GREEN FOREST | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
Tucked into an office plaza on Rodi Road is Green Forest, a churrascari, or Brazilian all-you-can-eat restaurant, the highlight of which is a rotisserie charcoal grill that dispenses seemingly endless quantities of meat. After seating you, the hostess will point out a small wooden totem at the table -- half painted red, half painted green. "Turn it so red or green is on top. Red means stop, green means meat." Go green and servers pull the barbequed meats right off the grill and present them at your table, ready to carve off as much freshly cooked meat as you like.

Green Forest hosts hot and cold buffets as well, but I recommend indulging in as much barbequed meat as possible. Frankly it took me a couple of visits to sort out an eating strategy. On my first trip, I had no clue how much meat was waiting in the wings, and I went kinda loco at the buffet. Filling up on rice, black beans and salad was a dumb thing to do. On my second visit, I ate too much meat. The servers are very generous -- and when particular presented meats looked good, I requested several slices and filled up too quickly.

This time I employed a different plan: I had a small portion of each meat offered. (Stopping by on a weeknight also helped, as the meat seemed to be deployed at a more leisurely pace than on the busier weekend nights.) I counted 11 offerings upon skewers -- top sirloin, pork and garlic sausage with a wonderfully crisp skin, beef tenderloin, garlic shrimp, turkey wrapped in bacon, beef shish kebob, filet mignon (also wrapped in bacon), flank steak, lamb, garlic beef and pork loin. (Meat selections vary. Beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken, duck and rib-eye steak may also make an appearance.)

Garlic and salt are the predominant seasonings, simple enough so the flavor of the meats becomes paramount. (Our table seemed to be the first stop, and I received many end pieces which were covered in extra seasoning while still remaining moist, and which I greatly enjoyed.) With few exceptions, the meats were all flavorful, juicy and tender. A few cuts -- mostly lean varieties -- don't do as well on the grill. Both the turkey and the beef filet were a bit dry, despite being wrapped in a protective layer of bacon.

When the meats cycled back and began to repeat, I put the totem on stop and hit the buffet. At the hot buffet, I bypassed the fried chicken wings, baked salmon and calamari for the more traditional Brazilian offerings: rice and black beans topped with manioc flour (a small but crunchy grain derived from the cassava root), fries made from yucca (another root, and somewhat similar to a potato), and batter-dipped and fried plantains (a relative of the banana).

A downside to my plan emerged: The buffet items sit in warming trays, and perhaps should have been tackled earlier in my dining strategy as many items had become dried out and chewy. The yucca and beef stew was still hot, and was thick with chopped vegetables. I could sample only a wee bowl's worth, but a large portion with some bread and salad would have made a fine meal.

The cold buffet had some exotic offerings: Portobello mushrooms, quail eggs, oysters, calamari salad, as well as ample salad fixings. I dabbled in some cut-up fruit and an interesting salad similar to a Greek cucumber salad, but made with zucchini -- items that seem crisp and light, since I planned on a second helping of selected meats and a dessert.

I opted for quidim, a Brazilian tart where an egg-and-sugar custard sits atop a thin crust and lots of shredded coconut. It was filling enough that I forewent my planned final indulgence, a caipirinha. There'd be no room left for Brazil's national cocktail, made from lime, sugar and cachaça, a liquor made from sugar cane, but it's worth planning to incorporate this refreshing concoction into your meal.

Red means stop, green means meat. But, sometimes, evidently, green means "pineapple." We'd finally shut down our food intake for the evening -- the token was firmly set on red -- when I spied the waiter cruising the tables with a skewered pineapple. Returning to green was a wise move: The full-sized pineapple had been skinned and rolled in cinnamon sugar before grilling. It was juicy, both sweet and sour, and made an excellent palate cleanser. I almost felt ready to go back to green full time. * * *

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