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Espetus Restaurant

The Grill from Ipanema

If you’ve been to Brazil once, you will understand the longing for its beaches, its tart, strong caipirinhas, and its decadent churrascarias -- steakhouses that serve skewered, roasted meats tableside. The good news is the latter two can be experienced at Espetus, a restaurant that SF Station staffers have been meaning to try since it opened in 2003.

Espetus is a classic take on the churrascarias found all over Brazil. Originating in the southern Pampas region of Brazil, this style of rotisserie has become a staple all over the beautiful South American country and is just now gaining popularity in the States.

A fun and festive venue, this spot is great for large groups and big appetites, as the price is fixed per person (lunch: Mon - Fri $18.95, Sat $20.95; dinner: $34.95). Tables are dressed with white tablecloths, and Diego Rivera-esque murals and paintings decorate the walls. The restaurant should be credited for its dressed-up authenticity (the real deals we saw in Brazil had a much more checkered-tablemat picnic feel).

Fried bananas and cheese bread begin the experience, along with our round of caipirinhas ($7), a delicious, boozy version of a Brazilian margarita made with sugar, heaps of lime and cachaça, distilled liquor made from sugar cane.

At the table, individual tongs are present to assist you in picking off meats as they are sliced for you, as well as a small wheel, serving as signage, that you can flip from green (more meat please) to red (absolutely stuffed), and back if desired.

Immediately after we flip our sign to green, servers in full gaucho attire begin bringing a slew of different meats to our table on large skewers. Be warned that it’s good to give the red flag now and then for a breather. It becomes a very exciting display, watching the server slice off the meat with a sword-like knife, which then quickly results in a very full plate. We tried the chicken hearts, sirloin, roast beef, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and our two favorites, the Parmesan crusted pork loin and filet mignon. Depending on how long the skewer has traveled by the time it arrives at your table, sometimes the meat can be slightly dried out.

There is also a nice salad bar to accompany the meat-o-rama. The choices are wide and varied including Brazilian slaw, farofa (toasted yucca flour), black beans, hearts-of-palm, and delicious vinegar-mashed avocados.

Just when we think we are finished, the lengthy dessert menu arrives. We simply cannot resist the pudding cake soaked in three milks ($7.95), so of course we order it, wondering where we will find room for it. Somehow we do, devouring the delicious block of cake as if we had not eaten the pounds of meat prior.

The wine list is an impressive list of South American producers though slightly disorganized. Argentinians dominate the reds, with some interesting, obscure producers thrown in. A full bar also provides a fun variety of Brazilian mixed drinks like our caipirinha.

Though others have commented on mediocre service here, ours was far beyond satisfactory, attending to our every need at the appropriate time.

An authentic touch of Brazil in San Francisco, Espetus has all the makings of a great ethnic but approachable restaurant with great entertainment value of gauchos carving meats off skewers. Make sure to bring a big appetite.

Upper Market

Reservations Essential? Yes