Go to Galeto Brazilian Grill for Meat
Meat, meat, and more meat drives Oakland’s Galeto Brazilian Grill.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Grillmaster Filipe Montiero shows off picanha, which goes well with a caipirinha.
I knew I was in trouble around the time a fourth gaucho came to our table and I was still giving the green light for more meat. I thought I’d been somewhat prudent at the much-more-than-just-salads salad bar, but what is a curious eater to do when confronted not only with greens, tomatoes, eggplant caponata, guacamole, hummus, tabbouleh, and potato, quinoa, and caprese salads, but also mussels, salmon, salami, prosciutto, olives, deviled eggs, various cheeses, and the traditional Brazilian beans-and-meat stew, feijoada? Oh, and there was that plate of appetizers brought to our table shortly after we sat down: fried polenta sticks, fried bananas, and pão de queijo (cheese bread).
The three previous gauchos, you ask? Well, in a traditional churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) such as Oakland’s Galeto Brazilian Grill, which presents the main course rodizio style, servers come around more or less continuously, bearing skewers of grilled meats—mostly beef and chicken, occasionally lamb or pork—and dangerous-looking carving knives, and you, armed with a set of small tongs, pluck off freshly sliced morsels. I think I’d already been through some bacon-wrapped chicken, one kind of sirloin or another, and a large chunk of lamb. And the “green light” to which I referred? At Galeto it’s actually something between a coaster and a poker chip, printed green on one side and red on the other. You turn up one face or the other, the colors translating as “yes, I’ll have some more, please” and “no, I’m on hold … for the moment.”
Part of my problem was that I was sitting next to Steve, who is either color-blind or, more likely, simply doesn’t know how to say “no” to another enticing wedge of beautifully cooked and presented animal flesh. Keeping up with Steve is one of the more entertaining albeit daunting challenges of my dining-out life. So, although I was feeling a tad overfed after three gaucho ride-byes, I couldn’t refuse a portion of very garlicky beef, and one of salty and crispy flap steak, a different chicken preparation, and two (or was it three?) of the pièce de résistance of just about any churrascaria: picanha, top sirloin that is named after the stinging stick used by Brazilian gauchos to poke cattle on their lower backs as they drive the cows to market. The meat is cut and trimmed into more or less heart-shaped steaks, with wonderful fatty rinds. Our last round was a serving of falling-off-the-bone beef ribs, unctuous in the very best way. Maybe Steve did flip his card to red once, but it was only because he was eagerly anticipating the next delivery of picanha.
Robin, however, pretty much left her card red side up. Red meat is a rare (or, rather, well-done) indulgence for her, and her body language, upon the approach of every gaucho, strongly reiterated the unspoken red-light message.
That points to the central issue at Galeto. What do you do here if you’re not a die-hard carnivore? (The real question is, what are you doing here if you’re not a die-hard carnivore?) Well, you can make a complete meal out of a trip or two to the ginormous salad bar. Indeed, you’ll be stuffed when if adding in the appetizers and tack on a dessert, such as pudim (Brazilian custard), crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, a dulce de leche crepe, sponge cake, passion fruit mousse, Belgian chocolate petite gateau, or sorbet. (We, an overstuffed party of four, all passed.) But is that going to be worth the fixed price of two Andrew Jacksons plus the cost of drinks and dolce? Likely not.
Galeto does have a few other issues, as well. The most noticeable on our dinner visit was the uneven coordination and timing in the front of the house. Granted, it was not just any Saturday night. It was Valentine’s Day. For that reason, the 20-minute wait beyond our reservation time was understandable. Most of the patrons who crammed into the tiny foyer between the front door and the greeter’s podium were in good cheer, epitomized by Robin’s repeated greeting to each new arrival: “Let me guess, an eight o’clock reservation?” At one point, it seemed the crowd would explode out the front door, à la the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera. (YouTube it.)
Probably, the holiday crush was also the root source of the lapses in service, including long delays in the delivery of cocktails and a seeming shortage of busers to clear used plates. When it came to meat delivery, it was either too many cowboys approaching at once or where is the next gaucho? There was also the discrepancy between the first (weak and overly sweet) and second (powerful and perfectly balanced) caipirinhas ($9), the Brazilian classic made with cachaça (distilled sugar cane syrup), additional sweeteners, and lime. Fortunately, when the second drink eclipses the first, forgiveness is easy and, in Galeto’s case, well in order.
In the end, it’s hard not to like a place where the hosts exude unrelenting charm, the crowd is the epitome of Oakland’s multicultural (Latin, African American, Asian, Caucasian) population and adventuresome fashion (did you see that skirt, that jacket, those heels?!); where, on Valentine’s Day every woman is gifted with a long-stem rose; and where anyone on a paleo diet might just think he or she has achieved nirvana.
I may have had a few regrets the next day about my animal protein indulgences the night before. I might have only a few friends (Steve?) with whom I can return to find out what else is on the spit (I longed for pork but none came by). And I may be asking for trouble (hello, cardiologist?), but in the right mood, I could be ready to face the Galeto challenge.
Galeto Brazilian Grill
South American. 1019 Clay St., Oakland, 510-238-9388. www.Galeto.com Serves lunch Sun.-Fri. and holidays, dinner every day. CCG%X. Fixed price lunch $21.95 Mon.–Fri.; $31.95 Sun. and holidays; dinner $41.95. Cocktails from $9 and up. Beer starting at $4. Wine $7–$11 by the glass, $27–$95 by the bottle. Desserts $6.95–$9.95.