”I’m so happy,“ said my friend Kate on approaching the salad bar at the new Brazilian restaurant Picanha in Burbank. ”This is my kind of place.“
Kate is on a diet, one of those no-carbohydrate diets everyone seems to be on lately, where you can eat meat and many vegetables, but no bread, pasta, grains or evil, starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes. Picanha serves churrasco — grilled meats — augmented by a salad bar with plenty of diet-viable choices.
Located on the first floor of a big building on Palm Avenue, just north of San Fernando Boulevard, Picanha is a big, sleek space, part theme restaurant, part singles bar. The heart of the room is the churrascaria, a grill loaded with large sizzling skewers of chicken and meats, surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped counter with 20-odd self-serve items, from lettuce and olives to bouncy little potato-cheese balls. There‘s a large bar against one wall, with two big television sets tuned to sports. With great regularity, the bartender turns out caiparinhas, a blended pink Brazilian cocktail. On weekend nights, Brazilian jazz musicians play live music after 9.
There are no menus. Our waiter — his name, he tells us, is Sammy — takes our drink orders, then, with mounting excitement, explains the drill. He points out a wooden spool-like item on the table. One end is green, the other is red. After we go to the salad bar, we turn the spool so the green end is up, which signals to the carvers that we are ready for meat. We will be offered pork, lamb, beef, chicken, around a dozen preparations in all. No fish. This is rodihzo-style service from southern Brazil. We are free to eat whatever we want, as much as we want, for as long as we want. And when we want to rest . . . Sammy reaches down and flips the spool so that the red end is up. After the first round settles, the conversation lags, we will want to eat some more. Sammy flips the spool green side up. Finished? Red up!
We feel able to handle this.
The salad bar, even with a few Brazilian flourishes, does not transcend your usual sneeze-guarded salad bar at the Sizzler. The lettuces, iceberg and romaine, are wet — not a promising sign. There are the usual canned and frozen goods decanted into bowls: garbanzo beans, black olives, corn, peas. The tabbouleh looks fresh and good but is, in fact, bland; a vegetable soup looks ordinary but is, in fact, quite tasty. A potato salad is virtually tasteless. The black beans are just fine, the fried bananas undercooked and not very sweet; the meat in the stroganoff is tough. But this is all just foreplay. The grand attraction is on its way.
Our first swordsman arrives. Like Sammy, he’s in a blue shirt and gray pants, but his pants are more dramatic, gathered and blousy, and tucked into boots. He unskewers chunks of filet mignon onto our plates and moves on. The filet is cooked medium well, and it‘s tasty, but poorly trimmed and gristly, leading us to a curious dilemma: Should we a) risk the Heimlich maneuver by just swallowing the unchewable wad? b) remove it from our mouth (hopefully without detection) and hide it under a lettuce leaf? I chose a); Kate chose b), with less success.
Another swordsman brings segments of Polish sausage, another a dry chunk of pork loin with Parmesanbread-crumb topping, yet another a tasty marinated sirloin known as Picanha. Roast lamb, top sirloin, chicken legs follow. With the exception of one slightly pink slice of tri-tip roast, all the red meat is medium-well to well-done. Pork ribs are so overcooked they’re reduced to crisp, translucent fibers clinging to the bone — if I didn‘t know better, I’d say they were deep-fat fried. The virtue of the grilling process, however, is that the meat, while well-done, is (except for the pork) still moist.
When the meats start repeating, we take a time out. Eventually, we demur on seconds and split a sturdy, large flan — nothing special, but a good break from meat, meat and meat.
At the next table, five grown men are eating with the dispatch of piranhas. Carver after carver leaves that table with an empty skewer. Indeed, this place is not only an Atkins dieter‘s dream, it’s also a carnivore‘s fantasy; add the big knives and the bar and, as another friend so aptly observed, ”Picanha’s a place a guy will take a date to dinner early in the relationship — until she‘s trained him better.“
269 E. Palm Ave., Burbank; (818) 972-2100. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Dinner, $24; salad bar only, $14. Full bar. Parking lot. CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.