Last week at Amor de Brazil Fiery Steakhouse in Mason, when our server leaned toward us and asked, "Would you like to hold on to your meat disk?" I knew I had just found my favorite new restaurant.
I've never used a meat disk before. Owned by Al Copeland, and taking the place of once popular Copeland's, Amor de Brazil represents something unique for Cincinnati: a Brazilian churrascaria, or a Brazilian-style steakhouse.
As my dining companion and I enter the spacious and dimly-lit dining room, swarthy waiters saunter between tables holding machete-sized knives and metal skewers loaded with different cuts of meat: sausages, sirloin, lamb, filet mignon, pork tenderloin, chicken. Quite simply: meat, meat and more meat. It's an endless procession of meat.
In fact, for meat-lovers, dining at Amor de Brazil is rather like going to church. At the far end of the dining room there is even a large window, which opens onto the cooking area and allows diners to sit like cavemen and watch the charcoal grill.
We are seated and given a quick breakdown of the system by our server. For a fixed price of $43.99, diners get unlimited access to a well-stocked salad bar and as much meat as they can eat. On each table is a coaster, colored red on one side and green on the other: this is the meat disk. We also each get a small metal pair of tongs. When diners decide they feel like eating some meat, they simply flip the meat disk over from red to green and the meat-bearers will bring their skewers to the table, offering various cuts prepared in different ways.
We order a carafe of the Trapiche Malbec ($10), a bold and full-bodied red, and make our way to the salad bar. Surprisingly, for such a meat-centric venue, the salad bar is excellent, stocked with 60-odd fresh and colorful items from gigantic green spears of asparagus to seared Ahi tuna, smoked salmon with capers, shrimp, roasted peppers, olives, hearts of palm and a wide variety of cheeses, breads, dressings and soups.
Back at the table a few minutes later, we take a deep expectant breath and flip over the meat disk. Green means go. The response is immediate: "Sirloin, sir?" asks a waiter, the flat blade of his knife passing dangerously close to the back of my head. "You like to try it, sir? It's very good. You want?" He carefully shaves off a juicy slice of meat from one of the four large chunks of top sirloin on his rotisserie rod.
"Chicken, sir?" asks another waiter, offering a skewer with 20 chicken drumsticks lined up neatly in a row along its length. "You want lamb, sir?" asks a third waiter. Suddenly, the table is crowded with waiters. "Ribs, sir!" shouts another, walking quickly toward the table.
Slightly panicked, we turn our meat disk over again. Cuts of aromatic and well-seasoned meat are heaped high on our plates. A couple of minutes later, our server brings side orders of fried polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and some fried bananas to the table.
I try the leg of lamb. Basted in olive oil and rosemary, it is tender and succulent and it falls to pieces in my mouth. Filled with intense flavors from the grill and still dripping in its own juices, it is possibly the best piece of meat I've ever tasted.
The top sirloin, the chicken drumsticks and the pork tenderloin all follow. None of them disappoint, all of them have the rich, smoky taste of the grill. Each is wonderfully prepared, and the bold round taste of the Malbec is a wonderful accompaniment to the earthy flavors of the meat.
The bacon-wrapped filet mignon is easily worth the price of the entire meal all by itself. The fried polenta and garlic mashed potatoes provide a satisfying complement. We exchange our dirty plates for fresh ones, leaving behind a little mound of bones, before revisiting the salad bar. We rest awhile, and then flip our meat disk to green, eat some more sirloin and leg of lamb, a few more chicken drumsticks and polenta.
The atmosphere is quiet and relaxing and the wait staff is attentive and friendly. There is no need to rush. The servers seem to know that everyone plans on being here for a while. The dessert menu includes carrot cake, key lime pie and other standard fare. After some deliberation, we select the papaya cream dessert with Chambord ($6.99). It's a light and fluffy combination of papaya and vanilla ice cream, topped with Chambord. It serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the rest of the meal.
And what a wonderful meal it was. I'm not usually a fan of all-you-can-eat-style restaurants, believing that they sacrifice quantity for quality. But they do it well here. They don't sacrifice a thing. And I've always been a sucker for a charcoal grill and a leg of lamb.
Amor de Brazil Fiery Steakhouse
Go: 5150 Merten Drive, Mason
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Payment: MasterCard and Visa
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty; the salad bar is awesome
Accessibility: Fully accessible