Steak in the Heart

Now I'm really stumped about how those girls from Ipanema get away with wearing the scandalous scraps of spandex that pass for bikinis in Brazil.

I have a sneaking suspicion that bootylicious ladies get much more appreciation in that culture than in ours, but still — while American gals are trolling the aisles of Target in search of the perfect beach cover-up, shops in Rio are doing a brisk business in butt-floss. What gives? Did they beat Dr. Atkins to the punch on figuring out the protein diet?

Yeah, I think so — probably by a few centuries. Or at least their gaucho ancestors did. The South American equivalent of cowboys, gauchos still roam the pampas on horseback, herding cattle and living on the open range. Not surprisingly, they eat a heck of a lot of beef and have perfected a style of barbecue called churrasco.

Grill of your dreams: Chef Marco Moretti, left, and manager Mario Tamariz serve some juicy picanha.
Jackie Mercandetti
Grill of your dreams: Chef Marco Moretti, left, and manager Mario Tamariz serve some juicy picanha.

Details

All-you-can-eat dinner: $33.99

Lunch: $20

Caipirinha: $7

Caramel flan: $5.99

480-991-1952, »web link
Hours: Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.; lunch, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Rio Sabor Brazil, 10425 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale

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Head to a modern-day churrascaria — a traditional Brazilian steakhouse — and you'll be dazzled by the sheer quantity of meat they pile on your plate. I recently visited one in north Scottsdale called Rio Sabor Brazil, and I filled up on enough animal flesh to tide me over at least a week of salads. (Which didn't happen, of course, although I had the best of intentions.)

The place was an all-you-can-eat bonanza. On the way there, my dining companion joked that she loves restaurants where the menu is "yes" or "no." I liked the idea of it, too, but somehow, I thought I'd be able to exercise restraint in the midst of unlimited food. Little did I know that it's more like "stop" and "go," and it's hard to put the brakes on good steak.

My self-discipline started to evaporate right around the time that we walked into the dining room, where we could see into the kitchen through a window. The smoky aroma of everything sizzling on the huge grill struck me right in the nostrils, and I was stunned at how close I came to drooling. As soon as we were seated, my quote-worthy friend piped up as a waiter passed by carrying a skewer of beef as big as a sword.

"I feel like we're in the Atkins VIP room," she said, giggling. All around us, I saw people grabbing at the meat with little tongs as waiters sliced pieces onto their plates. And I didn't witness any evidence of vegetable consumption.

Then, our waiter brought us our first round of caipirinhas, those now-trendy Brazilian cocktails made with cacha#231a (distilled liquor made from sugar cane juice), sugar, and fresh lime juice. They have a similar appeal to a mojito, minus the mint. Rio Sabor's caipirinhas were perfectly balanced — just tart enough to be refreshing, just sweet enough to be smooth.

We nibbled on a plate of traditional accompaniments — sweet fried bananas, doughy fried cheese puffs, and crisp chunks of polenta — before hitting up the buffet. They were really good, and gone before we knew it.

Rio Sabor doesn't offer the biggest buffet in town, nor the flashiest. Consistent with the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service there, the offerings were quite homey, with plates of chicken salad and potato-egg salad lined up alongside typical salad bar veggies and dressings. It wasn't a particularly memorable spread, although the roasted beets and marinated portobello and eggplant dishes were tasty.

Across the room, the hot buffet had several gut-filling options, including standard black beans and rice, dry-ish chicken in a tangy cream sauce, decent cheese ravioli, and moist salmon topped with red onions. If it weren't for the main attraction — steak — there's no reason to go out of your way to get there. Honestly, I wondered if it was all a distraction intended to make us fill up before the grand meat procession. That definitely didn't turn out to be the case.

We encountered a handful of waiters at Rio Sabor, and they were all friendly, chatty, and downright eager in serving us as much mesquite-grilled sirloin and chicken and sausage as we wanted. Sometimes, we'd tell them we wanted to share a slice of something, and they'd laugh as they'd give us each a piece anyway. It's called rodizio style when they bring those big skewers around from table to table; every few minutes, a different waiter would bring one out from the kitchen, and he'd visit us as long as we left a two-toned signal block turned green-side-up on our table. We didn't flip it over to the red side until we were ready to explode.

