ZED451 would like you to believe it is nothing like Sal & Carvao, the chain of churrascarias it bought, renovated and moved into. But with all due respect, that’s a ridiculous claim. Yes, ZED looks completely different—the space is now gorgeous, sunny and sprawling. And sure, maybe Sal didn’t have great cocktails like ZED’s crisp cucumber-sage martini. But other than that, the restaurants are almost exactly the same. Which is to say that meals here follow a very strict formula: Diners start at a salad bar (the ZED term for these is “harvest tables”); then, when they’re ready, they signal (by conspicuously placing a river rock on the table) that the protein parade may begin. Almost instantaneously, men holding enormous skewers of meat approach. “Would you care to indulge?” they ask, and before they can slide a portion onto your plate, another server is at the table with a different dish. At churrascarias there’s a gimmick to this: The people carrying the meats to your table are called “gauchos,” and they’re dressed in high-waisted riding pants and poofy blouses. At ZED there’s a gimmick, too: We’re asked to believe that the people carrying the dishes to us are the chefs who actually cooked them.
Whether the servers are truly chefs is doubtful. When pressed about whether he cooked the food, one of our “chefs” backtracked and said he was merely responsible for cutting and serving it. But whoever is cooking the meat is doing a good job. Every piece of salmon, chicken, beef and lamb I tried was cooked to a deliciously tender and juicy consistency. Likewise, the harvest table options were impressively fresh, and they seemed to be replaced every three minutes. But there was a theme to the food here: It was all sweet, cheesy or, often, both. A delicious pork sausage was paired with a honey mustard-horseradish sauce. Perfectly rendered lamb chops were overshadowed by baked-on goat cheese. Warm three-cheese biscuits were brushed with a cloying tangerine butter. Beets were paired with a raspberry dressing, and pineapple—sweet enough on its own—was baked with brown sugar and pushed by our server as the perfect first course. No matter how much variety there is, all the sugar and cream gets old really fast. And that’s particularly unfortunate, because when you’re paying $50 a head for unlimited amounts of food, fatigue is the only enemy you have.