The Way of All Flesh
Eating at a churrascaria is eating by wandering around. Or at least having many people wander around and pester you with weapons while you try to eat. Because it often seems there isn't much eating at all to go with all of that wandering around. Once you flip the coaster disc on your table from red to green, signaling you've become gripped by carnivorous fits, you're surrounded by a phalanx of gauchos wielding knives and skewers holding cuts of meat that resemble giant, glistening snails, wasp's nests, even something out of an early David Lynch movie. Throughout all of this gaucho congestion around your table, you're constantly tweezing with tongs, pulling away slices of meat from the swath of the gaucho knife.
And meat it is. Boi Na Braza offers some 18 cuts of meat, including sirloin, beef tenderloin, beef ribs, pork ribs, pork loin, chicken legs and thighs, chicken hearts, pork sausage, leg of lamb, and lamb chops. What you'll notice is that they don't have any seafood on those skewers: no salmon, oysters, shrimp, or tooth-picked anchovies. Not even lobsters impaled between pieces of filet mignon for surf-and-turf on a stick.
This is because the true churrascaria is steeped in the traditions of the fertile, grassy plains and rangelands of South America, where lobsters are rare and cow pies are prevalent. In the early 19th century, Brazilian settlers living on these vast plains became adept at cattle-ranching and raising and herding other livestock. These settlers became known as gauchos, or cowboys. They invented a distinctive form of cooking that involved digging pits in the ground, kindling a roaring fire, and once the fuel was reduced to golden embers, slowly roasting great slabs of skewered meats. The meats were then sliced with the special gaucho knives these ranchers carried in their belts into thin pieces and deposited onto plates. The flesh was served continuously, or "rodizo" style. Which roughly translated means you can't keep the gauchos from pestering you at your table without a large weapon or a red coaster.
But this doesn't explain the lack of seafood, except perhaps that halibut and flounder have a difficult time living comfortably on Brazil's plains. Yet then why is there tuna-fish salad in Boi Na Braza's salad bar? It's not much of an example of a fish salad really, just chunks of tuna fish making way with corkscrew pasta in a thick mayonnaise dressing. The flavor was good, although there could have been a little more pasta mixed in with the fish. But maybe it's as hard to raise corkscrew pasta on the pampas as it is halibut.
Whatever the difficulty, Boi Na Braza has a huge salad bar tucked under an arbor-like structure in the middle of the dining room; a roughage respite in a sea of cholesterol perils and arterial jeopardy. It's filled with fresh, often crisp things like artichoke bottoms, asparagus, tomato slices, roasted peppers, delicious salami and prosciutto, potato salad, black and green olives, baby beets, mozzarella cheese balls, some fruit, a variety of dressings, mashed potatoes, beans and rice, bacon bits, baby corn, and cornichons. It's hard to know where to put all of this, but for obvious reasons, it might be wise to fill up on meat first and use the salad bar as a meat chaser.
Some elements can be readily skipped here, however. The Caesar salad was a forgettable pedestrian mix with tiny strips of romaine. There were no croutons, no Parmesan cheese, and no discernable hints of anchovy or lemon in the dressing.
The marinated artichokes looked like abused and tortured gourds, shriveled little things with a stem growing out of the heart. They were a little bland, as the marinade didn't have much punch, but they were very tender and delicate.
The tabbouleh wasn't anything to waste potential meat real estate on either. It was dry, and there was scarce evidence of lemon or parsley.
Yet this place is all about meat, so it doesn't pay to get too edgy over a precious few salad-bar miscues. All churrascarias seem to suffer from a similar affliction: dry meat. And though Boi Na Braza is arguably the best churrascaria in the Dallas area in terms of the taste and quality of meats, it isn't immune. The filet mignon, though it was pink inside, was dry with a strong, liver flavor throughout. The pork ribs were also dry, yet they had the decency to be chewy and well-crusted on the edges, giving them concentrated bursts of meat flavor in the front of the mouth before the dryness overwhelmed the palate. The crust saved pork loin with Parmesan, too. The meat was almost intolerably dry, but there was so much strong flavor generated by the singed Parmesan and garlic crust that it was easy to drag it across the palate without offense.
These minor miscues aside, Boi Na Braza's offerings are just about the best you'll find in Dallas. Picana, a Brazilian specialty cut from the rump roast that more often than not is disappointing, was spectacular. The flesh was deliciously moist, lustily flavorful, and robustly red. The glistening pear-shaped slice lay on the plate like a piece of bordello fabric. The chicken legs, runt little limbs, survived their Brazilian torture in good form as well with a potent, rich flavor and a good dose of moisture.
Same with the lamb. The lamb chops were sweet, chewy, and crusty while the leg of lamb was simply the best-tasting example of sheep appendage (wow, that didn't sound too good) we've ever come across, churrascaria-assaulted or not. It was moist, chewy, and slightly gamy, but in a racy sort of way instead of an overwhelming, skunky sort of way.
One of the only things not served from a skewer, excepting the drinks, salads, and pickles, were the beef ribs. These were laid out in slabs on a cart that's rolled around the dining room. Pieces of meat are carved and deposited on the plate, leaving you to sample the coarse-grained flesh that is rich and silky and has an almost buttery flavor.
Boi Na Braza has some stunning decorative points, especially the stained and beveled glass in the massive front doors. The restaurant's owners allegedly shipped the venue's architects to Southern Brazil to absorb insight from the tone and tenor of true Brazilian churrascarias. It's hard to say if this worked, because despite the beautiful white stone, the fires in and out of the restaurant (even the headings on the Boi Na Braza Web site go up in flames when they are touched), the spiraling staircase in the foyer (where does it go?), the paneling, the genuine Brazilian paintings depicting the lives of gauchos, and the iron decorative points, Boi Na Braza comes off like little more than a cavernous banquet hall. The elevator music piped in through the sound system and the pink tablecloths reinforce this notion.
Service was attentive and gracious, though the restaurant might want to reconsider how it handles flatware. Instead of taking away the knife and fork (it's hard to eat meat with a spoon) as each all-you-can-eat frenzy is concluded, you are asked to remove your soiled silverware from the plate and save it for the next chapter. This means you might have bits of tuna-fish salad on your fork as you prepare to spear a piece of lamb chop. Or maybe you get a little chicken heart in your cheesecake. Which is no good, even if the cheesecake is baked and served from a skewer.
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