For many people, the idea of meat on a stick conjures up visions of corndogs and county fairs--and when I hear steakhouse, I think of filet mignon and a bottle of cabernet. The two images really have very little in common—in America, anyway.
In Brazil and Portugal, however, steak on a stick is a way of life, and churrascarias—Brazilian steakhouses—have served hot, skewered meat tableside for centuries; it is a tradition rooted in the open-fire rotisseries of Brazilian gauchos.
Now the South American cowboy custom has come to Culver City at Libra, downtown's latest addition--and a carnivore's dream.
Tables draped in white linen and edged by modern, white chairs form straight lines in Libra's bright, open dining room. A chain mail curtain separates the seating area from a gently curving "salad bar" next to a handy hand-washing sink, and plain hanging white lights lend a feeling of contemporary cleanliness to the restaurant.
A bright green Brazilian flag hanging from the ceiling highlights the white and silver vibe of the interior. Passadores, as the meat waiters are called, carry huge hunks of meat on skewers from one understated table to the next, carving off desired cuts as customers watch the juices drip, their mouths watering. The modish décor is seemingly at odds with a place that serves such rustic cuisine but rather than contradict itself, it complements, finding harmony in the simplicity of both food and style.
When Marcelo Ahn first opened Libra on March 24, it was designed as Libra By The Pound, a weigh-and-pay buffet-style restaurant where any combination of meat and sides was $11 per pound. About two months ago, By The Pound was dropped and Libra became what it is now, a traditional churrascaria, more casual than Ahn's M-Grill but it's tableside service all the same.
For the flat rate of $15.95 at lunch and $27.95 at dinner, diners have unlimited access to the rotating salad bar, stocked with hot and cold options ranging from simple green salad fixings to traditional Brazilian sides such as mashed yucca and stewed pumpkin to beef stroganoff, as well as all the meat they can eat.
While slightly lower rates are available for salad bar-only, no one in their right mind would miss the main attraction: the never-ending train of meat parading by each table. With ten meat selections at lunch and 15 at dinner, it is more than even the most serious carnivore can handle.
Steaming hot Brazilian sausage is followed by lean cuts of tri-tip, and you hardly have time to finish your charred pork ribs and potent hunks of garlic chicken before the house specialty picanha, a moist beef top sirloin cap, arrives at the table. Luckily, the passadores will cut you whatever size piece you like.
A full meal is easily composed of a dozen bites of different bits of protein, punctuated by forkfuls of marinated vegetables, caramelized banana and complimentary crispy deep-fried polenta sticks and hot puffs of cheese bread--a common Brazilian snack served with coffee in the morning or afternoon that tastes like a cheese-infused Yorkshire pudding.
Attentive and charming Brazilian servers happily explain each dish while chatting about life in Brazil, and sips of cold Guaraná Brazilia soda over crushed ice offer the perfect digestive aid to such a meat-centric meal (if you must have that bottle of cabernet with your steak though, don't fear: Libra has that too).
As long as your Libra token is turned to green, the passadore will keep coming; make sure you don't flip it to red before you try the pineapple, rubbed in cinnamon and grilled whole alongside the meat for a hot, amazing slice of what tastes like pineapple-apple pie. If you can, save room for dessert: the light and creamy coconut flan in plum sauce is the ideal ending to the Libra dining experience.
Come hungry and ready for a culinary adventure; meat on a stick has never been so chic.