Bolero’s rodizio-style dining will fill your guts with lots of meat

Between Open Sesame and Smuggler’s Inn on Macleod Trail there was barely a parking spot to be found on a quiet Monday night. When my dinner companion and I finally found one we headed through the heavy wooden doors of the building to see how Smuggler’s had transformed their upstairs into a Brazilian-inspired steak-house called Bolero.

Named after the infamous Spanish dance that resembles a slow type of rumba rodizio-style dining is a slow dance through the meal with pacing and tasting. Although I had never dined upstairs at Smuggler’s my companion is a longtime Calgary resident and felt not too much had changed by way of decorating. There was loads of wood paneling on the walls and ceilings soft lighting and large brass fireplaces accented with deep red conjuring a slightly dated ’70s chalet style. It had a bit of a cavernous feel with the dark colours and vaulted ceilings but it seemed strangely appropriate for gnawing away at meat for a couple of hours.

Seated in an oversized semi-circular fabric booth our server explained how the gaucho chefs would come to each table periodically with various cuts of meats and vegetables that had been slow-cooked rotisserie-style on the churrasco (large skewers that resembled swords). All we had to do to signal a desire to taste was keep our striped marker cues flipped to “green” for the go ahead. Flipping it to red means you can’t eat another bite and the gauchos won’t bother you until you flip back again.

We went for the “all you can eat” full rodizio for $35 each. For slightly less you could go for just a teaser platter or the fresco and hot bars but I didn’t see any point in visiting a steak-house just for the veggies. Those on the Atkins diet might agree. The full price was fair for the amount of food you could eat but the restaurant was filled with families with children which I thought must get pretty expensive.

We perused the bars and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the choices with gourmet cold meats cheeses and salads. The hot bar featured more traditional sides like mashed potatoes and interesting options like coconut rice and black bean stew. This was not your old Bonanza salad bar! But we did fill our plates sparingly as there was so much to come. We almost felt the restaurant had wasted their energy and money on such nice sidebars since we were there on a mission — to eat more meat!

A menu guide detailed all the various churrasco so you could follow along as the gauchos came by. Selections like the alcatra (tender top sirloin topped with sea salt) and the rack of lamb provided intense juicy flavours. While other selections like the linguica a type of pork sausage and the chicken legs were quite dry and overcooked once they reached our table. The quality of your piece of meat seemed quite dependent on how circulated the churrasco was and the carving abilities of each gaucho. When we were the first table to receive a fresh and hot slice of the filet mignon we were treated to a quality piece of meat.

Although meat selection is very extensive there were also roasted vegetables — and the whole roasted pineapple was my favourite. The warm and sweet pieces of fruit were drizzled with cinnamon and brown sugar taking out the tartness to reveal a smoky flavour. It would be nice to see more fruits added to the menu — they complemented the meat nicely.

With our markers on red and feeling like we couldn’t eat another bite along came a gaucho with a juicy rack of bacon-wrapped filets and we quickly flipped back to green. The fun in this slightly novelty restaurant was really in waiting to see what came around next and slowing down the meal to enjoy each selection in the moment. It will take some time to get the pacing of the churrasco down to an art but with so much selection you are bound to find a favourite flavour amongst all the great choices.

Bolero is located at 6920 Macleod Trail; phone 259-3119.