Thu. April 5, 2012 12:00 AM
by Rick Karlin

By now, everyone is familiar with the Brazilian steakhouse style of restaurant. It usually involves a salad bar of some sort, a few side dishes and servers carrying slabs of meat to tables and slicing off pieces for diners. Too often, these kinds of restaurants appeal to self-proclaimed "meat and potato" types who value quantity over quality and mashed potatoes and creamed corn as healthy vegetables. Zed451 falls into the same category as these restaurants, but that is where the similarity ends.

Zed451 is about a total dining experience not solely about ingesting mass quantities of meat. Yes, there are servers walking around with skewered cuts of meat that they slice at your table. The difference is at Zed; they actually prepare the meat as well and take obvious pride in what they are presenting. The menu may vary from visit to visit, but there are will be at least two dozen options. On the night of our visit, the star of the night was sirloin steak marinated in buttermilk ranch dressing and basted with garlic parsley butter. Some of the other flavorful entrees included grilled rib eye, leg of lamb, duck breast roasted with pistachio butter and braised pork belly served with a hoisin bbq sauce. The sole meat dish that wasn't pleasing was the Moroccan chicken, which sported an odd off-putting flavor and a mealy texture.

Another way in which Zed differs from other similar steakhouses is that many of the main dish options brought table to table are not based upon red meat. My husband is mostly a vegetarian, but does eat some meat. Usually at places like this, he finds enough to eat at the salad bar. Imagine his delight then, when no less than three fish dishes and a skewer of grilled vegetables were presented.

Enough about the entrée items, as impressive as they were. The "salad bar" is a co-star in this production, garnering at least as much attention from the chefs and equally praised by management, and it's a real scene-stealer. The charcuterie table is laden with an assortment of house-cured meats to make even the highest-end gourmet deli jealous. Duck pastrami and various salumi are house cured and joined by Spanish chorizo, prosciutto di parma, herb-de-Provence petit sausage, marinated olives, freshly made giardiniera, hummus and even flavored butters. Freshly made pickles, poached pears, steeped apricots, artisanal breads, crackers and rolls augment artisan cheeses of every variety.

In addition to all that, there's the most delish assortment of antipasti, most also made on premises. Olive tapenade, tuna and shrimp poke, fennel and artichoke salad, grilled pineapple, and that barely scratches the surface. The smoked poblano deviled eggs alone deserve pages of description. There's enough here to make the entire FoodNetwork folks green with envy.

Add two soups a night (we weren't overly impressed with those) and you've got plenty of quantity with unmatched quality for $48 a person (half that cost if you pass on the grilled entrees and eat only from the table offerings).

There are side dishes on the off-chance that you still feel that there's not enough variety. The side dishes average around $8 and the smoked gouda-mashed potatoes are slammin'. For the most part these dishes are if you choose to sit in the bar and nibble while enjoying the massive wine list.

Not that you'll have room for dessert, but the banana cream pie, apple tart or any of the house-made ice creams are safe bets. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a restaurant experience so much, and looking at other diners around the room, I have a feeling that it's a common experience.

Zed451 (LGBT Business Directory Listing)
739 N. Clark
(312) 266-6691

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