July 14, 2005

One strong caipirinha to wash it down


Several months ago, my Portuguese friend, Mikas, clued me into a new Brazilian joint called Carioca, that opened on 3rd & Clement St in the Richmond. We went there on somewhat of a whim, and were lucky enough to squeeze one last meal out of the closing kitchen.

I had some of the best beef I've ever had that night -- a steak with mustard sauce and a beef carpaccio to literally DIE for. It was memorable, and we vowed to do it again.

Months later, we decide to treat ourselves to some nail salon action, then hit Carioca again for dindin. Well no such luck! As quickly as the restaurant opened, it closed. *Groan* With stomachs growling, we had to find a carnivorous joint as substitute and fast!

I mention seeing a newly opened Brazilian steakhouse on the corner of Gough & Market; and we hit the gas and fly over. Aiiii! It's Friday night and crowded. We couldn't wait the wait, so settle for Chinese in the Mission which was far, far away from the original plan. Again, we vow to check out that Brazilian steakhouse.

So Mikas rings me last Friday and we talk the possibility of steak. We hot-tail it to Espetus (the restaurant's name btw) and get ready for a much longed for dining experience.

Espetus is an all you can eat buffet-style Churrascaria, or "House of Barbeque." Before coming here, I was advised by a Brazilian guy to skip the buffet and just concentrate on the meat. "Don't even bother with the chicken," he said. Though delicious, the main event is the wonderful grilled beef, pork and lamb.

I meet Mikas and Mario at the front of Espetus and we proceed to get busy. The place is packed, and there's a bit of a wait for a table. Not too long though, for a Friday. We decide to grab drinks at the bar and wait it out.

Mikas scans the drink menu and mentions they serve caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail made of muddled sugar & limes, mixed with a glassful of ice and cachaca, a VERY strong sugar cane brandy. Being a classic gin & tonic girl, I thought I could hold my own here, but damn! This cachaca was a totally new spirit for me. I could feel my cheeks warming and I wondered when we were going to get to the steak business, because the last thing I needed was to get loopy at the bar over a pre-dinner cocktail.

Finally, the hostess taps our shoulders and seating appears. Btw, Mikas and Mario both have delicious-looking Sangrias of both the red and white varieties. They looked fresh and yummy, and weren't overloaded with orange wedges like most crappy cafe sangrias tend to be. Ok, I veer, back to the beef.

We get seated, we grab plates, go to the corner buffet and carefully select from a choice of sides that are only the minor players tonight. I get a little paella, a green salad, hearts of palm, baby asparagus and a bit of white rice topped with a toasted root powder, that I know nothing about. Mario tells me Mikas always puts that on top of her rice, so I follow suit. I imagine it's like a manioc or tapioca starch which I'm pretty familiar with.

As soon as we get ourselves reseated, the swords of meat make appearances at our table:

pincanha (sirloin flavored with sea salt & garlic)
lombinho (parmesan encrusted pork loin)
linguica (pork sausage)
coracao de frango (grilled chicken hearts -- a fave of Mikas & Mario)
alcatra (more sirloin)
pork loin
jumbo shrimp

Our soldiers of meats & one seafood, are brought to our table and the server slices off what we like. Most is yummy and grilled to perfection. The pincanha especially! This is the main reason to go. It's sublime -- a thin slice of medium rare sirloin with an edge of fat and a salty char crust. Your mouth will thank you tenfold.

We realize we can't keep up with the march of meats, and notice there's a little "yes please" and "no thank you" sign at the edge of our table. The servers come to you when it's "on" and not when it's "off." We quickly turn it off and work in on the slices before us.

It was like a job -- the eating. You really have to pace yourself and take only what you can handle. Thankfully one of the servers comes out with a sword of grilled pineapple, to clear our palates midway through the meal. We manage to get it all down and proceed to nurse our drinks. Me with my big, strong caipirinha just waiting to take me down.

I couldn't believe we decided to do dessert, but man I'm glad we did. Mikas and I order coconut mousse and passionfruit mousse, respectively, with the intention of sharing. My Lord both mousses (meeses, mice?) were amazingly good -- especially together. You could go to Espetus just for these 2 desserts. Sooooo good. The coconut tastes like a coconut, not like an overly sweet interpretation you get with most non-tropic derived desserts (Baker's coconut can kiss my ass). The passionfruit mousse is strongly flavored and was a bit much for Mario. I love this fruit, so it was fine for me, but cutting it with the coconut elevated the flavor many more levels.

I'm exhausted now just reliving this eating experience. Alright, I'll wrap it up. Espetus -- go there, you will not be disappointed. Vegeterians you will be.

Brazilian Churrascaria
1686 Market Street @ Gough
San Francisco, CA
415 522 8792

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