Sunday, September 28, 2008

Carnivorous much? Churrascaria Take One

So, I've plunged into the state of the "meat coma" on several occasions -- our location of choice was always Fogo de Chao for the infamous meat coma. "Avoid the salad bar! It's a trap!" were always the warnings before heading to Fogo - don't get me wrong, the salad bar at Fogo is QUITE delicious, but that is its danger ... filling up too much before settling down with the little red and green card, for the onslaught (ok, no pun intended) of men with swords of meat.

So of course, I had to go to a churrascaria in Brazil. We asked around, trying to find one that wasn't OVERLY touristy to go to, but one that would also satisfy our steak cravings. We decided on Marius (note: as oppose to Porcao, a chain that has also found itself in Miami and New York), known for both their meat AND their seafood. We kept in mind the warnings again - avoid the salad bar! Don't fill up! We take a cab up Copacabana Beach to Marius - it was pouring rain and the gentlemen at Marius happily brought us from our taxi under umbrellas. And in we walk... and what a surprise. Of course I had in my head images of Fogo - dark wood, spacious surroundings, very classic looking... and of course I had images in my head of, well, a steakhouse. At least an American steakhouse? Little did I realize that I actually had these visions... didn't really realize it until I entered Marius. Marius is wonderfully ... kitchy?

I loved how it looked. We sat in the room with high ceilings that had all sorts of housewares hanging from the ceiling - old car parts, an old bed frame, pots, pans...flags of random countries... and then a wall covered in colorful porcelain plates...
and then the bathroom floor covered in semi-precious gemstones (unpolished but identifiable... i loved it... for someone that was once very interested in geology, this was a very unexpected, yet pleasant surprise). Another room looked to be covered in shells.

In any case, I digress. The waiter asks us, meat or seafood. We exclaim, in unison no less, "meat!" We are seated and are invited to try to the buffet first and then the steak/meat would follow. We were familiar with this procedure and dutifully inspected the "salad bar." Much to our delight, the salad bar was not so much "salad" but a seafood bar. Think piles of raw oysters, crab legs, broiled lobster, raw calamari, raw shrimp, steamed shrimp, grilled fish, sauteed mussels... the list could go on and on. Irresistable... and resist we could not, so we filled our plates with seafood (and I added some asparagus and hearts of palm to my pile...). When we arrived back at our table, our plates were stacked two or three high, in preparation for switching out plates. We dined on our seafood, without any regret although our stomachs were filling up... and then the meat started to arrive. One chef in particular kept coming around with a cutting board of different cuts of meat... there were no swords here. I admit, the tourist in me wanted to see swords. But the presentation was still very nice and the meat itself very good. I mistakenly said that I liked my meat "medium" ... medium resulted in well-done meat every time and at some point, I just stopped getting meat for myself, and ate off my companions "rare" (read: medium to medium rare) cuts. We had many parts of the cow - sirloin, filet mignon, rib eye etc... chicken legs, pork loin, and sausages also came around. The meats were generally tasty, albeit a bit salty and some dry (we found that much of the food in Brazil is saltier than we would normally prefer). The selection was less so (meat-wise) compared to Fogo, but the smaller selection of meat was made up for by the seafood selection (although I will admit that I missed the bacon wrapped chicken and bacon wrapped steak that I always looked for at Fogo).

Next time, we decided we would do it differently. One of us (or perhaps two) would get the "seafood" option and the other two (or one) of us would get the "meat" option. We spied on the tables near us that got "seafood" and instead of having steak brought to them, different types of seafood made with many different preparations were brought to them. Think the buffet but even more.

