Unless you’re a successful publishing freelancer – where the crazy money is to be made – the Brazilian Steakhouse Experience is not an everyday one. It’s very strictly a special-occasion, save-up-for-six-months kind of experience. But buy that piggy bank and start hoarding those quarters now. This is every awesome thing that happens…
So, we decide to dress appropriately. I mean, I’m not in a tux or anything – but I have shaved my face. And my shirt is ironed. I have socks on, and shoes that cover my toes. The Brazilian Steakhouse joins weddings, funerals, and marriages on the shortlist of things I wear an ironed shirt for.
We arrive 10 minutes early, but they sit us straight away. We’re in a dark corner next to the plates and a guy who is watching everyone with a hawk-like intensity. As soon as we’re seated, he approaches and asks my fellow dining adventurer about her food allergies.
How did he know?
He tells us which things on the menu are not gluten free. He says things like “My salad…my recipe for the rub…my tenderloin.” What I’m saying is that he’s a little possessive about what is soon to be my food.
Because we got the allergy talk, we didn’t get the This Is How This Crazy Thing Works talk. And we needed it. There’s an island in the middle of the room for salad stuff and we look at it like two confused squirrels. Carnivore squirrels. As the old joke goes, this is not food – this is what food eats. But my brave dining companion insists on trying to look like she’s cooperating, so she takes the lap around the island of salad. She comes back with a full plate of green leafy, planty things.
I get some arugula, but only so I can make the a-ROOO-gela noise – like a very old car’s car-horn. This is funny, regardless of the class of the venue. I have now proved this beyond doubt.
And then we wait. A nice young man arrives with a plate of sides – mashed potatoes, fried bananas, fried polenta – and I know these are yet more deliberate distractions. WHERE IS THE MEAT?
There are small squares of plastic on the table. A green side and a red side. I have done my research and I know this is how we attract the attention of the men sprinting around with the meat on sticks. Green means, hit me with that steak; red means, I am in a meat coma, give me a second. We have forks and steak knives, which makes sense, but what the hell are the tongs for?
We need that orientation talk.
Instead, we leap right in. We flip our cards to GREEN.
In an instant, we have the kind of attention that only the very rich, the very famous, or the very guilty usually get. There is wave after wave of young men with meat skewered on long sword-like thingies, offering us a slice, a slab, or a rib.
Yes, we do call them “meat swords.” A lot. Too often to be healthy.
We each say YES to everything, and in about 90 seconds our plates are piled high with the corpses of our enemies: beef slices, beef steak, chicken thighs…and at least three kinds of meat that we can’t accurately identify. And now we learn the point of the tongs: as our waiters slice off long strips of beef, our job in this interactive experience is to catch the strips and make sure they land on our plates. We’re in this together, these meat guys and me: our joint aim to make sure I eat more meat than Henry VIII in a competitive eating competition.
In the bizarre game of Meat Dare it appears we’re playing, I panic and crack first – I flip the card to RED.
It’s like going from being Kim Kardashian to … well, to being me.
In less than a moment, the scrum around our table evaporates and we’re alone again. With only the deliciously cooked flesh of various animals to keep us company.
And then, we slowly eat…
Between mouthfuls of heaven, we ask each other if we can identify the cut (or, let’s not be too adventurous, maybe if we can identify the species) of what we’re currently eating. I discover an alarming and surprising fact about food. I was most looking forward to the bacon-wrapped sirloin because…well, if it’s not obvious, I’m not going to explain it.
And so, I make sure that’s one of the first things on my plate and…well.
I once, in a moment of wild hedonism, bought myself a bottle of chocolate wine. Because I very much like chocolate and I very much like wine – and someone had wisely been able to use all of science to bring the two together in an almost holy union. Only they hadn’t. To no one else’s surprise, I was disappointed: the chocolate taste was fine, the wine was recognizable as such. Together…well, it didn’t work.
And so with the bacon-wrapped sirloin. Somewhere at the nexus of steak and bacon, each perfect flavor somehow served to interrupt the value of the other, making the whole experience a perfect example of the whole being something less than the sum of its parts.
But it was still bacon and it was still steak, and it disappeared from my plate.
One after the other, the various kinds of meat were sliced, chewed, and swallowed. We looked into each other’s eyes, my partner-in-crime and I, in more bliss than a couple in public should probably be.
As a small educational sidebar, this is the part where I can tell you that the Brazilian national cocktail is called the Caipirinha. One of the highly efficient serving team brings around a tray of them at regular intervals. They’re rum, sugar, fruit and perhaps crack cocaine. One will not be enough, but one of you has to drive home. Decide beforehand or fight it out using the steak knives and tongs, depending on how your relationship rules usually account for such circumstances.
And don’t leave it, like we did, until you pay the bill to realize they’re free (maybe because we were first-timers?) so you should drink every one offered to you.
So, your plate is cleared of meat storm #1…but now you know what you’re doing. You watch the servers as they quick-walk around with their meat swords swinging (I’m sorry…it’s impossible to resist). We decided they were moving fast to ensure the meat stayed hot – after every lap they disappear back into the kitchen, presumably for a re-heat of some kind. I imagine it’s probably a large fire and the waiters stand around re-heating their meat like kids toasting marshmallows at camp.
No, I’m not going to re-read that sentence and neither should you.
So, you’re watching. When your guy jogs around, you flip the card over so he stops, then you flip it back to make sure no one else joins the party. And in this way, you have a smaller but more select plate of meat #2.
And then…you call for what you tell yourself is your first rest period.
You sip water and your Caipirinha. You indulge in the first non-meat-based conversation of the evening. But mostly, you people watch. Apparently, not everyone has decided to make the effort and wear crease-free, full-length, grown-up clothing for the evening. Or even socks. There is a crowd in baseball caps. Someone has brought children, which seems dangerous.
My attention is taken with a couple at a table opposite. I didn’t notice them come in but they’re settling in. He’s doing the now-familiar meat-choice shuffle, taking a little of everything. She…is asking questions and shaking her head a lot. She’s pointing at the salad island like she’s actually interested. But still she doesn’t move.
I flip my card to green for round three, but still I can’t stop watching these two. They don’t talk: he eats the carnivore options, she sips water. So, we have to come up with scenarios.
- Disastrous first date.
- A reward from her to him for doing something awesome.
- A Wedding Anniversary gift from her to him (and a supreme kindness as she’s a vegetarian).
- A Wedding Anniversary gift from him to her (and a supreme act of dickishness as she’s a vegetarian).
- He’s a psychopath who has her under his spell and even though she can’t eat she can also not escape.
Any of these seems plausible.
I am full. I am beyond full, but still the waiters circle…I think some of them have meat I haven’t tried yet. I can’t leave without trying EVERYTHING. Maybe even twice.
My partner-in-indulgence is done. She puts down her steak knife, wipes her mouth one last time, lets a waiter remove her plate. She is beaten.
I grip the tip of my red-sided card one last time. I think back to one of our earliest dates. The wedding of a friend. The reception food was catered by The Salt Lick – and it went on forever. I went back to the trough three times – it’s BBQ! It’s amazing! It’s free! – and couldn’t move for a month. I contemplated vegetarianism over the course of one dark night of uncomfortable near-sleep.
Those were dark times.
I left my card red-side-up and rested my cutlery on my plate, which looked like something out of Hannibal. I resigned: a welcome, delicious defeat.