owners, a group of North Dakota farmers, want urban diners to know exactly who’s growing and raising their food.


    OK, I guess the next paragraph goes on to say "The restaurant, Agraria, which opened in early June, doesn’t promise North Dakotan cuisine..." but... close enough?
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement

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