If you’re not familiar with the Brazilian churrascaria style of dining, here’s a clue: Your steak won’t be served to you lying flat on a plate. It will be served quite hot, very adeptly seasoned, by a swift-moving waiter carrying it vertically on a large skewer. He’ll slice it and you’ll grab each slice with a pair of nifty little tongs provided at your place setting.
If you want more, keep a little card at your table turned up to the green side and he’ll come back. So with other men bearing meaty skewers. When you’ve reached your limit, turn the red side up.
Have small tastes at first; there are many kinds of meat (14 to choose from, in fact). These include bacon-wrapped filet, marinated chicken drumsticks, lamb, pork and beef ribs, and the house specialty, Picanha, or the prime cut of sirloin.
The interior is stylish without being fussy, and is welcoming rather than intimidating. A cushy lounge area is behind the host’s desk as you come in. We’ve never had to sit there to wait for a table for more than 10 minutes or so. (But we can’t guarantee you’ll have that experience, as the restaurant has become an ultra-popular dining venue. However long you wait, though, it should be worth it.)
The salad bar is as good as the meat. If you don’t like salad and just want meat, visit the salad bar anyway. It has fresh natural cheeses, slices of deli meats, including Genoa salami, and a good chicken salad. You can also choose to forgo the meat and have just salad, at a lower price.
What we’ve liked best about the salad bar, though, might be for the simplest of reasons — things that many restaurants overlook. Simplicity, utter freshness, crisp fresh greens with nary a hint of rusted edges, thick creamy dressings, fresh and oven-dried tomatoes. In our half-dozen or so visits to Chama Gaucha, we’ve never felt that the bar was neglected and messy, or understocked. I like to get a mixed green salad, then take sliced beets, artichoke hearts and asparagus spears to eat as vegetable side dishes with the meats.
The side dishes have been the least interesting of the offerings, and we have tended to ignore them. The potatoes could be creamier, and some garlic wouldn’t hurt. Our recent visit, though, found the squares of Parmesan cheese-dusted polenta good, and the fried bananas less soggy than we’ve had in the past. The small, very warm cheese rolls served in a basket, however, are good — maybe even addictive.
The wine list has good breadth — with an emphasis, of course, on South American wines. Try a malbec from Argentina and you’ll have the ideal mate to the grilled meats.
On our recent visit, I still found that I liked best one of the humbler cuts of steak, the bottom sirloin. The leg of lamb pleased my husband, David, but we both asked for a second lamb chop. As always, the sausages were crackling hot, and the prime cut of sirloin was tender and rare.
The service gets high marks as well. I was impressed on my first visit at how the staff zoomed around the spacious dining room, managing to not run into each other or knock down customers in their path. I was amazed on the most recent visit, two weeks ago, to find that they were moving even faster. I suggest that every restaurateur in town who hears complaints about slow servers take the crew to Chama Gaucha. That is how to move.
Check out the liquor offerings for pre-dinner as well as after-dinner options. Our favorite dessert so far has been the Papaya Creme: vanilla ice cream and fresh papaya swirled to pure silkiness, topped with a drizzle of crème de cassis. Just enjoy.
Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse (website)
18138 Sonterra Place
Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday and daily for dinner.