There was also a dessert bar... I wandered over there to check it out, but my belly was way too full. The dessert selection didn't look as promising, plus it costed extra. One thing I wished I would have tried there was a caipirnha... I've yet to have an actual one here (I don't count the teeny one with the feijoadas), and there was this push tray of glasses and caipirinha ingredients next to our table. Marius actually has their own cachaca. Next time. We've seen churrascarias everywhere in Rio and Fortaleza. I'm not sure if they are actually filled with tourists or locals... or perhaps both. Marius seemed to have a mix of company -- we arrived on the earlier side, and two large tables of who appeared to be locals were finishing up birthday celebrations, before several waves of non-locals arrived. We head back to Rio after our stay in Fortaleza... I admit that I am curious to try another churrascaria. Perhaps we will venture back. As for now, we are eyeing some of the restaurants in Ipanema for more modern fare... We'll have to see.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Day's Worth of Eating - Feijoada

It was our first day in Brazil - we flew in overnight and arrived at 8 am that morning. With little more than two cantaloupe slices and a yogurt in our stomachs, we were in search of lunch. We had heard about the "national Brazilian" dish - feijoada - and definitely had it in our plans to try it... We had also heard that it was only served on Saturdays (the day we arrived) and that it was... rather filling. There was one place though that offered feijoada every day - very uniquely named, Casa de Feijoada, so we thought that we could always go the next night... In any case, equipped with no other knowledge than a basic idea of the pronounciation, "fay-zho-a-da," we ended up at Casa de Feijoada that afternoon. We had someone that was showing us around Rio and we asked that he take us to a low key restaurant that served traditional Brazilian fare, with plans to enjoy a churrascaria that night. He dropped us off at Casa.

No worries! We were quite hungry and some solid food would probably be a good plan before our (rainy) journeys to the Corcovado (the Christ statue) and Sugarloaf mountain that afternoon. We were ushered into this surprisingly small and cozy restaurant, to a corner table by the window. Immediately, food started to appear at our table... olives, toast, teeny little pots of black bean soup (the waiter demonstrated that we should be sipping this soup)... soon after appeared scoops of fried little sausages (salami!) (delicious)... and quite soon after (and notably after we ordered our very tall beers), the waiter appeared with two glass bottles. One had an orangey colored liquid in it and the other a pale green. We spied these at other tables, poured into little sipping glasses. The orangey colored liquid turned out to be passion fruit liquor... or the passion fruit version of a mini, high-powered caipirinha. Caipirinha... mmmm. The pale green liquid was "lime" flavored, and the flavor that I normally associated with the delicious caipirinha.

We tried the "traditional" feijoada (although I admit that I don't know what the "non-traditional" feijoada would have included) -- our waiter asked us repeatedly if we wanted it for three people... naturally we thought well yes, we are three people, so we would want three feijoadas. But after we agreed to three, we started to look around at the other tables, and became worried by the sheer amount of food coming to these other tables. Did they also order one for each person? Were they sharing one feijoada amongst five people? By this time, it was too late, because the parade of food began again. To our table appeared white rice, red beans, "collard" greens (bright green cabbage), yuca fries, "farofa" (more on this later), pork rinds, and two large bowls of meat. One bowl contained a medley of meats -- salted pork, sausage, bacon, dried beef, pork ribs... the other bowl also contained a medley of meats, but other parts of the pig... ears, feet, perhaps tail? I generally stuck with the first bowl (I am a bit squeamish about certain animal parts) but my family dove right into the second bowl.

We found the feijoada to be quite tasty (a bit salty...but as you'll see, that's the theme with our Brazilian food experience), but overwhelming in quantity! After feeling slightly tipsy from the "chopp" (beer) and the mini caipirinhas (and very little food for breakfast) and then filling our tummies with pounds of food, we had no idea how we were going to run around Rio's famous mountains all afternoon. Dessert, at least for me, gave me an extra boost of sugar-filled energy... yes, they look like three blobs of unknown origin (or baby food like), but I actually found them very flavorful. My favorite was the dulce de leche (mmm, so happy to find this everywhere in Brazil!) -- this is the bottom one. The others were (I think) banana (left) and papaya (right).
By the time we waddled out of Casa de Feijoada, the restaurant was filled with other guests happily eating away. I can see why this is usually a one-day a week meal... it is an experience within itself and could surely fill you up for an entire weekend and perhaps an entire week.