Pursuit (Cuisine): Greet the meat

Of Rio’s many delights, Porcão is a carnivore’s paradise.

Porcão means “big pig” in Portuguese, but, to the English ear, the image it conjures up is forlorn. What else can one say about Brazil’s greatest steakhouse but “poor cow”? As the taxi driver jumps down from warp speed off Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, the restaurant’s stylish facade slides into view. Across the bay rises the postcard of Sugar Loaf mountain, the second-most-famous landmark of Rio de Janiero, after Christ the Redeemer.

Alas, for the steer, there is no redemption: woe is meat. At Porcão, everything is about the animal’s after-life. When you enter, you smell meat. In fact, seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Porcão’s Rio’s location, Sugar Loaf looks like meat — its granite strata matching the grain of a prime rib roast. If it breathed, Porcão serves it: pork, lamb, chicken, ostrich, fish, shrimp, oysters. But the mission today is beef, in its every incarnation.

Elaine, my Brazilian companion, who has been here before, hands me a round coaster-size signal card. Green side up, a grinning pig holds up his knife and fork: Sim por favor (Yes please); red side up, the pig holds up his hand and pats his satisfied chest: Não obrigado (No thanks). The utility of this personal traffic signal will become apparent over the next two hours as the 20th (no exaggeration) meat porter arrives tableside with yet another three-foot skewer of dripping flesh.

After a practice lap at the salad bar, I’m handed a map of a steer with the inscription: Qual é a sua parte favorita? (What is your favourite part?). There are nine cuts on offer, and I am determined to sample every one of them, from hump steak to rump steak, and all the good bits in between — sirloin, flank, ribs short and long. I order a half bottle of Brazilian red, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend and adjust my belt.

A black-clad server approaches, his skewer slung with three plump bombs of No. 5, picanha, or rump steak. As his blade carves effortlessly down, revealing the tender pink, I’m told to use my personal tongs to hold the morsel while he finishes the slice. I admire it on the plate for moment, then saw through it. The texture is perfect: warm, and succulent, but with a measure of coarseness that challenges the teeth. Another man in black arrives bearing No. 7: Maminha da Alcatra, the tri-tip roast. Cut from the bottom of the sirloin, it’s also known as triangle roast because of its shape. The textured spit-roasted surface melts on the tongue.

Afterward, in the sizzling kitchen, meat chef Everaldo Zanata pulls from the fridge a huge slab of porterhouse and explains its passage from a Uruguayan ranch into this inferno. All the restaurant’s beef comes from across the border, where it receives — tenderness being next to godliness — that nation’s storied aging treatment: the freshly butchered meat is vacuum-sealed and then aged for no less than 25 days. Porcão predicts a consumption rate of 700 grams (more than 1.5 pounds) of meat per person, a stomach-stretching figure when you consider they have averaged in more delicate female appetites. Then again, my Brazilian friend matched me cut for cut — although I detected a slight glow on her brow.

There are eight Porcãos in Brazil, including ones in the capital, Brasilia, and Belo Horizonte — there are also allied restaurants in Miami and New York City — but the Rio’s location has the jaw-dropping views that make a visit far more than just about the meat. The bill, on the other hand, is rather ordinary — especially with our newly robust loonie. The prix fixe is R$68, or approximately $37, the wine another R$28 or about $15.

Me, I barely looked up from the rich pageant of gore, until I flipped my coaster to the stop sign and said, “Não obrigado.”