Stick This on Your Skewer And Eat It
When I got off the #69 bus at the stop two meters away from Midwest Grill, the bus driver's parting words were "Don't eat too much." A very telling start to the evening. Apparently this place has quite a reputation for encouraging gluttony.
The main attraction at the Midwest Grill is the rodizio, (Portugese for "rotation") the unique Brazilian barbecue banquet. Here's how it works: waiters go around from table to table brandishing gigantic skewers of different kinds of barbecued meat. They slice you as much you want and keep coming until you beg surrender. There is also a buffet spread of traditional Brazilian dishes and dessert which is included in the rodizio but can also be ordered separately at a lesser price. You can also order individual appetizers and entrees on the menu, but for hard core carnivores, there is no question that it'll be the rodizio.
The restaurant is not that big, with maybe a dozen or so tables, but it took quite a while for the first skewer-wielding waiter to come to our table. So we decided to make a foray to the buffet spread instead. There were salad items on one end and dining hallstyle vats of unidentified soupy stuff on the other. No sign of labels. Rather inconvenient for the uninitiated. But with a bit of gastronomic guesswork I was able to match most of the dishes with the items listed on the menu. The star of the spread was definitely the Beef Oxtail. The meat was unbelievably tender, the kind of tender where you practically don't have to chew. It had a piquant, peppery flavor with a full-bodied beefy sauce that can only be produced through hours of patient simmering. Very tasty. Also quite good was a chicken stew that was bizarrely Germanized on the menu as "Chicken Stroganoff." The chicken was smothered in a garlicky cream sauce with a surprising dash of ketchup that added a tangy touch-as well as a funky pinkish color. The buffet also included something called Black Beans Stew--but don't let the innocuous name fool you. Aside from black beans, the stew contains pig's feet, ears and tails...More pedestrian items at the buffet were rice and mashed potatoes, which go well with the barbecue meats.
Finally the first rodizio waiter came to our table, offering a skewer of beef. It's described on the menu as "Top Butt Sirloin--Chef Exclusive grade!" in fact. Um, how appetizing. Certainly better than a mediocre cut of butt, I suppose. However, the beef was disappointingly dry and fairly bland. Barbecuing usually gives meats a rich smoky flavor, but this was sadly not the case here. Still, the quality was not consistent across meat lines. The barbecued lamb and pork did have more flavor. And standout was the linguica sausage, which distinguished itself as the best of the skewers. The linguica had spicy zing to it and was truly tasty.
Unfortunately the rotations of skewers was imbalanced. Two or three waiters kept on coming to our table, offering cheerfully, "more beef?" Everytime a skewer approached, we would look up hopefully, thinking that perhaps this slab of meat might be something different. When we caught sight of the elusive chicken guy we practically had to flag him down. And I must say the guy carrying the skewer of little impaled chicken hearts never did make it to our table--which was hardly cause for lament for me, although conesseiurs say chicken hearts are one of the more delectable organs. I'll take their word for it.
In between skewers, you can sit back, try to digest, and enjoy the live Brazilian music. A small band cranks out such quintessential Brazilian songs as "The Girl from Ipanema." Apparently this is the restaurant's stock song--when the band takes a break they pipe in a recorded version of "Girl" through the speakers. Nonetheless, it adds a pleasant touch to the dining experience.
The meal was capped with a trip to the dessert bar, which offered a choice of multicolored pudding. There was a pink (strawberry), brown (chocolate) and bafflingly enough, two orangey puddings (one was purportedly sweet potato, the other melon). With the exception of the chocolate, all the puddings tasted like basically the same sugary mash.
The differentiation was purely in the food coloring. However, the chocolate pudding was smooth and rich, and had enough redeeming value to make dessert enjoyable, if not spectacular.
The verdict for the meal as a whole is mixed. While the buffet was quite good, the rodizio was just average in terms of tastiness. Nonetheless, the novelty of the experience makes it a fun meal that's worth a try. If you happen to be in weight-training or ever crave a serious protein fix, the Midwest Grill is definitely the place to go.
Midwest Grill 1124 Cambridge St. 354-7536