Ditchin’ the Dining Hall: Downtown Edition

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The charming Espetus downtown provides a meat-filled Brazilian feast and large buffet. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

Bring your appetite to San Francisco’s one-and-only Brazilian-style Churrascaria. Top selections of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and shrimp come delivered sizzling hot on sword-like skewers by waiters decked in traditional “gaucho-style” ensembles—boots and all. Though the price is steep ($50 per person), any meal that is able to transport me into a frame of nostalgia about my days spent lying on the beaches of Rio is definitely worth the money. The set-price menu includes an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of over 14 differently-prepared meats and an exotic buffet. The buffet overflows with rich stews, spicy fish, fresh shellfish, sweet cranberry cous cous and hearts of palm, a Brazilian delicacy.

The food comes non-stop until you switch your “green card,” meaning ‘bring me more meat’ (given to every table) to the “red card,” signifying that there is an actual possibility of consuming too much perfectly cooked, mouth-watering meat in one sitting. Smiling brasileiros swiftly dance across the room with their skewers of meat to the bossa nova streaming from the restaurant’s speakers, which almost gives you a feeling of sitting at a restaurant right in Ipanema, Leblon or Copacabana.

To wash down the overflowing spices that tickle your taste buds, the in-house prepared white or red wine sangria and/or the traditional Brazilian drink “caipirinha” seem to do the trick. Though drinks are not included in the set price, they’re necessary due to the constant eating that takes place throughout the sumptuous feast. After a few drinks and forkfuls of heaven, the crowd around the restaurant seems to have a uniform “smile and eyes closed” look while tasting the divine treats.

The scent that permeates the air while Brazilian music plays reminds me of the sweet sugarcane scent that flows throughout the warm and humid air in Brazil. As I ate, I recalled one of my favorite Astrud Gilberto songs, titled “Non-stop to Brazil,” while I calculated how long it would take to fly from SFO to the Carlos Jobim Airport in Sao Paolo.

After the meal craze comes to a slow and steady end, every patron must satisfy his/her sweet tooth with the decadent desserts available, ranging from sweet fried plantains with ice cream to rich, “better-than-sex” chocolate lava cake (not included). This celebratory style restaurant satisfies every palette from salty to sweet.

The service is representative of the Brazilian stereotype: the waiters and hosts are warm, friendly and laid-back and occasionally forget to speak English to you instead of their native tongue, Portuguese. Reservations are necessary on Friday and Saturday nights. For those hungry for Brazilian plates with slightly shallower pockets, try lunch for half the price. It’s equally filled with the meats galore. Make sure to take a glimpse at the kitchen before you leave to get a peek at how the genius chefs cook the succulent meats—over a huge open fire located right in the restaurant’s kitchen. The waiters at Espetus care about your experience and play the roles of “the expert” meat and wine connoisseurs very well. Espetus is made up of three medium-sized rooms to encompass the steady flow of people that infiltrate the restaurant by the second while you dine, making you feel you have not only come to the right place, but are sitting in one hot commodity of a restaurant.

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