Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 25, 2004
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
A New Leblon, Dumb Idol Voters, 13/30, and 3 CDs
For a couple of weeks, starting on May 30th, don't plan to go to Leblon.
The restaurant, for many years one of Greensboro's finest, will be temporarily
The good news is that when the doors reopen, Leblon will have
undergone a transformation.
Now it will be called "Leblon Brazilian Steakhouse."
No, that doesn't mean it's trying to compete with Lone Star or The
Outback or even Gate City Chop House.
Leblon is becoming a churrascaria.
In the past I've reviewed churrascarias in Utah and New York; there are
also fine examples in Chicago, Atlanta, and other major cities. In fact, you
might think of churrascarias as a new major league of dining, and we're about
to get a first-rate team.
What is a churrascaria? Think of it as "continuous dining." After you've
finished your salads -- or immediately, if you want to skip the salad bar -- you
turn over the red marker ("ficha") at your table, revealing the green side. Green
as in "go."
From then on, until you flip the ficha back to red and stagger out of the
restaurant, the waiters will bring you ... meat.
Spit-roasted meat, still on the skewer (actually, more like a sword!),
which they slice off at your table.
Several different cuts of beef, which you can either take from the outside
(well done) or from deep in the middle (rare). Pork, lamb shoulder, chicken
drumsticks, bacon-wrapped turkey breast, and, for variety, platters of grilled
salmon. In other words, all kinds of different meats in the same meal.
It's Atkin's-diet heaven.
And this won't be just any meat. This will be Leblon-quality meat,
cooked to the highest standards of Brazilian cuisine.
What if you really don't want a meal consisting entirely of meat and fish?
Never fear. The salad bar, which will, of course, be up to chef Walter Vanucci's
exacting standards, is a meal in itself -- vegetarians can opt for just the salad
bar, at a lower price.
Along with the expected salad ingredients, there will be more exotic fare
-- chilled asparagus, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, fresh mozzarella,
and ceviche-style mushrooms. Also, because it is a Brazilian restaurant,
there'll be black beans, rice, farofa, and potato salad (called "mayonese" in
Brazil), plus whatever extras Walter and Ilma Vanucci decide to put on their
For those who know Leblon, most of what you already loved about the
restaurant will still be there.
But as a churrascaria, it will offer new advantages.
First, you can begin eating as soon as you arrive. The waiter takes your
drink orders and you head for the salad bar -- or flip over your ficha and start
in on the meat, which will be sizzling and freshly cooked all through the
Second, you know exactly what you're going to pay when you walk in the
door. The introductory price this first summer will be $27 a person for the full
meal, or $19 a person for the salad bar only. (These prices are low, compared
to what you pay at churrascarias in big cities.)
Drinks -- which will continue to include the Brazilian soft drink guaraná
as one of the options -- are the only price variable, and for those to whom meat
is impossible without red wine, you won't lack for excellent options.
Third, this kind of restaurant is simply fun. Are you entertaining out-of-town visitors? Hoping to impress a client? Celebrating? Commiserating? If
your guests have never been to a churrascaria, you'll have the pleasure of
introducing them to what promises to be one of the best in the country. (After
all, Leblon is already the best traditional Brazilian restaurant I've found in the
And if your guests have been to a churrascaria before, then as soon as
you mention that Greensboro has one, they'll be eager to go.
So ... you have the month of May in which to enjoy Leblon as it has
always been. If you've never gone before, this is your last chance to see what
so many of us have been praising for years.
Then, in mid-June, bring a group and see what it's like to have a cool
new churrascaria within easy driving distance. (4512 W. Market Street. For
reservations call 336-294-2605.)
Uncle Orson's pronunciation guide
To pronounce churrascaria, just say these three words fast: Shoe. Hoss.
Korea. (Yes, that was "Hoss" like the character Dan Blocker played on
Bonanza.) (In Brazilian Portuguese, ch is always pronounced like sh in
English, and in São Paulo, at least, a double or initial r is pronounced like the
English letter h.)
Churrascaria refers to the cooking method. The style of "continuous
dining" is called rodizio, which you can pronounce just as it's spelled (roe-DEE-zee-oh), unless you want to be a Portuguese purist and say that initial r as an h
and the d as a j.
In some cities, the churrascarias avoid the whole pronunciation problem
by calling themselves "rodizios," so some of your guests might be familiar with
the concept under that name. Both names are equally correct for this kind of
Ficha -- the coaster-like "ticket" you flip over from red to green -- is
But don't worry if the Portuguese words seem intimidating. You can also
grunt like Tim Allen, and they'll take that for a yes and keep slicing meat onto
your plate until you get your protein high.
What's happening with American Idol? Last week -- or, by the time you
read this, two episodes ago -- they had one of the best installments ever. Barry
Manilow -- who began his career by arranging Bette Midler's brilliant music --
worked with these singers and helped them all amazingly. A generous
musician, he helped them transform some of his old-standard songs into
perfect vehicles for their voices.
The result was that the "three divas" gave some of the best performances
of their lives. We've come to expect LaToya London to soar vocally, and it's
never a surprise when Fantasia Barrino -- clearly a world-class professional
from her first audition on -- finds new brilliance in an old song. Jennifer
Hudson was the surprise. She has actually been learning before our eyes, and
Manilow brought her over the last threshold -- her performance was perfect.
