Picanha Or Gauchos Village?
I wrote a review of my experience at Gaucho's about a year ago. Perhaps this will help.
In recent years, a new dining concept from Brazil has sprouted up in cities across the nation – the rodizio churrascaria (rotisserie style barbeque). Perhaps in exchange for our solution to the question “How will future generations buy things?” (Answer: The big-box, warehouse store), Brazil has returned the favor with the big-box, warehouse restaurant. Imagine Beadle’s Cafeteria blended with the Ye Olde Wench & Beef theme restaurants of the 70’s; combine with cayenne, garlic and samba; fuel with potent cane liquor; ignite with a flammable revue of near-naked Mardi Gras show-girls; shake with polyrhythmic abandon, and you’ve got a sure-fire celebration of the senses. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry – Brazilian style.
Such were my expectations when I visited Glendale’s Gauchos Village one recent Saturday evening. Arriving without a reservation, my wife and I were nonetheless swiftly seated in comfortable high-backed chairs with a bird’s-eye view of the yards of buffet offerings and just beyond, a monstrous grilling machine twirling and charring dozens upon dozens of flesh-laden spikes. Nearby, on the raised stage, a live combo soothed the cavernous room with softly undulating sambas, contributing to the illusion that I was not in a cement-floored, brick-walled mess hall, but rather on a balmy beach near Ipanema.
A waiter soon appeared at my elbow. “We’d like a couple of those rum drinks. What do you call them?” I shouted. “Caipirinha,” he responded. (Not that it helped, I still can’t pronounce it.) He explained that the drink is actually made with cachaca, the distilled cane juice that is normally boiled down to make molasses, and then made into the more familiar rum. It tastes vaguely like gasoline when consumed straight; but when bolstered with an aggressive dose of limejuice and sugar, cachaca is transformed into the highly imbibable caipirinha. (Think mojito without mint). The menu listed appetizers and their prices, but the entrees showed no prices. I was a little confused. “Most people order the full meat course, which includes unlimited quantities of meat and the full buffet for $25.95,” the waiter informed me. “Usually menus tell you what things cost,” I countered. “Can I get a vegetarian dinner?” my wife jumped in. He considered this a bit. “I’m not supposed to do this, but I’ll let you have the buffet which includes fish for $16.95.” Deal.
The buffet consisted of a large array of cold and hot side dishes, and some main dishes I suspect might have been Brazilian comfort food. There was the usual assortment of fresh salads: green, beet, potato; side dishes of rice, beans, fried plantains; and unnamed stews containing fish and hearts of palm.
Waiting for us at our table were the caipirinhas, tall and frosty. At $9.00 per, I had thought they were a little pricey, but when I saw they were in generous 16 oz. tumblers, I had no complaints whatsoever. Almost immediately an onslaught of meat-bearing gauchos descended upon us.
A succession of meats was sliced for me: bacon-wrapped chicken morsels, pork ribs, polish sausage, tri-tip, skirt steak, filet mignon, and top sirloin. All were well seasoned, heavily salted, and overcooked. It is not a fine line between grilled meat with flavorful, caramelized char, and meat that is burnt. It is a line most cooks are trained not to cross. Each time the meat bearers approached with the next meaty spike I’d ask for medium-rare. Sadly, they shook their heads and skulked away. On it went – dried-out meat, desiccated beyond redemption. My wife’s fish was so overcooked she could barely swallow it. Thankfully, the caipirinhas were there to wash things down. On the plus side she thought the potato salad was one of the best ever. I too, enjoyed the odd-looking cheese puffs I had picked up at the salad bar. (I learned on the Internet they are called pao de queijo. A delightful, savory confection made with cheese and cassava flour, or manioc, which also was the base for the fish stew, maqueca).
Things were beginning to seem bleak, when BA-BAM, BA-BAM, BA-BAM - drumbeats thundered over the sound system. Onto the stage pranced three spangled showgirls in full Mardi gras regalia. Clothed only in gaudy headdresses, microscopic halters and beaded two-inch “skirts”, they proceeded to shimmy, shake and otherwise enchant the rapt crowd. The food service came to a stop for the next half-hour, not that anyone minded. (I even hoped the kitchen might use this time to get its act together.) The audience, prepared with camera and flash, captured the unwary husbands and boyfriends who were lured onstage to flail and writhe haplessly.
After the show ended, my wife said she was ready to leave.
I wasn’t, I still hadn’t seen any of the lamb mentioned in the menu. Word must have spread among the gauchos that “Mr. Medium Rare” was asking about the lamb, because a whole, spiked, leg of lamb was soon presented to me. This was more like it: juicy, fragrant, and charred to perfection. Of course the next slice in was rare to the point of being cold. Such is the rotisserie game. Apparently it’s a very narrow margin where meat cooks properly. Slice and return to the flames; cook and slice again; repeat. It’s the luck of the draw - if you’re patient, you’ll eventually get something cooked the way you like it.
From a management perspective this new dining concept must look pretty good on paper. Full houses equal big returns. No pesky chefs to throw tantrums, just the guy loading the spikes, and the gauchos moving the meat about the room. Whenever I go to a big-box warehouse store, I get the sense it is running itself, but not very well. Maybe the future is here now, and I should just accept my fate and enjoy my cheese puffs and occasional slice of lamb. And yet I still cling to the old fashioned notion of a chef who is personally responsible for the food that leaves his kitchen. Someone who has pride in his work, and maybe even someone who loves what he does.
Where is the love? Is that too much to ask?
Churrascaria & Carnaval Bar
411 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, Ca. 91203
Picanha doesn't work for me, the meat is not good and the salad bar is terrible.Gaucho's is good for the Brazilian vibe, but the food is just OK, at best.
I also highly recommend Fogo de Chao for the superlative experience here in LA. Brassa is the best affordable churrasco, limited cuts of meat and just the greatest hits in the salad bar, but everything is done suberbly.The only thing that was not happening was the pao de queijo, oh well.
I went to my first Fogo de Chao in Atlanta in 2003, then Chicago in 2004 and finally Beverly Hills when it opened and several times since. While all their meats may not be 10/10 perfection, their Picanha IS a Perfect 10!! Save room for lots of it, skip the lamb & chicken and go lite on the (very tempting) salad bar...
Well, if a TV show mentioned it recently, avoid it for a month or so.
Picanha has more variety but I find that they oversalt their meat -- I always end up with a headache. Gauchos is better for meat but slower (not really the point of rodizio, innit?) and their hot buffet is just OK.