Rei de Gado Churrascaria 939 4th and Broadway, Downtown 619-702-8464
I am a carnivore-a meat eater through and through. If it bleeds, I'll eat it. Visions of perfectly marbled sirloins, chops and fillets inhabit my dreams. And if these meats are delivered to my table on a skewer, my Viking blood races in a testosterone frenzy, quelled only when I feel that first tear of incisor as it slices through the rare meat.
I had always believed that my penchant for flesh was simply one more example of the devil's bargain-play today, pay tomorrow. And believing such, I had fatalistically resigned myself to an enjoyable life of smoking, drinking and eating what I wanted, until one day keeling over, hacking, wheezing, clutching my chest and bleeding from my ears.
Well, those days of youthful optimism are behind me. I am now in my third week of “induction” and will soon be entering Phase 2. I have recently joined the Cult of Atkins, a not-so-secret society where strict dietary laws are maintained in order to induce weight-loss and promote better health through a delicious meat, cheese and ranch dressing based diet. This being only a slight shift in my normal eating habits, I eagerly took the plunge.
In celebration of our lifestyle shift, two recent initiates and I decided to head downtown for dinner. At Fourth and Broadway sits the Rei de Gado (Portuguese for “King of Cow”), a Mecca for meat-lovers and a safe haven for Atkins cult members.
For roughly $26 you get a full-on salad bar, a buffet stocked with a variety of Western and Brazilian dishes and, of course, all the meat you can handle. The buffet and salad bar, where our leather-belted, shoed, and pursed, “vegetarian” lady friends spent most of their time, is stocked with a variety of authentic Brazilian dishes.
Scenes of Salvador flash before me as I inhale the wafting aroma from the mandioca frita, as it mingles with the smells emanating from a cauldron of feijoada, redolently dancing through my nostrils to the Brazilian rhythms from the stereo. Mandioca frita is a bar-food type snack of fried yucca, sometimes topping the freijoada, a hearty black bean soup, or eaten plain and washed down with a nice Brazilian Brahma beer.
Unfortunately, the Rei de Gado lacks a stock of Brahma, so we went with a pair of Chilean and Argentine reds and a few glasses of caipririnla, a cocktail made from Brazil's answer to tequila, cassasa. Mixing limejuice and sugar with the cassasa our bartendress doled out a potent yet highly drinkable concoction with just the right mix of sweet and sour.
The Rei also features the Brazilian classic, moqueca de peixe, a white fish stew flavored with a blend of onion, chilies, tomatoes, garlic and coriander that matched exquisitely the subtle flavor of the caipirinla. But enough of fish and beans-we were here to savor the flavor of slow-cooked barbequed meat.
Our waiter approached and introduced himself and the system to us. “I am Miguel, your waiter. I am from Argentina. The greatest meat in the world comes from my country. Here, it is Brazilian style, not Argentine, but still pretty good. Trust me, I know these things. Now, the way it works is that if you put the green side up on this thing here (he holds up a wooden cylinder with one side painted green and the other red) the waiters keep coming. Red side up, they stop coming. Any questions? No? Good!”
And with a flourish, he was a gone. Cleverly disguising our red side with a spinach leaf, we sat back and let the feast begin.
Along with weight loss and a higher HDL (good cholesterol) count, the Cult of Atkins also ensures periodic hot flashes, sweats and a voracious appetite. With the green side staring at the ceiling, our plates quickly began to fill as the waiters seduced us with the evenings offerings; lamb chops, ribs, tenderloin, skirt steak, bacon wrapped fillets, numerous other cuts of meat and chicken breast and heart-all served on skewers.
The chicken hearts we ate out of novelty and machismo, and they proved to be rather tasty; the chicken we passed on as our waiter nodded in approval. “In my country, chicken is for tourists and women,” he quipped while taking our next wine order.
As the ladies looked on with a sort of amused astonishment, we proceeded to sample the rest of the menu, with seconds on a few, and thirds, then fourths on both the succulent bacon-wrapped fillets and the juice-dripping tenderloin.
Satiated, grinning lasciviously and slowly drifting into food comas, we staggered outside for a smoke. Perhaps only the post-coital cigarette can beat the relaxing inhalations of the post-Rei de Gado smoke. We stood in silence enjoying the cool night air as it mingled amongst the blue-gray smoke of North Carolina's finest. “Churrascaria,” my friend said, rubbing his stomach and speaking in a guttural, South American accent, “the house of barbecue.”