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Valley Life | restaurant review

Meat Unlimited

Skewered barbecued Brazilian specialties just don't quit at Espeto's.

October 27, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When your group craves a) meat and b) immediate gratification, nothing fills the bill like a Brazilian rodizio, where skewer after skewer of barbecued meat is brought to the table and carved on demand. And it's all you can eat, one price.

Rodizio is becoming popular in this country. And here comes Espeto's do Brazil, by my lights the best place in the Valley to experience this carnivorous orgy.

It's a modest, comfortable place of pillars, green-and-white checked tablecloths and lively Brazilian music played loudly on a turbo sound system. The Brazilian flag is draped around a waiter's stand smack in the center of the room, with the Brazilian motto, "Ordem e Progresso" (Order and Progress) embroidered on it.

And when you walk in, you can see a dozen kinds of meat twirling on long spits over an immense wood fire pit. After you've made your choices at the salad bar and hot buffet and taken your seats, the skewers keep coming until you cry uncle by turning a stick over so that the red side is on top. As long as the green side is up, the heavy traffic of skewers continues.

The mostly Brazilian staff of this Panorama City restaurant actually seems to delight in getting you to eat more. When you're literally gasping for air, one of the servers will come by with a skewer of meat and plaintively say something like, "More lamb?"

Some meats are wonderful, too. Fraldinha is a tender skirt steak, exquisitely brown on the edges and juicy red inside. Frango is devilishly seasoned chicken legs that spurt juices when cut. One of the best, carneiro, or roast lamb, has a little crackling skin attached and a gamy, peasanty finish. I'm also keen on the linguica sausage.

But not everything is perfect. The bacon on the bacon-wrapped turkey is flaccid and fatty, and the beef ribs (costela de vaca) seem unreasonably tough.

Still, there's always another skewer coming, and almost every one of the side dishes, which incidentally are self-service, is first rate.

In fact, if you just stock up on Greek salad, Caesar salad or the delicious Brazilian salsa at the salad bar, you won't have much room for meat. The hot buffet isn't bare, either. There you'll find fried fish, fried bananas, delicious lentil soup, feijao (stewed black beans--Brazil's national dish), rice and farofa, the fried manioc flour that Brazilians sprinkle on, well, just about anything.

If you can still move, you may want to try maracuja, a Brazilian passion fruit mousse that looks like a dish of yellow Cool Whip. It has a pungent, captivating finish. The flan is good, and so is the homemade carrot cake, a bit of California in the midst of unrelenting Brazilian food and culture.

BE THERE

Espeto's do Brazil, 8751 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Parking in rear lot. MasterCard and Visa. Lunch $9.95, served until 3 p.m. Dinner $15.95. Call (818) 892-5988.

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