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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Here's the Beef


The only time we spend more than $20 for dinner for two is on special occasions. Birthdays, usually, and sometimes when we’re on vacation. So we are never on the lookout for chic, pricey, snooty, Nuevo Cuisiney, South-Beach-we-only-accept-gold-card-style restaurants. On our birthdays, in January and in April, we usually go to a great seafood place and arrive before 6 PM while the early bird prices are still in effect, saving us, I think, four dollars.

We stumbled upon this Brazilian Steakhouse Phenomenon quite innocently after winning a raffle for dinner for two a couple of years ago. I was very lucky that night, winning the meals, two bottles of wine, a bottle of rum, an all-in-one printer, another dinner for two somewhere else, and some more goodies. For a $20 investment, I made out like a pirate.

So later in the year, we got as dressed up the best as we could, drove down to South Beach, paid an outrageous fee for parking and then went into this restaurant the size of a warehouse and were promptly seated. This is the kind of restaurant where the wait staff puts the napkins in your lap for you. Other Bill had never been to a place this fancy and thought he was being sexually assaulted. This is the kind of overstaffed joint where when you ask the restroom’s location, they don’t give you directions; they escort you to the bathroom, wait outside and escort you to back to the table. And while you’re gone, someone folds your napkin in a nice triangle for you. It’s rather unnerving.

Our waiter told us how the thing worked. First we were to visit the appetizer bar, and when we were ready to have some meat, we were to flip over a little cardboard disk to the green side, and the meat men would come serve us some meat. In addition to knives and forks on the table, there was a pair of tongs for each of us.

When you get to the appetizer bar, you feel like you’re a horse at the Kentucky Derby. There is this huge oval table. Out of the gate you see platters filled with shrimp, salmon, grilled peppers, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, and asparagus. At the first turn there are olives, tabouli, imported cheeses (goat and cow), crusty breads, grapes in gorgonzola sauce, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, thick sliced seasoned bacon. By the time you’ve made it halfway around the track, you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, because your plate already weighs fifteen pounds, and there’s still the last quarter mile to go, and there isn’t a square inch of empty space on your plate to put anything else. You realize you’ll never make it to the home stretch, and not even close to the finish line, so you go back to your table, stopping only for a nice large bowl of lobster bisque. After all, you do have two hands.

After you're reseated, the person whose sole job is to deliver spiced mashed potatoes (ingredients: whole cream, butter, and potatoes, in that order) and sweet plantains makes the drop-off, just to make up for your losing the Kentucky Derby. Soon, your palate is pleased, but you are soon forced to make painful decisions, because if you eat everything on your plate, how will you have room for the meat when you flip your disk to the green side? So you eat the stuff you never can afford to buy and the stuff that tastes really good but you don’t know how to make, but you still want to eat the rest of it.

Meanwhile, 75 employees have dropped by to ask you if everything is okay. C’mon. How could anything not be okay? Stop asking if everything’s okay and help me make some decisions regarding the stuff on my plate I’m going to have to throw out. I should have realized this was going to happen and brought a Hefty bag.

There is, however, a person whose sole job it is to watch you and make sure you don't scrape meals into a Hefty bag. If you put down your fork, she comes and asks if you’re ready for a new plate. She is used to throwing out a lot of really good food, so she’s not bothered by it. You are busy feeling guilty about the hundreds of people in South Beach who, due to the economic times we are in, no longer come here nightly.

We weren’t ready for the onslaught of men dressed in overly-pleated, frilly pants and large, knee-high boots who bring different animal body parts to the table. Once you go green, you are immediately swarmed upon by seagulls. Once that disk is flipped it’s like you’ve gone out on the beach and started throwing bread into the air. These seagulls are actually very handsome young men carrying machetes and skewers of meat, including: parmesan crusted pork, sausage, chicken wrapped in bacon, flank steak, filet mignon cooked two ways, leg of lamb, sirloin cooked three different ways, and lamb chops. What? No venison? Do they not have deer in Brazil? I didn’t sound off about that because a) I don’t like it, and b) I would have felt a little too much like Clara “where’s the beef?” Peller.

With the first carving, you discover what your tongs are for: tweezing off the meat that is carved right in front of your face. In seconds, your plate is a mountain of carnage and you feel your vampire fangs beginning to extend. You quickly flip your disk back over to the red side and start eating. The seagull-gaucho-waiters immediately realize the last piece of bread has been tossed in the air and retreat, prompting the return of the seventy-five employees who come by to ask if everything is okay. They arrive at fifteen second intervals, and you avoid the temptation to say, “There’s a crumb on my napkin. Can you take my tongs and pick it up and feed it to me, please?

We felt sick when it was time to leave, and it’s a long, uncomfortable ride back home to Broward County, during which time we were both thinking, “I sure am glad there are two bathrooms in our house.”

So we had a good time, and loved the food and figured that would be our first and last trip there, because for non-raffle-winning customers, dinner for two without wine or dessert is still over a hundred bucks.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of surrendering to them our e-mail addresses before we departed, and every so often we get little surprises in our inboxes for irresistible bargains, like 50% off or buy one, get one free offers.

So, armed with coupons, we have made the trek back to Miami Beach several times since then and always forget to not overeat.

In the past few months, Other Bill has lost 32 pounds and will probably lose 40 before things are all said and done. That’s the weight of the giant bag of dog food we buy once a month that Miss Bungee thinks is the best thing on earth, besides her lime rickies and Virginia Slims cigarettes. So once Other Bill is down by 40 pounds, I’m hoping he will strap on a big bag of Iams and carry it around for a day just so he’ll remember what it was like. That should keep the weight off.

To celebrate this weight loss, we decided to redeem an e-mailed coupon at this steakhouse. When I went online to make the reservation, I discovered, much to my loathing, that a new franchise had opened up right across the street from where I work. (It’s true, I don’t get out much.) And the dinner for two price is twenty bucks less than the Miami Beach location, plus there’s free parking. And it meant a much shorter ride home in total discomfort to dash our unescorted selves to our bathrooms.

He weighed himself before we left: 204. He did the same thing when we got home: 210. This morning that had dropped to 205.

And this morning when I opened my Hotmail inbox, there was a “happy birthday” e-mail from the House of Brazilian Pigfest, offering me 50% off dinner for two the whole month of January.

These people really know how to get you.

For Christmas, one of my superiors gave me a $50 gift card to the place, so if we go again this month, we both can eat for free.

And we can have dessert.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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