It was obvious that, if the audience had any judgment at all, the final
four would be these three divas and George Huff, and in the end, Fantasia
Barrino would win. What other outcome was even possible?
Instead, not only was Jennifer Hudson voted off the show -- voted off the
week after she blew us all away with a great performance! -- but Fantasia was
only saved from the same fate by the closest vote in the history of the show.
Yes, these were the bottom two, and LaToya was third from lowest.
Incredible. The best performers by any rational standard got the fewest votes.
What was it, America? Complacency? Were they so obviously the
winners-to-be that you didn't bother pumping the redial button on your phone
till your vote got counted?
Or did people actually think that the seriously undertalented John
Stevens was better than all three divas? And while Diana Degarmo and
Jasmine Trias gave their best performances to date that week, they are simply
not in the same league.
The good news is that just because the voters are idiots doesn't mean the
record companies have to be. If Jennifer Hudson is smart, she's negotiating
right now with Barry Manilow to help her launch her career -- clearly she
flourishes under his nurturance.
And if Fantasia and LaToya (what? A talented person with that name?)
are also bounced, I have no doubt that they'll both be signed by record
companies. In fact, I wish I had an album of every single performance by
Fantasia right now -- she's already one of my favorite singers and performers,
The bad news is that the same people who just gave the three best
performers on American Idol the fewest votes will be choosing our president in
This could be the end of life as we know it.
Between the novel I'm writing and the play I'm directing (don't forget to
reserve May 7 or 8 to see our free-of-charge production of Fiddler on the Roof!),
there was no way I was going to see some bloody revenge flick. Which meant
that last weekend, my wife and I really had only one choice: 13 Going on 30.
I really hadn't planned to see the movie. I think Big is one of the
greatest movies of all time, and the concept of 13/30 was so obviously similar
that I figured I'd rather just slap the Big disc into the DVD player.
I'm glad I went to the movies. Because even though 13/30 won't take
you by surprise very often in the storyline -- which is, after all, a ridiculous
fantasy premise -- and the writing was sometimes shockingly inept, the
performances were wonderful and, in the end, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly.
Frankly, I didn't know Jennifer Garner had it in her. She does a good job
of capturing the naivete, movements, and attitudes of a girl in her early teens,
perhaps more so than the actual 12-year-old who played her young self, who
was quite sober and mature for her age. But the fact is Garner is just plain
charming and has what it takes to carry a comedy as the star.
For me, the real delight of the movie was Mark Ruffalo, who is suddenly
popping up everywhere (catch him in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and
We Don't Live Here Anymore, not to mention the upcoming Collateral). This guy
has the looks to play as macho as Harrison Ford or John Wayne, and the
acting chops to take on any part that would once have been given to Al Pacino
or Dustin Hoffman.
He's also has the likeability to handle the kind of part that Henry Fonda
used to make his own. (I'm talking about the remake of Mr. Roberts. The guy's
still too young for On Golden Pond.)
Back to 13/30. Some critics have complained that the plot about the
magazine didn't work, and it's true that there's one howlingly awful moment,
when Garner presents her cool new "redesign" of the magazine she works for --
and doesn't show a single spread. That would be like presenting a new line of
furniture by showing pictures of people in sitting positions without any actual
furniture in the shot.
But the real flaw was, simply, bad writing. Oh, there were good
moments, but most of those were earned by the actors' charm. Time after time,
a scene that looked like it might actually be building to something was simply
... dropped. At one key moment, Garner walks away in mid-conversation,
when no human being in her right mind would do any such thing.
Unfortunately, most critics don't recognize bad writing when they see it.
A collapsed scene? It makes them uneasy, but they don't know why. So they
come up with words like "predictable" to register their disappointment.
The fact is, there's no such thing as originality, and to be
"unpredictable," all a writer needs to do is cheat and not tell the audience
what's going on -- another kind of really bad writing. So when critics tell you
that 13/30 is "predictable," what they really mean is, "there are moments when
the writing is bad enough that in spite of the good performances, you feel
disappointed and distracted and start noticing things that you would never
even think of if the writing were first rate."
But the writing is nowhere near as bad as the writing in, say,
Independence Day or Titanic, those fantasy special-effects comedies of years
past. (Titanic wasn't meant to be a comedy, it just becomes one around the
second time you see it as a grown-up.) And the performances by these
excellent actors were well worth the price of admission.
Three new albums:
Norah Jones's quirky new-age/jazz/country/blues style is put to good
use on Feels Like Home; a favorite of mine is her spunky duet with Dolly Parton
on "Creepin' In."
Michael Bublé is back with his second CD, a live album called Come Fly
With Me. He takes old standards and sings them the way Sinatra would have
sung them, if he had had a voice as good as Bublé's. (Oh, come on. The only
thing that made Sinatra "great" was his live performances. Recorded, his voice
reveals his severely limited range as a singer and the shallowness of his
understanding of the music. It was Bing Crosby who was the great singer of
the swing era.) Whoever is arranging Bublé's music is doing a fine job of
helping him make some great old songs fresh.
And Harry Connick, Jr., has finally grown up. Though at times he still
seems to be channeling Dean Martin, on his new album, Only You, he brings a
tone of melancholy into the arrangements and performance that gave me chills.
Even songs that I'd never heard before, like "My Prayer," haunted me the first
time I heard them, and he actually made me love "My Blue Heaven." His may
be the best version of "Save the Last Dance for Me" ever recorded.