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Dining Out

Brazilian meat and greet spot

Jose Ramirez (left) and Leandro Cruz carve meat for Josh Nelken and Julie Rinehart at Churrascaria Rodeo. Jose Ramirez (left) and Leandro Cruz carve meat for Josh Nelken and Julie Rinehart at Churrascaria Rodeo. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
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February 3, 2008

Churrascaria Rodeo

920 Main St., Woburn
781-376-0020, churrascariarodeo.com
Open daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped
Live Brazilian jazz Tuesday to Sunday, 6:30-11 p.m.

As a native Chicagoan, I like a meaty menu. So it was with great anticipation that I sat down to dinner at Churrascaria Rodeo in Woburn. After all, what better than a Brazilian steakhouse to satisfy my carnivorous habits?

Rodizio ($22) is the featured menu item here. It's technically a style of service, in which spit-roasted meats are served directly from the skewer onto your plate. Waiters, known as passadors, saunter through the dining room with carving knives at the ready, delivering meat until you ask (or rather beg) them to stop. Rodizio is a meat marathon, more feast than meal. I and my elastic waistband were ready.

Although the menu has many bright spots, the main attraction was not fantastic. I had envisioned expertly roasted meats, with all the smoky complexity of open-fire barbecue. What arrived at our table looked the part but didn't quite taste it.

We began with lamb, which was overdone and dry. The skewer of pork loin that followed was so salty as to be inedible. We requested a different serving, but it arrived with little improvement. The top sirloin was unremarkable. Brazilian sausage proved somewhat tastier, as did crisp kielbasa.

We did enjoy slices of rare roast beef, dripping with juice, and the bacon-wrapped chicken was tender and perfectly cooked. Feeling adventurous, we asked for a skewer of chicken hearts, but they were too rubbery for my taste.

So what was the star of the rodizio lineup? Not meat at all, but rings of grilled pineapple, browned to perfection and topped with a light dusting of cinnamon.

In between rounds of meat, we nibbled on multiple side dishes. I use the word nibble deliberately, because your stomach - and the table - fills up quickly with salad, hot rolls, rice, fries, and black beans.

I'd skip most of these in favor of the chilled salpicón salad. It's a refreshing blend of carrots, corn, chicken, and potatoes that provides a nice contrast to the heavy meat items. I also loved the fried plantains, which were served sizzling hot. Crisp on the outside and delectably soft and sweet within, they disappeared almost instantly.

The rodizio includes so much food that appetizers are unnecessary. If you really want a warm-up, though, try the shrimp rodeo ($10). It's a generous portion of shrimp sauteed in white wine and garlic, with crusty bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

The bolinho de bacalhao, or codfish cakes ($7), were sizzling hot and crisp on the outside with a fluffy, almost mashed-potato-like interior. I washed both down with a tangy caipirinha ($7), a Brazilian cocktail of sugarcane liquor and limes.

The menu includes several options for those who choose not to go the rodizio route. I enjoyed the fish and shrimp stew ($17), which arrives with a pot of bubbling cassava root and is best when ladled over rice. The pungent cilantro, onion, and tomato broth complemented the starchy cassava, and the fish (I chose tilapia) was fresh and flavorful.

The vegetarian dinner ($15) includes the rodizio sides plus sauteed vegetables. At lunchtime, patrons can choose from a roster of belt-busting sandwiches. The X-Rodeo ($9), for example, includes steak, chicken, sausage, cheese, and corn.

Though it's hard to think of dessert when the passador approaches with a fifth round of roast beef, be sure to save room for the excellent pudin de leite, or flan ($5). My tablemates devoured every smooth, caramel morsel. The passion fruit mousse ($5), though nicely tart, paled in comparison.

Service here is casual and uneven. Our entrees arrived separately and water refills were slow, but it's easy to forgive such slip-ups because the staff is so darn happy. Everyone seems related (our waiter was the guitarist's nephew), the passadors like to hum while serving, and friends drop in for drinks at closing time. With pizza-parlor chairs and sitcoms on TV, the place feels like a neighborhood joint.

Churrascaria Rodeo changed managers recently, and the fare is still being adjusted - so much, actually, that if you order rodizio, you may not receive exactly what the menu states. On our second visit, for example, the passadors brought sirloin and chicken wings that hadn't been offered before.

If you take a relaxed approach to dining, you won't be disappointed. But those who prefer to dine without surprises might want to look elsewhere - at least until Churrascaria Rodeo gets its ducks (or, rather, cows, pigs, and chickens) in line.

EMILY SIMON

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