By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
In the way that Benihana and its ilk may not be utterly faithful to teppanyaki restaurants in Japan, I have a feeling that American churrascarias like Texas de Brazil and Fogo de Chão may be a few steps away from an authentic steak house in Brazil or Argentina. They seem too frenetic for Brazilians: men in gaucho outfits rushing around offering meat on swords, customers flipping their cards from green to red when the meat parade grows too daunting.
Renzo's feels more genuine. It could be the Uruguayan soccer match on the TVs, or the mind-blowing collection of moderately priced Argentine malbecs (these wines are often inkier and more intensely fruity and velvety than their French counterparts). But definitely the meat presentation is more low-key, with no swords or gaucho-costumed passadores (those are the meat waiters) in sight.
The sign out front says, "Passion for Meat & Wines," and it helps if you have an ardor for one or both. Originally from Venezuela, Renzo Menzerotolo opened this first location in October 2009; a second Carrollwood location opened on N Dale Mabry Highway this month. The Kennedy Boulevard location's straightforward decor includes black walls, black banquet chairs and black and red laminate tables, no cloths. It's a casual place, customers, most looking like regulars, kibbitzing in Spanish.
For Renzo's, you need a buddy. A meat-eating buddy. Buddy in tow, head for the parilla solo carne ($34.95), a tableside platter of mixed black Angus beef that will yield enough leftovers for sandwiches the next day (I'm eating a leftover steak salad as I write this). A big, rectangular raised platter comes heaped with entrana (skirt steak), vacio (flank), asado de tira (short ribs) and picanha (top sirloin cap, the half moons of meat on the skewers in all the churrascaria ads), all kept warm with a couple of Sternos. Succulent, juicy, perfectly seasoned, the meat has a rich wood smoke flavor, although I was told it's grilled over charcoal.
The big platters come with a choice of two sides, the best of which are the yucca fries, a simple salad of chopped romaine and tomato, and the tostones (fried plantains, hot and crispy on the outside, tender on the inside). Not famished, or without a buddy? The grilled entrana (skirt steak, $15.95) is still a generous portion of succulent meat, its juices sauce enough, although a couple of squeeze bottles arrive tableside filled with creamy-spicy sauces, one white and one pink, as well as a ramekin of parsley-oregano-vinegar piquant chimichurri.
At lunch there are cold sandwiches, pressed sandwiches and grilled sandwiches mostly heaped with grilled meats — definitely worth a stop and very competitively priced ($5.95 to $9.95) compared with other Kennedy lunchtime options. Still, evening is the time to go deep on a vivid purple malbec, a platter of meat and then a finale chosen from the very ambitious list of house-made desserts. It's hard to choose the best: Perhaps it's the chaja ($5.99), a square of meringue peach cake with caramel, a Uruguayan staple, but the alfajores de maizena ($2.49), traditional Argentine cornstarch cookies, are pretty great, too.
At a much lower price point, and with less of the razzle-dazzle that has made places like Fogo de Chão in-flight magazine staples, Renzo's feels like the real deal.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.