My hungry friend and I tried everything they had to offer, and even managed seconds in a few instances. The two best things I ate all night were the tri-tip and the picanha (a Brazilian top sirloin cut). Both were juicy and perfectly seasoned — garlicky, a little salty — with a nice crust on the outside. Coming in a close second was the marinated lamb, which was so tender and delicious that I had to slow myself down for a minute, just to savor every bite.

Comparatively, the pork tenderloin and turkey were just okay. Nothing wrong with them, but I'd just eaten a buttery, bacon-wrapped filet mignon. A plump, herby pork sausage made up for them, though, and so did the grilled chicken. It's a foodie cliché to scorn chicken dishes at restaurants — it's boring, it's too safe, whatever — so I'm telling you to make an exception at Rio Sabor. The crispy skin is worth it.

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4 comments
CJO
CJO

I've just recently read the comments and reviews on Rio Sabor and, I must say I'm shocked! Did I not attend the same restaurant? My boyfriend and I drove over 30 minutes last night for what we were both expecting would be, an amazing Valentines dinner. We were both however, extremely disappointed.

Anticipating a busy night, I called hours in advance to reserve a table. Upon arriving we were told it would be a short wait. Not that big of a deal, but clearly there were open tables for us to be sat at. Our reservation time was 7:30pm and we were not seated until almost 8:00pm. And where did we sit? At one of the many tables that had been opened the entire time.

Although we were both a little annoyed and wondering why we bothered to make reservations, we let it go and tried to enjoy the rest of our meal. The night however, just got progressively worse. The salad bar was a joke. Very few choices and not that tasty. Again, we both got over it. We didn't drive all this way for a salad bar, we drove for the meat and the Brazillian experience.

But the disappointment kept coming. We sat with our card on green for over 20 minutes without any service. Being a server myself, I understand the restaurant business and things can be slow when you're busy. The thing is, they weren't that busy! The meat servers would come out, serve one/two tables (both directly next to us) and then leave! That happened a number of times before we finally had to ask someone to come to our table. I was stunned that we never had to turn our card to red. We would wait over 10 minutes inbetween each meat. It was just ridiculous. It was Valentines Day, they should have anticipated a busy night and had more than 3 meat servers on.

There was one gentleman that was very helpful and tried to make sure we got service. So to him, I say, "thank you" for at least trying! This poor guy was sweating by the end of our dinner because he was the only one who appeared to be working! The rest of the wait staff was talking amongst themselves while the customers were sitting and waiting to be served. I just thought it was very poor business management.

Towards the end of our meal we were both overly annoyed and ready to just leave. At that time, our server came over and asked if there was anything else he could do. We requested a certain kind of meat to come back and were assured it would be sent right over. I don't know if he forgot but, the meat never came. We waited another 10 minutes and decided to just get the chocolate covered strawberries and leave. When we returned to our table, our red/green card was gone and there was no way we were going to get anymore service (or the meat that we were still wanting/waiting for). At that point we really did just want to leave and go home.

We received the check and couldn't believe our eyes. We paid over $175 to still be hungry, have terrible service, and get little to no food. I was also shocked to see they had taken it amongst themselves to add in the gratuity. Normally that's not done unless the table is of eight or more. And normally, the server tells you in advance (or should).

Maybe my boyfriend and I just had our expectations too high. After eating at, Fogo De Chao, a true/amazing Brazillian restuarant in Chicago (and nine other locations), we were both expecting an experience similar to that. But clearly we were let down.

If you want an amazing Brazillian restaurant with incredible service and outstanding food, I would suggest taking the lost drive to Beverly Hills (closest one to Phoenix area) Or, look them up online at www.fogodechao.com to find a location nearest you!

joseph
joseph

hey that's the best,you can't even imegine how good is it... there is a big bald guy, he's just what make the place nice

Adam
Adam

I have been going there for years, through a couple changes of ownership. It's currently the best it's ever been. Though, with the last batch of owners, there was an older guy who worked there who the woman unit and I referred to as "The Wizard of Meat," though never directly to him.

I swear I must eat 4 pounds of meat at that place.

Diana Olander
Diana Olander

Rio is my favorite restaurant! being from South America is very difficult to find the right meat cut and right atmosphere.I love going to Rio, everybody is very sweet and the food is fantastic.

 
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