Brazilian barbecue is heaven for carnivoresCeia, a new Brazilian barbecue restaurant, was created for the capital’s carnivores. It all starts with the smoke from the wall-size barbecue pit, visible from the street, which stimulates the primitive instinct for meat.
At a table inside Ceia, diners are given a brief introduction, in Korean or Portuguese, on how to enjoy traditional Brazilian barbecue, or churrasco. Korea may be new to this type of dining, but churrascarias, or restaurants specializing in Brazilian barbecue, are common in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and in major cities around the world.
At Ceia, each diner is given a two-colored coaster that reads “Sim por favor” (“Yes, please”) in green on one side and “Nao obrigado” (“No, thank you”) in red on the other. Place the green side face-up on the table, and Brazilian waiters in orange shirts and black gaucho pants will serve ― and continue to do so non-stop ― more than 10 kinds of meat on skewers, from which they slice portions for your plate. Utensils include metal tongs, with which a diner picks up the slices expertly cut by the waiters.
Kim Young-sun and Park Kyoung-hoon, the two Korean owners of Ceia, loved this unique experience in Brazil so much that they decided to open a similar restaurant in Seoul. From a number of reputable churrascarias in Brazil they learned how to roast and cut meat and brought experienced waiters to Korea. According to Mr. Kim, three Brazilian waiters at Ceia have at least seven years of experience working in churrascarias.
A meal at Ceia, which means “feast” in Portuguese, is indeed a feast.
For an aperitif, my tablemates and I tried a traditional Brazilian cocktail, caipirinha (5,000 won, or $5), a mixture of cachaca, or distilled alcohol made from sugarcane, lime juice, sugar and crushed ice. The drink was cool for a summertime meal but too strong and bitter.
To complement the red meat dishes, we ordered a large plate of green salad (16,000 won) and gazpacho soup (6,000 won). The salad was unexceptional although simple and fresh, but the Spanish soup, made not from the usual ripe plum tomatoes but from the fruity Korean variety, tasted more like Korean-style tomato juice.
The churrasco at 23,000 won (including tax and service charge) is a hefty meal, including pao (bread), frango (chicken drumsticks), linguica (sausage), costela de porco (pork ribs), picanha (sirloin or deungsim in Korean), fraldinha (short loin or chaekkeut), alcatra (skirt steak or anchangsal), picanha com alho (garlic-flavored beef loin), baby beef (rib eye or kkotdeungsim), cordeiro (lamb), batata (potato) and abacaxi (pineapple).
Mr. Kim said their beef, seasoned with salt, butter or garlic, comes from Korea, which he finds superior to the Australian variety or the beef he tried in South America. “Beef that comes from relaxed cows raised on open ranches tastes great, so Argentinean beef is excellent, but Korean is even better.”
He recommended red wine, so we ordered a Spanish red, Torres Gran Coronas (51,000 won).
Exotic treats were roasted pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon powder and chunks of lamb spiced with mint. The lamb, the owners say, comes from New Zealand.
The sausages and chicken were dry, but subsequent beef slices were reasonably tender and tasty ― especially for the price. Just point to the desired cut when a waiter arrives at the table. “For the meat to be moist, the restaurant needs to have a constant flow of people,” commented one of my tablemates who used to dine at the ubiquitous Sao Paolo churrascarias.
If there was one thing missing, it was piminta, the fermented hot sauce made from Brazilian chili pepper, onion and garlic. Instead, Mr. Kim serves tabasco sauce, vina grete, the spicy sauce that looks like Mexican salsa, and creamy butter.
As the meal progressed, it became increasingly harder to resist the temptation to order more smoky beef, dripping with its own delicious juices. My tablemates and I would flip the coaster to red but then promptly turn it to green to get more meat.
When we finally turned the coaster to red, there were more Brazilian treats. Over cafe pilao, the Brazilian coffee, we tried ice cream (9,000 won) and chocolate mousse (6,000 won), which made us feel like we were at a local diner in an exotic locale.
After Ceia opened in May, the two-storied, 120-seat restaurant gradually drew fans who came for the quality meat in abundance and attentive service. That changed over the past few weeks after the restaurant appeared on national TV last month. Because of the sudden media-driven rush, diners who didn’t get proper food or attention have posted complaints on the Internet. Mr. Kim says he’s hiring more wait staff and recommends making a reservation.
Portuguese, Korean: Spoken, on the menu.
Hours: Cafe 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Restaurant, 5 p.m.-midnight daily.
Location: Next to Pizza Hut in Sinsa-dong; subway Sinsa station, exit no. 1.
Dress code: Smart casual.
by Ines Cho