Photo by Jessica CalkinsTwo things to do before entering Fullerton's Amazon Churrascaria: 1) eat nothing for a week; 2) loosen that belt buckle—better, take the thing off.
Amazon Churrascaria is not for the faint of stomach. It's a faithful rendition of a churrascaria, the estilo rodízio (all-you-can-eat) barbecue palaces of Brazil where carne is the alpha and omega of taste. These meat mansions ignore the multicultural influences predominant in most Brazilian dishes for the straightforward flesh diet of the sertão, the interior of Brazil populated by real-life cowboys and considered by natives their country's Wild West.
Churrascarias, then, are the Southern Hemisphere cousins of American steakhouses. Unlike our rough-and-tumble beef barns, however, churrascarias pride themselves on offering a classy experience. Amazon Churrascaria is no different: a steaming waterfall greets all comers to the elegantly expansive restaurant, while the scope of Brazilian music (everything from mindless pop to bossa nova, with some sambas thrown in to inflame the senses) serves as a soundtrack for the coming sirloin. Intimate tables make even the largest groups feel as if they're grilling at the park.
Giant skewers rotate constantly in the kitchen, groaning under various types of meat. Once the meat is well-done, impeccably dressed waiters take the meat sword and wander around the restaurant with it and a knife. They look like dim sum warriors, approaching each table and cutting off as many huge portions of their bounty as people request.
Lest a guest overdose on delectable rabbit, waiters explain to the uninitiated the rules of a churrascaria house before every meal. There's no trick, really: it's all in a multicolored peg at every table. Have the green side showing, and waiters will pass by every couple of minutes with a new rapier of meat. They will continue until they see the red side on top, at which point they'll offer once kindly. If rejected, they'll walk away only to resurface with yet another superb skewer, confident of acceptance. Woe to the fool who lays the semaphore on its side: that means it's time for the check.
Amazon Churrascaria serves 20 types of meat, everything from the Homer Simpson fantasy of bacon-wrapped turkey to well-charred chicken hearts (clean, light and free of any organ tang, chicken hearts could be the next sashimi) to a great alligator sirloin. And since most meats come in different styles, there are actually even more options. The chefs cook the skirt steak, for instance, with either a powerful garlic zest or with a pepper sauce that has the right piquancy. Sausage comes prepared in either a pork or chicken cylinder; both of them are crispy, greasy and fine. And on top of this are such off-the-menu choices as quail (slightly oily but surprisingly spicy) and a tri-tip roast that looks like obsidian while tasting like scorched heaven.
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The waiters' constant meat march is so overwhelming even the most ardent carnivore will eventually dread the sight of them strolling back with a replenished rack. So Amazon Churrascaria offers other Brazilian dishes at a buffet that provides a good respite from the gut-busting quality of animal. They serve good beef Stroganoff (Stroganoff is Eastern European, you say? Hey, that's the beauty of immigration for you): warm, slightly tart, with a good amount of creamy broth. A good counterpoint to all the protein (and great for dunking in the Stroganoff) is the pão de queijo, little bread balls with tough cheese on the inside and a toasted buttery crust. And the aipim frito (fried yucca) is great, French fries be damned.
But the meat! Even the mesmerizing fried bananas coated with brown sugar cannot break the spell of the burnt meat's smell. And with a wide choice of beverages (everything from the acidic-yet-sweet guaraná to drink-of-the-moment caipirinha), the toughest carcass can be washed down to make room for more.
Salads are available but completely pointless. Eat meat.
Amazon Churrascaria, located at 1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (714) 447-1200. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $44, food only. All major credit cards accepted.