Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Whole Lotta Brazzaz

Two nights ago Ted and I put on our Sunday-don't-have-to-work-Monday-Best and headed over to Brazzaz on Grand and Dearborn for what turned out to be a fantastic dining experience.

Brazzaz is a Brazilian Steakhouse, and is a totally unique experience, apparently traditional to the steakhouses of Southern Brazil. You pay a flat price for your meal-- I think it's $48 for dinner and $25 for lunch or something like that. For that price, you get free reign over the GOURMET salad bar (more on that in a minute), and all the meat you can eat. Drinks are separate, and they have an impressive wine list with a healthy selection of Argentinean wines-- to my delight. We had a buy-one-dinner-get-one-free coupon, so we spent the money we would have saved on a lovely botttle of Alamos Malbec (pictured at left). Malbec is a medium-bodied red (kind of like a Merlot or Chianti) with a warm, velvety flavor-- and it went GREAT with the meal.

When Ted and I showed up, the place was hopping-- even though it was a Sunday night. Luckily we had made reservations, so we only had a short wait before we were seated. The movie we were going to see didn't start until 8:20, but Ted insisted we leave about two hours for the restaurant-- which I didn't understand until we got there.

The interior of Brazzaz is very upbeat without being "loud"-- dynamic lighting, broad tables laid with crisp white linens, and gently pulsing latino pop music give it a sophisticated yet energetic feel. We were seated at a cute little window table tucked in the corner, in a perfect spot to observe the mixed clientele of the restaurant, which ranged from families and groups of adults to couples enjoying intimate dinners.

First up came the gourmet "salad bar"-- which was not so much a salad bar, but a truly exceptional buffet of cold and hot starter dishes, sides, and finger food. I mean, instead of being Brazzaz: The Brazilian Steakhouse, the place should really be called Brazzaz: America's most amazing salad bar, EVER. Seriously. Here's my first plate from the 'bar:

Highlights: Sushi, cocktail shrimp, oyster on the half shell (my first time trying oysters... not as gross as I thought), roasted mushrooms, creamy mushroom risotto (outstanding), marinated artichoke, hearts of palm, cheeses, salad greens. Bread. Not pictured on this plate but also great: cheese tortellini, green apple salad, sesame green beans.

Independent of the ‘bar, every table also gets three “sides”: mashed potatoes (perhaps the best I’ve ever had—SO GOOD), breaded fried bananas, and fried polenta. Essentially, Paula Deen’s Brazilian heaven.

Having had our fill of appetizers, Ted and I soon decided it was time for the main event—the meat. Apparently at Brazzaz they slow roast it the Southern Brazilian way—minimally seasoned, over flaming coals, giving it a delicious naturally char-grilled flavor. And how does a diner at Brazzaz acquire said precious meat? Easy. When you are seated at your table, you find a plastic coin at your place setting, one side of which says "Yes please, I want meat!" while the other side says "No Thanks" or something like that. When we flipped to our coins to YES we were nearly instantaneously set upon by a parade of traditionally costumed meat men, offering several different kinds of carne asada skewered on dangerous looking swords. When they arrived at the table, they would gingerly slice off a dainty chunk of their roast and let you grab it with provided tongs. After less than five minutes we were fighting them off with our forks and knives until we could get a second to flip our coins back to "No, Thanks" with a sigh of relief. I didn’t get a money shot of all my meat, but over the course of the evening I tried: garlic seasoned jumbo shrimp, top sirloin, chicken leg, sausage, Black Pepper Filet Mignon, and even warm smoky-sweet roasted pineapple. There are 16 different meats offered total, but as you can see, I only made my way through five. More incentive to go back!!

By the time Brazzaz had had its way with us, we were too stuffed for dessert. We got our check, then waddled over to the Lowes Theaters at 600 Michigan Ave to see Smokin' Aces... which was everything I hoped it would be. A "fast paced action thrill ride", with dozens of famous faces and cameos (even Matthew Fox was in it for about five minutes!), that made up for what it lacked in plot with delirious scenes of egregious techno-pumping Quentin-Tarantino-style violence. Jeremy Piven delivered as the coked-out mob-prince-turned-snitch that everyone was trying to kill and collect for. I love that man.

After the movie, Ted and I of course looked for some liquid dessert to close out the evening. After sipping on some ridiculously overpriced bubblies at the elegant but snobbish Pops for Champagne, we went on sort of a wild goose chase up on Lakeview and Lincoln Park, only to find that, surprise!, most of Chicago's cocktail lounges are closed on Sunday nights. Forlornly, we shuffled into the Lion Head Pub on N. Lincoln for a nightcap next to the charming but heatless fireplace. Even though we didn't find our after-dinner-after-movie cocktail lounge, we were still pleased with the evening. As we sipped on that last drink, Ted sighed. "Its times like this that... I actually feel like I live in a city." I answered. "I know what you mean. It's so easy to go to work and come home every day... and not realize that there are so many great places and things going on all around you." And with that, we closed out our tab and made our way out into the balmy 30-degree night.

No comments: