The layout of Rio Rodizio is telling: with a candlelit dining area in one section and a long bar lined with flat screens in another, it's as much a place to take a date for a romantic meal as it is a spot to grab a drink after work. In the dining room, gaucho chefs carve cuts of lamb, beef, and pork right at the table, forcing diners to clear plate space next to seared fish, homemade pastas, and sushi rolls drizzled in flavorful sauce. Like a home that's been decorated by robbing a furniture store in the dark, the cocktail menu is a fusion of tastes, its Asian and Brazilian proclivities represented by sangrias, tropical juices, and sake.
Though it's steps down from street level, the dining room at Circus Restaurante maintains a sunny air. Perhaps it's the circus-themed art, the lemon yellow seats, the bossa nova floating through the room that give the space its warm and tropical feel. No matter, because drifting from the kitchen are the scents of garlic and herbs, coconut and lime?all signs that delicious Brazilian cuisine is on its way. Shortly after opening, the New York Times claimed, "Circus serves the food your mother might cook if you were raised in Sao Paulo or Bahia."
Here are some classic Brazilian dishes to which Circus's kitchen gives a nouvelle cuisine touch.
New York City is a long way from the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil, and the wait staff at Churrascaria Tribeca certainly don’t live the rough-and-tumble lives of gauchos—Brazilian ranchers who gathered around wood-burning fires after hard days’ work to slow cook prime meats. But don’t let these discrepancies fool you. Hunks of bare prime meat are still slow cooked above wood fires at this Brazilian steak house, a faithful nod to the gauchos of days past. And the waiters still carry knives in their belts, which they unsheathe at diners’ requests—via the flip of a colored coaster—to shave off perfectly tender cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. Every day, amid a parade of skewered meats, waiters march out a specialty dish, such as a roasted suckling pig towed by cart from table to table. To enjoy this spectacular parade of slow-cooked meats, it’s best to have a ravenous appetite—which is trickier than it may first seem. Each meal begins with unlimited visits to the banquet-style buffet and salad bar, where a veritable garden’s worth of vegetables, salads, and seasonal casseroles await. During meals, waiters continuously replenish sides such as fried plantains, mashed potatoes, and cheese bread, and every meal ends with the appearance of a dessert cart full of sweet and decadent treats made in-house.
There’s no questioning Berimbau chef Carlos Inacio’s intimate connection to the cuisine of Brazil when you scan his menu, a focused collection of dishes rich with traditional ingredients such as calabresa sausage, yucca, and seafood. He hails from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, an area known for its “stellar cuisine,” according to New York magazine, which also lauded Berimbau as a “pioneer” among NYC Brazilian restaurants. Berimbau is far from a common rodízio steakhouse, although there’s no lack of pork or steak on the menu. But instead of all-you-can-eat feasts, patrons select elegant presentations of distinctive dishes, such as fraldinha, grilled skirt steak served with yucca purée, sautéed collard greens, and creamy hearts-of-palm sauce. Chef Carlos continues to position his homeland’s food in a fresh, colorful context through dishes such as risotto with asparagus, sautéed shrimp, and cilantro butter. Berimbau’s wine list has been curated with pairing in mind, and the white, sparkling, and red wines—categorized as either Old World or New World—add grace notes that perfectly emphasize the potpourri of Brazilian flavors. But the beverages of choice here are the caipirinhas—Brazilian cocktails that can be mixed with passionfruit, strawberry, coconut, mango, or lime.
Dining at Churrascaria Plataforma is a ritual. Each prix-fixe meal begins with a “first course” that requires restraint not to overdo, since it consists of a banquet-style buffet that features four different casseroles and countless delicacies. When diners are ready to move on, they flip a coaster-sized chip from its red side to its green side. This not only proves the other side isn’t made of sweet, sweet chocolate, it also signals the restaurant’s meat cutters to bring over the prime beef, which they carve tableside and pass out on skewers. During this main course period, servers also bring the fish of the day and slice off hunks of the whole roasted suckling pig that winds through the dining room on a cart each night. Finally, the dessert cart arrives bearing chocolate fudge truffles and coconut flan. This rodizio dining style, which originated in southern Brazil in the 19th Century, has a fitting accompaniment: bossa nova and samba music play throughout the meal.
Vintage bicycle-themed artwork and patches of exposed brick add a certain cozy charm to Zebú Grill’s dining room, where the chefs serve everything from housemade Brazilian sausage to flan. Tropical ingredients accent most of the food and drinks—shrimp braises in coconut milk, wild salmon wears a coat of açaí sauce, and caipirinha cocktails made from Leblon cachaça muddle fresh lime and sugar.
Two of the eatery’s signature dishes include a churrasco platter with steak, chicken, sausage, rice, and beans, and Brazil’s national dish, feijoada: a black-bean stew with sausage, pork, and beef. For less-meaty dishes, the chefs also hollow out acorn squash, carve a hungry face into its surface, and fill it with seasonal veggies.