One of Columbia's newest restaurants, the Malibu Grill, celebrates the exotic flavors of Brazilian and Hispanic cuisine in an atmosphere that's festive and family-friendly.
"It turns out to be a big party every night," said owner Mike Cordero. "We've gotten a great response."
At Lake Kittamaqundi in Town Center, the South American-style restaurant is a churrascaria -- Portuguese for steakhouse -- featuring all-you-can-eat grilled meats, an extensive salad bar and tapas bar selections. The restaurant takes its name not from California's Malibu, but from Malibu beach in Brazil.
The meat is cooked over a wood charcoal fire on rotisseries imported from Brazil. Guests have five meats to choose from at lunch and 10 selections are on the dinner menu, as well as poached salmon.
Servers dressed as Brazilian cowboys circle the room, bringing saber-sized skewers of sizzling beef, pork, sausage, turkey, chicken and lamb that they carve at your table.
A wooden spool with one end painted green and the other painted red rests on every table. Signal servers to stop at your table by turning the green end of the spool up. When you're ready for a break from the steady stream of grilled meats, flip the spool to red.
The salad bar includes hot and cold selections. Among the hot dishes are Feijoada -- a traditional Brazilian dish of black beans and pork -- soup, stew, rice dishes and fried bananas. For the dinner crowd, the salad bar includes steamed shrimp and sushi.
The restaurant offers a traditional tapas bar menu. Options range from South American Ceviche -- calamari, shrimp, scallops and whitefish marinated in lemon and cilantro ($5.95) -- to Empanadillas -- turnovers stuffed with beef and chicken, served with jalapeno sauce ($4.95).
Cordero was introduced into the restaurant business at an early age. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, he grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. Living two blocks from Yankee Stadium, he began working at a local pizza parlor to save money for tickets to the bleachers at Yankees games.
Cordero attended Stockton State College in New Jersey on a baseball scholarship. While juggling school, baseball and his job as general manager for Italian Delight pizza restaurants, Cordero was offered a spot on a Seattle Mariners' Class A minor league team.
After a year in professional baseball, Cordero returned to Italian Delight to oversee the business' expansions. When the company was sold, he formed a partnership with Allen Wong to pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant.
His Bravo's Italian Cafe specializes in handmade pasta dishes served with cream and wine sauces. Eventually, Cordero opened four more Bravo's in the Washington area. In 1995, he sold four of the restaurants to Wong.
While visiting New York, Cordero discovered a Brazilian steakhouse and fell in love with the concept. He studied with a Brazilian chef to learn the intricacies of the country's cuisine before opening the original Malibu Grill in Falls Church, Va., in 1997.
"We thought the demographics were great to put a Malibu Grill" in Columbia, he said.
Cordero also owns Toro Tapas & Grill in the Village at Shirlington in Arlington, Va., and another Malibu Grill restaurant in Fair Lakes, Va.
The Columbia restaurant is decorated with murals of the Amazon rain forest and Brazilian beaches. Palm trees in terra-cotta planters and the seductive rhythms of samba music add to the tropical atmosphere.
Cordero plans to offer live music occasionally this summer.
Where: 10125 Wincopin Circle, Columbia; 410-964-5566.
Hours: 11: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11: 30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Lunch, $8.95 for adults and $5.95 for children (ages 4 to 10); dinner, $15.95 for adults and $7.95 for children; brunch (noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays), $11.95 for adults and $6.95 for children.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club.