Review: Brazil Grill

[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.]

brazil-grillFor 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.

Grade: C+

  • 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

 

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Food Dude says

    It should be noted that they were out of the mousse de maracuja. It should also be noted that I still felt boated the next day and ended up canceling my thursday dinner.

  2. mczlaw says

    Just got back from a session at the BG.

    Feel like a python, ‘fyou know what I mean. One contented, sluggish snake. . .protein rapture, I believe.

    Many fine meats: NY strip, lamb loin, bacon-wrapped fillet, beef tri tip, linguica, spicy chicken hearts were my faves. And the pineapple gets a big “omigoddelicious.”

    Servers friendly, helpful. All seemed to enjoy wielding sharp knives. Who would dare give them a lot of bullshit? Now that I think about it, I hope management is doing pre-hire background checks.

    I wanted to insert a quote here from an almost famous Holy Modal Rounders song called “Happy Scrapple Daddy”. It evokes the mood of mass meat consumption. Couldn’t find the words on the whole damn internet. Guess you’ll have to look for yourselves.

    Since FD is a wimp and couldn’t handle any dessert after his kilo of kow, I will report that the passion fruit mousse was delicious–feathery light, creamy and simultaneously sweet and tart. Yum. The caramel flan wasn’t bad either, though a touch on the sweet side.

    The high school girls at the next table were amusing. Though why a Brazilian exchange student slated to return to Brazil the next day would want to eat Brazilian food on her last night in Portland threw me a little. That’s high school kids for you, though: synsapses totally overwhelmed by hormones.

    ‘Til we meat again ;-),

    –mcz

  3. pollo elastico says

    oh man, i saw an ad for this place last week. seeing ads for all the churrascarias in airline magazines, and hearing details from my friend in Dallas who eats at Texas de Brasil, I have longed to engage in this meat orgy.

    thx as always for doing the initial legwork – i will prep myself with a few days of salads and vegetable stir frys in order to properly gluttonize.

  4. mczlaw says

    Happy Scrapple Daddy
    (Words and music by Robin Remailly)

    Verses 1 and 2 Chorus:

    I’m your happy scrapple daddy
    from the Pennsylvania farm.
    I’m your happy scrapple daddy
    with all the piggish charms.
    Raised up in the hill,
    my taste is most refined.
    I’m your happy scrapple daddy
    bringing greasy good times.

    I hope you like your pig’s feet,
    I really hope you do,
    Cause I love to see your chin just a-drippin’ with goo.
    I start with the feet, I eat whole hog and kneezies,
    With my grinnin’ greasy lips,
    I’m the wandering wailing weenie.

    Pork liver, lambies’ tongues, vienna sausage,
    aw, save me some.
    Chitlins, ah them chitlins,
    calf brains and rare steaks,
    linguisa and kielbasa,
    eat your sister by mistake.
    Yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy,
    Gooey, goo,
    Oh, what that meat eatin’ gonna make you wanna do?
    I feel like a bomber with a big load of bombs.
    I’m your happy scrapple daddy from the Pennsyvania farms.

  5. Nick E says

    Hi, long time listener, first-time caller here. Just wanted to say how disturbed I was that there’s a song about scrapple.

  6. says

    Quick question — how salty were the meats? My experience with these sorts of places is that you have to hydrate for several days after eating there (even if it IS super-tasty).

  7. mczlaw says

    Nick E.: Yeah, aint it sick ;-). Pretty much everything about the Rounders is disturbing, except their music. Psychedelic folk at its finest. If you want the lyrics to “Chitlin’ Cooking Time In Cheatham County,” be sure and let me know.

    S: Hydration wasn’t my issue.

    –mcz

  8. Dan Santos says

    Ya gotta know I’m starvin’ for the Grill! I grew up in Brazil and spent 17 days there in Nov. – believe it or not, $5 for a 4-star churrascaria that included filet mignon and picanha! It was grubalicious! I’m holding out for the lunch rodizio with hopes of a price tag closer to $20 – the income is slow right now… BTW, we brought back about 18 2-liters of guarana in our suitcases and are hoarding them, saving them for special occasions when we just gotta have a hit!
    For all of you who are skeptical – one visit will make you believers! It is an amazing experience…
    Boy from Brazil
    E isso ai, bicho!

  9. RM says

    Ate there tonight and we had a great meal. Not many customers there (the night after the Super Bowl) but the servers and staff were very helpful and seemed interested in feedback. Enjoyed the salad selections as well as the meats. Almost too much to taste everything.

    They did say that lunch would be starting in 2-3 weeks.

  10. Bigfoot says

    Don’t get me wrong, this place is nice, but it ain’t all that! It was pretty crowded last evening and I’m glad we had made a reservation. Just a suggestion, don’t place people by the windows when it is freezing outside, my back was cold the entire meal.

    I agree with the dude about the caipirinhas, waaaay too much ice for the price.

    That’s actually the major complaint I have, the price. For example, 14.95$ for a salad bar? It was good, but 10 bowls of salad (at least half of which were potato based) doesn’t justify this price.

    The meat was good, but they were only serving about 6 things last night, so the variety on our visit was limited. The service was great, but the “gauchos” need to occasionaly start their rounds by the front of the restaurant, we were up front and always got the last of the skewer.

