[Refreshed 9.14 with updated menu items, prices and a few minor changes. However I haven't been back here for some time, so can't speak to the current quality of the food.]
For those who have spent time in Brazil, it has always seemed strange there is no Brazilian-style grill in Portland. Almost every major city has one, and they tend to be very popular. Also called “churrascaria” (shoo-HOSS-ka-REE-ah), these Brazilian steakhouses are a carnivore’s paradise, paying homage to the institution of the South American Gaucho. Churrasco is the cooking style, which translates from Portuguese to ‘barbecue’, not to be confused with a method of cooking used in the rest of South America known as “asado”. This style of food owes its origins to the centuries-old campfire roasts of the gauchos from the Pampa region of southern Brazil.
Servers rotate by your table with long rotisserie skewers speared with any of a large selection of meats, such as chili lime pork, marinated chicken legs and breast, marinated lamb, linguica sausage, picanha (culotte), bacon-wrapped filet, mustard-glazed sirloin, garlic and lime marinated prawns and glazed ham. You can get a side dish of chicken hearts by request.
The restaurant is upstairs from where the 1201 Club used to be. The large windows and bright interior make it easy to spot from the street. Some parking is available directly behind the building, but once that fills you are on your own. The interior sports a full bar with an area to wait for your table. The space is open and comfortable with dark wood floors, a high ceiling, and bright orange walls. Towards the back, a salad bar fronts the rotisseries in the kitchen.
The staff is friendly and efficient, excited about the food. Your main server will make sure you are comfortable, take your drink orders, and explain how everything works. I’ve only tried one cocktail from the bar, the caipirinhas, one of my favorite drinks from that locale. A traditional beverage of Brazil, it is made from distilled sugar cane liquor, (also called cachaça), and limes muddled with ice. Here they are not very well balanced. One was mostly ice, all could have benefited from a better muddling and better quality liquor. They have some decent alcohol-free drinks such as passion fruit juice, and a small wine list with about 12 reds and 5 whites. Markup was about normal for a restaurant. The beer list is a bit sad, with two on draft and 5 bottle options, with nothing special on the list.
Start with the salad bar at the back of the restaurant. This is not your traditional lettuce and dressing, or potato salad stuff, but much more interesting flavor-texture combination. I thought they were all just terrific, a great example of a worldly spin on the tired American salad bar. Try the different selections: a wonderful curried sweet-potato salad, another of lettuce, beets and carrots, the eggplant and pepper salad, the orzo with corn, ham and peas, or a piquant heart of palm, pimentos and green onions version. Some are better than others, but they are all worth trying. Just don’t over-indulge, the main event is ahead!
If you spend much time on the Amazon River in South America, you’ll see the natives pulling manioc plants out of the ground. When harvested, these roots are poisonous, but once the roots are ground into paste and toasted to make a dry flour, they are perfectly safe. You may also have seen it used at Peruvian restaurants, such as Andina, where it is called yucca, and it is also known as tapioca flower. Here it is used to make a topping called farofa which tends to have a very smoky, slightly salty taste. It is commonly sprinkled over a traditional Brazilian stew called fejoada, made from bacon, pork sausages, ham, onions, dried beef, and spices, mixed with black beans and ladled over rice. It can also be sprinkled directly over the meat to accentuate the taste. At Brazil Grill, you’ll find all these ingredients at the salad bar. Take one of the small bowls, add some rice, ladle over some of the black beans, and sprinkle it with the farofa for a unique experience. Save some of the farofa to sprinkle over your meat dishes.
A red and green disk controls the flow of food to your table. Need a break? Just turn it to the red side until you are ready for another cascade of food. Once you finish your salads, flip it to green. The servers in their traditional Gaucho attire roam the restaurant with skewers of fragrant meats. As they bring it to your table, you will be told what type of cut it is, and what sauce, if any, has been used for a marinade. A simple nod of the head and the server will begin cutting off a thin slice. As it starts to fall away, make sure to reach out and grasp it with your tongs to keep it from falling. Service is just terrific. See something at another table you want? Just let someone know and they’ll bring it out to you. In Brazil you are always told by the locals, “Don’t waste your time on the chorizo or chicken! You can get that anytime. Get your money’s worth and only go for the best cuts.” With the overwhelming selection here, this advice will serve you well.
Many of the cuts are not traditional in the US. Only over the last few years have specialty butchers been making them available. Along with the bacon-wrapped filet mignon, be sure to try picanha, the rump cap, and for my money, the Cadillac of all the choices. Actually, there is some confusion here. The restaurant refers to it as “picanha tri-tip”, which are technically two different things. From Wikipedia, “It is the topmost layers of muscle covered in a layer of thick fat. To locate the picanha cut more specifically, one must realize that the capping muscle actually has a right side and a left side. One side (the larger side) is called the tri tip, and the other side (the smaller side) is the Brazilian picanha. Thus, one can see that the tri tip and the picanha cuts are in fact different (albeit similarly located) cuts of beef.”
The chicken hearts are wonderful, an explosion of flavor. Even the shrimp are cooked properly and have wonderful sweet, smoky flavor. Heck, just about everything is pretty good, and you definitely get a quick education by being able to compare so many meats side by side.
Every so often the servers will wander by with grilled pineapple. It is a good palate refresher, hot and caramelized from the heat. Try to keep some on your plate to nibble between courses.
We haven’t tried any of the desserts, as one tends to overdo it with everything else, but I was glad to see they have some traditional selections, such as mousse de maracuja – a traditional passion fruit and mango mousse (maracuja means ‘passion fruit’ in Portuguese). They also have a caramel flan, which to Brazilian cusine is as ubiquitous as crème brûlée in America restaurants.
The cost is a $39.95 a person, Seniors over 65 $33.95, Children 7-12 $14.95. Keep in mind, this is for all you can eat. For vegetarians there are enough items available from the salad bar to keep them happy for $17.95, if they don’t mind all the meat passing by.
This is not the best churrascaria I have ever been to, but until recently Portland didn’t have any other options. Of course it is hard to beat the real experience in Brazil, but they have many of the traditional side dishes and the meats are generally well prepared. The uniqueness of it all makes it an interesting restaurant to visit.
- Phone: (503) 222-0002
- Address: 1201 SW 12th Ave, Portland, OR. 97205 Google Map
- Hours: Open daily. Mon – Fri 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Sat-Sun 3:30 pm to 9:30 pm
- Website: BrazilGrillRestaurant.com