Dining at Texas de Brazil wasn't love at first bite—the expansive salad bar's selection of charcuterie, sushi, feijoada, pickled vegetables and imported cheeses was more of a romantic buildup. The affair reached point-of-no-return about 20 bites in, when I first sunk my teeth into a slice of top sirloin, carved tableside by an apron-wearing man wielding a massive skewer of glistening steak and a knife the size of my forearm.
- Lex Nelson
It was just one of a half-dozen different cuts littering my plate (flank steak, pork loin and bacon-wrapped filet among them), carved in the last five minutes by gauchos—servers/cooks still bearing the title of their Brazilian cattlemen forebears—who were criss-crossing the room with their spits held proudly ahead of them. The meat was so flavorful that it forced my eyes shut in appreciation. Recalling that the gaucho had described the cut as a "house specialty," one thought rose above the others as the umami punch of the sirloin hammered my tastebuds: "Damn right."
As you could probably guess from the tableside carving, Texas de Brazil isn't a typical steakhouse. It's a churrascaria, serving delicacies in the Brazilian churrasco tradition, a method originated by Brazilian cowboys on the range, which calls for huge skewers of top-quality meat slow-roasted over an open flame and brought to the table for carving. The latter is part of what's called rodizio style. At Texas de Brazil and other steakhouses like it, customers pay a flat price and flip the cards on their tables from red to green (the universal color for GO!) to kick-start endless protein parades that only halt when their bellies distend and, exhausted, they flip their cards back to red. When it opened its swanky 63rd location at The Village in Meridian on May 1, Texas de Brazil became the Treasure Valley's second churrascaria, following in the footsteps of Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Boise.
- Courtesy Texas de Brazil
"Basically we're 80% Brazilian because of the meats, the way we're cooking the meats, you know? But we have some international dishes in our salad area, like lobster bisque, like potato salad, that kind of integrate American culture," said Texas de Brazil Corporate Executive Chef David Castro, a Peruvian immigrant and 14-year veteran of the company who has made multiple trips to Brazil.
There's a general consensus that single-price, all-you-can-eat buffets are as American as apple pie, baseball and bald eagles. In 2016, Mental Floss published "The All-American History Behind the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet," opening with the lines "It's difficult to say when exactly people began assembling meals from large spreads of food. But that oh-so-American tradition of offering it all together at a low-low price? That started in Vegas, naturally." Though the article nods at Sweden and France as the originators of large-scale food spreads, there's no mention of Brazil. But according to Castro, the dine-til-you-drop service I filled up on at Texas de Brazil is true to Brazilian tradition, dating back (depending on who you ask) to somewhere between the mid-19th and early-20th centuries.
- Courtesy Texas de Brazil
At the center of that tradition is meat, and it dropped my jaw to hear that the the top sirloin I'd chowed down on in awe was seasoned with nothing but salt and, maybe, a little pepper.
"The first thing that we're looking for on the meat is quality, quality is No. 1," Castro told me a few days after my meal. "If you went to our restaurant already, basically our meats are just coated with salt, and some of them salt and black pepper. We are not the kind of restaurant where they are kind of like putting a dressing on top of the meat, things like that, taking away that really good natural flavor from the meats."
- Lex Nelson
Some of those meats, like the beef and pork ribs, cook for hours before they're whisked to the table, while others are practically made-to-order, as soon as a customer requests a cut or a skewer runs out. That kind of service is made possible by the gauchos, who baby their particular cuts through the cooking process.
"They're kind of like also chefs. Why? Because we have 12-15 gauchos in the stations, and every gaucho or gaucho-chef is taking care of certain kinds of meats. For example, if I have 12 gauchos, okay, between the 12 I'm working with them to select for every single person which meat they are taking care of," said Castro.
Each gaucho is assigned a few meats for the day—cuts of chicken and pork, for example—which they are then responsible for inventorying, cooking and carrying out to the customers.
- Lex Nelson
In addition to the meat, William, our server, also dropped off deep-fried cinnamon-sugar bananas (to cleanse the palate between courses), cheesy bread rolls called pao de queijo, mashed potatoes and sauces (chimichurri for the red meat, mint jelly for the lamb) in silver boats, presumably because at that point in the night we were too stuffed to waddle back to the salad bar to load up on side dishes ourselves.
All of this decadence doesn't come cheap. The all-you-can-eat dinner at Texas de Brazil costs $45 per person ($30 for just the salad bar), and if you want a drink—I highly recommend the Brazilian Caipirinha, a traditional cocktail made with cachaca, sugar, and lime—or dessert beyond the endless supply of meltingly sweet bananas, that costs extra, too. Tucanos, by comparison, costs $25 for the "full churrasco" and $17 for the salad bar at dinnertime.
Still, when William poured just-shaken measures of less than 40-second-old espresso and Licor 43 into after-dinner tumblers, producing a frothy crema that cleared my weary palate, it was easy to put thoughts of the price tag aside (at least for the moment) and sip.