Gut Instinct: Meat Your Match

Every so often, my friend José likes to remind me of his brief flirtation with bulimia. He was dining at Midtown’s Churrascaria Plataforma, a Brazilian meat circus where customers can chomp unlimited medium-rare barnyard animals.

“It was so good,” he says, eyes glazed with flesh remembered, hands caressing belly. “But I was full. And there were still meats to sample.”

A normal man would cry no más. But José brims with machismo, stubbornness and, most crucially, a thrifty streak. José wanted his money’s worth. So he excused himself, wandered to the bathroom and, like a teen suffering self-image issues, calmly turned his stomach inside out.

“Then I sat down and ate until I was full again,” he says happily. “I had two dinners.”

José tells this tale not with shame but pride at his simple solution. I’m hungry. How can I eat more? I can vomit. No matter how often I’ve heard this story—and lord, I can by now taste José’s bile—I’m still mortified. Go on, call me a hypocrite: One recent belly-roiling weekday, I chopsticked up 20 boiled pork-and-leek dumplings at Zheng’s, then nipped numerous bourbons at Brooklyn whiskey lair Char No. 4.

The crucial distinction is that a deep chasm separates the hedonistic giddiness of devouring your favorite food…and upchucking to eat seconds. Think of all the starving Ethiopian children! His wanton hunger was tricky to fathom—until I received an invitation to test my eating off switch.

“Come dine at Porcão Churrascaria [360 Park Ave. South at 26th St., 212-252-7080],” the invite said. Two dozen meats, served tableside rodizio-style. A salad bar. All-you-can-eat for $50.

“Not in a million years,” said my girlfriend, a staunch vegetarian.

“There’s salad. You love lettuce. I’ll eat enough cow for both of us.” Mmm…double dose of bovine. She looked aghast, as if I said was considering becoming a transvestite hooker. Scratch that. I went to Plan B: Julie B. Licorice-skinny Julie has the appetite of a female Michael Phelps and a chain-smoking teen’s metabolism. She regularly devours greasy cheeseburgers and a dozen chicken wings, still keeping a single-digit dress size.

“I like to eat,” she explains, as if unabashed love of gooey nachos and bacon magically allow her to retain her girlish figure.

“It’s time for the tummy test,” I say as we arrive at Porcão’s cavernous dining room, New York cool as interpreted by a neon- and leather-loving Don Johnson. But tonight’s sole vice is unrepentant carnivorism. A cordial, clean-faced waiter introduces himself. “And this is your…”

“Surrogate girlfriend,” I say. “Mine won’t come within a hundred feet of a steakhouse.” The waiter smiles, his face frozen in friendly rictus, and passes us several plastic discs. When hungry, he explains, flip the disc to green; when full, flip it to red.

“Is it go time?” I ask Julie.

“I’m wearing elastic,” Julie says, turning our discs shamrock.

As quickly as unleashed caged tigers, a procession of servers spring forward. Each cradles a throat-slitting knife and spitted meat. Skirt steak, rib-eye and flank are carved into silky-thin slices, which I grab with mini tongs evidently fashioned for munchkins. Tender beer-marinated chicken breasts give way to gnaw-worthy beef ribs.

“Is churrascaria Spanish for heart attack?” I ask Julie, chewing provolone-topped prime rib.

“My elastic needs to stretch further,” she replies, stabbing soft, pecorino-coated pork loin.

Gluttony comes quickly and tastily. “Filet mignon…wrapped in bacon,” says one server, like he’s selling an illicit drug. I take two slices, savoring the juicy, fatty animal-on-animal heresy—I’m too stingy to become a smoker again, but I could become addicted to this flavorful cattle-pig Frankenstein.

To further muddle our senses, a bartender wheels around a drinks cart to muddle caipirinhas. “He’s like a drunken dim-sum lady,” I whisper to Julie. I sip my third blend of passion fruit and cachaça, fermented sugarcane juice that, on its own, recalls first-aid antiseptic. The caipirinha is fruity. It is refreshing. It is, after all that medium-rare animal, much too much.

Churrascarias—like unlimited buffets and sushi dens—offer overdoses of pleasure. What’s great in moderation is not exponentially better by the wheelbarrow. Despite a lifetime of beer commercials pleading us to “know when to say when,” we still don’t. Open bars are guaranteed to end in slurring shambles, just like a churrascaria visit inevitably concludes with hands clutching distended stomach, cursing cows for being born so delicious.

“More filet mignon?” a server asks, his knife poised on the burnished, bacon-wrapped exterior.

“Nuhhhhhhhhh,” I mumble, flipping the disc to red and waddling to my bathroom fate.