Looking around at the throngs eating giant slabs of meat with fervor at the new Texas de Brazil, my thoughts turned to Nero, who allegedly played the lyre while Rome burned. (Not the fiddle—that wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages.)
Perhaps the metaphor is over the top. But if we are headed for a recession, you could disprove it in here. On a quiet Wednesday evening last week, this new palace of gastronomy at Town Square was packed to the gills with a prosperous-looking crowd. That’s no mean feat for a $45 dinner concept, even pricier if you add in drinks, wine or dessert.
Texas de Brazil is an authentic churrascaria, or Brazilian barbecue restaurant, or, as the menu refers to itself, a Brazilian steakhouse. Those of you who have eaten at Samba Grill in the Mirage or at Pampas in the mall attached to Planet Hollywood are familiar with a churrascaria.
You start at the well-stocked salad and appetizer bar, and later a team of servers comes to the table with skewers of marinated, broiled meats, which you’ll eat until you say “gio”—uncle in Brazilian Portuguese. (This is achieved by turning a green paper coaster over to the red side, indicating that you can’t eat any more.)
Before describing the restaurant, I must say that you will get your money’s worth in here. Steak lovers seem to think nothing of paying $40 for prime steak in a Strip restaurant, but here, that price point gets you five cuts of beef, lamb chops, leg of lamb, three types of ribs, chicken and linguica, a spicy Brazilian sausage. Not even counting the wow factor, considerable in here, this strikes me as a smart choice.
The actual wow, in fact, will strike you the minute you pass under the huge flames on outside posts and through the restaurant’s giant portals. Texas de Brazil is part of a national chain with locations as diverse as Richmond, Virginia, and Memphis, Tennessee, and they have spared no expense here.
The dining room glows a soft, fairly lurid red, with pillars that look as if they have been covered in leather, wrought-iron chandeliers straight from a Zorro movie and perhaps the most impressive flower sprays in any Vegas restaurant. Gauchos, the chain’s word for the servers, roam the restaurant, handsome in their dark blue shirts and black aprons. At least half of these gentlemen, for the record, seem actually to be from Brazil.
When the server (probably not Brazilian) greets you, he’ll ask if you’ve dined in a Texas de Brazil before. If you answer no, be prepared for a five-minute spiel on how to proceed, which for impatient sorts such as your humble reporter is sheer torture.
Before you head to the appetizer table, you might try the signature cocktail, the caipirinha. It’s a sugary, lime-happy drink similar to a Mojito, but made with cachaca, a type of Brazilian sugar-cane rum. That should sufficiently oil you for the 60-item salad bar, stocked with goodies from artichoke hearts to feijoada, a hearty black bean and meat stew.
I’d make my trip to the salad bar light, in order to appease the carnivore demons. But still, there are a few things on this table I can’t resist, the spicy shrimp, served cold, and the delicious roasted beets being just two. But even before your meal arrives, hot, puffy cheese rolls, mashed potatoes and toothsome fried bananas are brought to your table. Just remember: The more sides you eat, the less you’ll be able to handle the dozen-odd cuts of meat continually streaming by.
And all of them are terrific, I must say. These meats are seared in rock salt, and all have a secret marinade that the manager wasn’t wont to divulge. The one caveat is the salt. Brazil is a humid, tropical place, and it’s just possible that the population there can handle meats crusted with salt better than we Americans. Still, if you know your limits, no worries.
My favorite meat here is the leg of lamb, the lamb chops coming in a close second. The beef cuts are bacon-wrapped filet mignon, filet mignon, rib meat and two cuts similar to flank steak, picanha and garlic picanha respectively. As the gauchos cut the meat, help them by catching the slices with little tongs provided on the table. The temperature on the meats ranges from medium rare to well done.
There is no such option regarding the chicken, or the bite-sized sausages, but both are highly recommended. As for the ribs, they tend to be crusty and more well-done, but also delicious, and well worth saving room for.
I’m less sure about dessert. There’s always the option of those fried bananas, but for an intelligent alternative, the papaya cream splashed with crème de Cassis or the homemade citrus crème brulee are both just fine.
And hey, if you figure out the Texas connection, please send me an e-mail.