    When we left, we agreed we had a good time and would come back. By the time we got home, we had calculated again. If you added together the amount of beef we were given and compared it to the price, I think even the folks at Morton’s would be embarassed by the price.

  11. Still Hungry says

    Just went there last night, and glad to have had reservations. the place is relatively small and you don’t want to be standing by the door for an hour waiting for a table, or outside in the cold. Heck, inside was cold enough for me.
    My family and I have had the pleasure to dine at a couple brazilian restaurants (Miami and Salt Lake City)….I can’t tell you how wonderful, and cheaper. The salad bars at these places- you could make a wonderful meal out of them alone. Not so here. Salads, alot of them potato based, french fries (yummy), rice and beans.
    Unfortunately we sat more in the middle of the room, and felt that we got the end of the skewer. Beef was way too rare to my liking.
    Although it advertizes all you can eat, a guacho came by with an entree and said “you already tried this”…pissed me off. I am allergic to seafood, and don’t eat lamb, so there you have it. I honestly don’t feel there were enough gauchos or meat for the amount of people that were there. Dissappointing. I will say that the pineapple was wonderful. We were not offered a dessert menu.

  12. Once is enough says

    I agree with Bigfoot: do not sit by the windows on cold nights!

    On average the place is nice but they still have a long way to improve the restaurant. For example, around 8:30pm on a saturday night, several items of the salada bar went missing. The meat was sometimes not well cooked, which scares me a little bit. At the end of the night, they did not offered any desert, which sounded like they wanted to close the place as soon as possible.

    I have eaten in similar restaurants around the country and in Brazil. I can assure you that they have a long road to provide the Brazilian style barbecue (churrasco).

    I hope they improve their service and the next curstomers enjoy their visit!

  13. ron says

    I do want the lyrics to Chitlin Cookin Time in Cheatham County. The Rounders rule. Thanks if you can help. Ron

  14. mama2dylan says

    We visited BG about 2 months ago for the 1st time. We LOVED it! I have visited Brazil and ate in Churrascos before. They are a little different there but, for the states this place was great. We did have creme brulee for desert. It was awesome! We’ll be back!

  15. Charles Henri says

    Hello all! I like to write reviews and tell people what I think about a restaurant, bars, movies and other things. So here I am again and at this time I am going to talk about the Brazil Grill Restaurant.
    I had a great night and I still am full of meat!! And what a meat.
    The service was very good and the food wonderful. I loved the pineapple with cinnamon. The salad bar has some good choices, but I think it could be a little better.
    The price for all I ate was incredible (thirty something dollars) comparing to other places, and the quality is great. Sure I will go back some day and will invite some friends. It is a great place for parties or any kind or celebration.
    I hope this review can help you in some way.

  16. Carol says

    Very disappointed both times we went. We recently moved to Portland and we love it here. One thing we miss though is the Brazilian restaurants. We are used to Brazilian churrascaria Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil. We were excited to have Brazil Grill until we tried it. The meat is over cooked and dry (yes, I like Med to Med Rare steak). The service was poor and the sides and salad bar were minimal and boring. First visit we wrote off to a bad day. On the second visit, the result was the same.

    • Food Dude says

      I’m sorry to hear that. I haven’t been for some time, but several people I trust have told me it has gone downhill. I need to revisit, but have given the listing a down arrow for the time being. Thanks for the report!

      • JDG says

        Looking up at your original review, you have “Highly recommended” followed by a grade of C+. Were those written at the same time?

        We paid a visit recently and didn’t notice an appreciable deterioration in quality of food, but I think when you go later as we tend to do the variety of cuts of beef coming out of the kitchen tends to go down. I still think their cognac-marinated chicken legs are just about the best chicken I’ve ever had. But I would also say that it is not the place to go if you like med-rare steak, because they tend to slice off the seared outer layer when serving then return the rare interior back to the grill for another sear.

        Service (other than the meat delivery) was a little lax though.

        • Food Dude says

          I think I lowered the grade later, I’ll have to look. My old site had a “last modified date”, I should add that back in.

          Looks like I just need to go back for myself. Thanks JDG

  17. Dan Santos says

    Went to the ‘Grill’ for dinner for the first time on Sat., April 3, 2010. Have been hearing rave reviews for several years and knew it was time! Having been to the real deal several times in Brazil, I was a little skeptical going in. But alas, I wasn’t disappointed! From salad bar to succulent meats to friendly and rapid service – we dined… rather gorged… to our heart’s (nay stomach’s) content and waddled out of there at peace with the world. The pineapple at the end of the evening just kept coming until we said enough! It was worth every penny and I’m sure we’ll go again! No, it doesn’t offer the variety of meats that you get in Brazil, but for what it is and what it offers – definitely an experience worth repeating! Plus, flights to Brazil are a little spendy right now!

  18. Gene Koepl says

    I don’t know wrote this article but I lived in Brazil until I was thirty years old, the (Picanha) isn’t even related to what we call the Tri-tip here in the US. Instead of being located underneath the sirloin in the inside cavity, it comes from up on the outside of the carcass. on top of the sirloin. And part of it is what is referred to here as the sirloin cap or when removed whole is called the (rump cap)

    • says

      Thanks for the comment. Actually, the restaurant itself has referred to the cut as the tri-tip, the picanha, and the “tri-tip picanha” at different points. On the current menu, they refer to it as the “culotte, with fat on [picanha]“. I’ll try to clarify in the text.

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