Pleased to meat you

Taste of Brazil Steakhouse

5207 Madison Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95841

(916) 331-5107

I’m not always an all-you-can-eat kind of person. I’d generally rather order off a menu and get precisely what I want. I make an exception, though, for Taste of Brazil Steak House, a churrascaria (Brazilian-style steakhouse) on what seems like a soulless stretch of Madison Avenue. Its storefront, in a strip with a Seventh-day Adventist bookshop and a down-at-heel doughnut place, looks utterly uninteresting, but inside is a surprisingly upscale space (beige marble tables, black accents) where they’re serving up a tempting, sizzling array of meat—and a snazzy buffet. The all-you-can-eat deal is 30 bucks for grown-ups (there’s a sliding scale for kids) and includes the buffet and—they say—15 barbecued meats at dinner (eight at lunch), though I didn’t count quite that many.

If you’ve not had churrasco before, here’s the deal: You go in and get your table, and the servers hand everyone plates, tongs, dangerous-looking steak knives and little oval plaques. On one side they are painted red, with the word “no”; on other, green, with “yes.” Servers in relatively understated gaucho outfits circulate with enormous cuts of spit-roasted meat impaled on swordlike skewers, and when you are ready to have some meat you turn your plaque to the green side, and you’ll be offered a cut of whatever he’s got. (All the meat-bearers seemed to be men.) Most of the meats are sliced vertically, and you point to the spot you want yours cut from (so you can choose rare or medium or what-have-you) and then use your little tongs to grab the slice. We also got two plates of appetizers: fried bananas, which were hot and sweet and cinnamony, though the breaded coating was a little soft, and little diamond-shaped lozenges of fried polenta. Golden and crisp on the outside with cheesy, coarse, soft polenta on the inside, these made an irresistible snack.

Before you move on to the meat, though, you run the gauntlet of the buffet, which is pretty awesome, in both senses of the word. In fact, you have to be careful not to overdo it at the buffet if you want to have room for any of the fragrant meats. There’s a lavish salad bar with just about everything: cold pasta and halved hard-cooked eggs, three kinds of greens, a fruit-salad combo, many dressings, (canned-tasting) hearts of palm, sliced cold cuts and cheeses and crisp, fried flatbread triangles. Though a few of the greens looked a little wilted, most of the offerings were fresh and appealing.

The hot buffet is where you really have to watch it. It’s got an awful lot of good stuff, with steam trays of toasted manioc flour mixed with bacon (this was not surprisingly delicious), various kinds of rice, starchy-sweet fried plantains, braised pork, garlicky spaghetti (with more bacon), meaty-flavored beans and the star: feijoada; a deep-flavored black-bean stew with porky bits of meat. I spotted—and snagged—some meltingly tender trotters.

On to the meat! My fave of all was the top sirloin, sliced in rare strips and edged with crackling, well-salted fat. Be advised that the meats can be salty, especially the surfaces. I like that, but some may want interior cuts. The excellent rump roast was also a hit. Small, coarse-ground beef sausages were bland and dry; also dry inside were bacon-wrapped chunks of chicken. Parmesan-coated chicken tasted great, with all that toasted cheese on the outside, but the meat had turned stringy and desiccated in spots, though juicy in others. The chicken drumsticks looked dramatic—impaled in neat rows with crusty golden skin and savory, moist meat—and tasted fantastic. We ate and ate—I was trying to hold out for some lamb options, which I never saw come out—and I regretted stopping when, after we’d turned in our oval plaques, I saw some kind of little riblets come out. We also missed out on refreshing-looking whole skewered pineapple and some other, unidentified meats. If you go, my advice is to take your time and be patient.

What, you ask, to wash all this down with? I suggest the tart, bracing house-made passionfruit juice, Brazilian sodas or a cold, light Brazilian beer, Skol. They also have a short wine list. I tried a glass of Brazilian Pizzato merlot, recommended by the server, and it was big and juicy but tasted a bit oxidized, so I suspect the turnover in glasses is not the swiftest. (The non-Brazilian wines are uninteresting supermarket brands.)

At the end of the meal, you may be too stuffed to think about the various desserts visible in a glass case at the counter. If you’ve saved any room, though, I can recommend the flan—a dense, rich, firm custard topped with a fudgy prune and sitting in a pool of thick, luscious caramel sauce. The portion is big, so it’s just right to share. (They also offer passion fruit mousse and a few other changing desserts, which we didn’t sample.) Whether you have dessert or not, you’re likely to leave Taste of Brazil stuffed and (if you’re carnivorous) darned happy. Vegetarians need not apply.