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March 29, 2013

Brazilian steakhouse offers meat, meat, meat (and more)

A quick introduction, or refresher, on Brazilian steakhouses:

A churrascaria (shoo-rahs-cah-ree-ah) is what the restaurant is called – that means it serves grilled meats (churrasco).

Rodizio (ro-deets-yoh) is the kind of service you get there – that means servers bring to your table a rotation of foods (in this case, the meats, on swordlike skewers), continuously, until you are full (or admit defeat).

That’s typically done by turning your little card over from the green side to the red. As in stop.

Meanwhile, you can visit the extensive salad-and-more bar before, during and after the meat service.

Amor de Brazil, in Matthews, offers a handsome, airy space that really bustles on weekends, and that’s the best time to go.

In the course of an hour or so on a Saturday night, servers (called gauchos, dressed simply in white and black) sliced nine of the advertised 11 meats off those large skewers, listed in order of lusciousness that night:

• Picanha (pea-KAH-nya), a vividly flavored cut of top sirloin (the cap) with a thick edge of fat;
• Maminha, also called tri-tip (that’s what our server called it, too);
• Linguica, a juicy, bursting and flavorful Brazilian sausage;
• Beef ancho, rare rib-eye (this came around twice; the first was delicious, the second extremely fatty and tough);
• Fraldinha, bottom sirloin, described to us as flank steak;
• Alcatra, also top sirloin, but from lower on the cut;
• Chicken wrapped with bacon;
• Leg of lamb;
• Filet mignon hunks, painfully dry.

The diner’s role? Grab an end of each slice with the small tongs you’re given and peel it away from the skewer as he (they were all male) finishes slicing. Everything’s simply seasoned, with the occasional, announced addition of garlic or bacon, so you can compare flavors.

That night, we missed only pork loin and ribs, and what we had – except for that filet – ranged from excellent to pretty good.

But on a subsequent weeknight, we were served nine items with two doubles: chicken and chicken in bacon, filet and filet in bacon. And nearly everything was significantly overcooked – for the same price: $33.95. (It’s a difficult model to keep consistent. If weeknights are much less busy, as they seem, a better solution might be to offer fewer things and drop the price, too.)

A brick arch separates the dining room, with high-backed, well-upholstered chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows, from the salad-etc. area. That’s a festival of plentitude: salads of spinach, romaine, mixed greens, hearts of palm and eggplant; sweetly creamy Brazilian chicken salad with red and yellow peppers and potato salad (also on the sweet side); delicate but sizable cold shrimp; bowls of olives and tabbouleh; steam pans of baked salmon in cream sauce and mussels (both overcooked both nights); smoked salmon; quail eggs; and more. Small, dense, cheesy rolls and fried bananas are brought to each table.

You might start with the quintessential Brazilian cocktail: Called a caipirinha (kye-pea-REEN-ya), this mixes cachaca, a kind of sugar-cane-based rum, with lime and sugar. Then browse through the cold dishes, then start in on the meats. If you like your salad after entrees (I do), that works, too. There are several cheeses, as well, but nothing noteworthy. Better to try flan or papaya cream.

Service can be excellent or muddled. One night we lacked for nothing; another, we first stood quite awhile before being seated, then sat quite awhile before a staffer arrived. Gauchos vary in chattiness, too, but all are genial.

Almir Abraao owns Amor de Brazil with Antonio Soto. Leila Lima, interim manager, said some administrative changes are afoot (but nothing that will affect the menu), that there are no longer Brazilian dancers on the weekends, and that the business is in the talking stage (nothing certain yet) on additional locations in Los Angeles, Denver and Nashville.

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