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brazilian flesh fest - chowdown at cleo's

ed | Aug 4, 200506:23 PM

cleo's is GOOD.

i'll be the first to acknowledge that i can be swayed by my mood, which was topping today, as i was accompanied by my jovial nigerian and polish coleagues who were in fine form. and i was pleasantly surprised to find lambert waiting for us at the door.

first a little background, churrasco is brasilian bbq, where a variety of meats are each put on skewers and then put on a rotisserie grill. the servers pull the skewers off one by one, carry it from table to table, and carve off whatever slab you request. they keep coming until you surrender.

at cleo's, the lunch options are delightfully simple. you either get to choose 3 meats only for $13, or the works for $18. both come with access to the buffet/salad bar also.

the buffet/salad bar had palmito, which is the first thing i look for. it was, however, cooked in a savory dish with which i was not familiar. i still prefer it's fresh texture in a salad, but i was nevertheless profoundly reassured to see it there. there were, lambert noted, fresh beets in the salad bar, fresh sliced tomato, manioc, brasilian rice, and various other things to which i paid little more than cursory attention (though they looked relatively appealing). charles was very partial to the tender squash, andrzej to the manioc. i did not see chard (collard greens) or feijoada (black bean and pork stew), but the friendly staff told me i would on weekends. they are often enough to lure this brasilian out on their own.

now to the main event. at LEAST ten types of grilled meat were paraded to our table. i am happy to say that almost everything was nicely grilled and seasoned. perhaps neener didn't realize that he can actually point to the precise slab he would like sliced off for him, but in his defense, i don't think the servers have a native command of the english. our table had no problems with this, as andrzej selected the crusty savory outer slices, and lambert chose from the inner juicy rare. to be honest, i can't think of a better way to serve meat, and i remain convinced that the brasilians have perfected this art of meat love.

salt rub IS the dominant theme, just like it should be, and i am getting no MSG thirst 90 minutes after lunch. true, you are not getting complex marinades or spicy seasoning, just coarse grain sea salt, and the magic radiant heat kiss of crispy carmelized crust. this lets the character of each species and cut of meat shine through.

i'm getting sleepy (why don't i live in spain?), so i'll just list what we had

chicken wings/drumette
chicken chunks wrapped in bacon
chicken hearts
pork loin
beef tri tip
beef sirloin
beef brisket
beef chunks wrapped in bacon
beef short ribs
lamb chops

ok, that's eleven. for lunch. dinner is maybe 23 bucks, and should have something north of 15 cuts.

my fave was the lamb. it wasn't very gamey, but definitely retained tasty lamb flavor. crispy, savory on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. same could be said for the pork tenderloin, which may be my second favorite. tri tip was good, and very rare inside. short ribs were cut thick, and were very tender, although i think the koreans still own this dish.

no one had room for dessert, but they give you sweet fried bananas just for the heck of it. no complaints from me.

their booze license hasn't come in yet, but lambert got the manager to assure me that we could bring in a bottle in the meantime. service, by the way, was tip top. the waitress patiently explained the concept to my companions (who still couldn't quite believe such a thing was possible). she answered all our questions, and kept us well watered. the servers were friendly and did not rush us at all even as we got pickier about our cuts. in fact, we were all done, but a gleam in charles' eye at a passing tenderloin was all it took for the server to bring yet another plate for a little coup de grace.

what can i say? neener and maybe cleo must've both had a bad day, while today the sun shined on us all. i can only hope the folks at nearby villa del sol try this place and realize that the brasilians are kicking their ass at more things than futbol.

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