Evening restaurant review
As a special thank you to my in-laws, we decided to take them to dinner this weekend. We wanted to go somewhere fun, interesting, and happy to let us to bring our own wine. After all, you can’t celebrate without decent wine!
A number of restaurants came to mind, but one that seemed to fit the bill and had a place on my ‘to do’ list was Braza Grill. I’ve long been tempted by the numerous Brazillian restaurants in Salt Lake, and Braza Grill seemed to have decent reviews. Once I’d convinced Wendi to give it a try, we called the restaurant to check on their corkage fee. We were informed Braza Grill did not have one. We initially took this to mean bringing your own wine was not possible. Quite surprisingly, they actually meant corkage came without a fee, which is a first for me in the modern up-selling world of restaurants. We did get the feeling that not many people bring in their own wine, and the lack of a corkage fee may just be due to the lack of a need for one. Anyway, we didn’t require much more convincing, reservations were made for dinner.
With meats in mind, we grabbed what we thought would be a great match, a bottle of Trapiche Malbec ($14.95, State Wine Store):
A smooth, easy drinking, and full bodied wine; a perfect match for the smoky red meats we anticipated. To my knowledge, Brazil isn’t known for it’s wine, so Argentina was as close as we could get, geographically speaking. (Okay I’m lying, we love Malbec, the regional proximity was by chance, but it sounds good nonetheless.)
We reached the restaurant at 6 p.m., for our reservation and service was in full flow. The restaurant was completely full. It remained consistently busy, even as we were leaving at 8 p.m., there were people in the lobby waiting to be seated. It was clear reservations are a must for weekend dining.
We were quickly seated and greeted by our server. His first task was to explain the basic concept of the Churrascaria, and specifically the Braza Grill dining experience. For dinner the restaurant charges a flat fee of $18.95 per diner. This allows unlimited access to an extensive salad bar and an array of grilled meats.
The main event is a procession of meat servers (Passador) who visit the tables wielding menacingly large skewers of barbecued meat. As the servers visit the tables, they happily slice off pieces of meat for the diner, who then grabs their serving with little tongs.
Atop each table there was a wooden rod, painted red and green at opposing ends. When you want more meat, you turn the rod to face green side up. When you don’t require the passador’s attention, you turn the rod to red and the flow of meat stops. You can flip back and forth as much as you like.
Given the non-standard dining model, taking pictures was a little difficult. The dining experience is definitely fun though. Some of our group liked to go back and forth to the salad/appetizer/warm foods bar, interspersing visits with servings of meat. From the first minute, I personally was committed to a meat-heavy meal. I sat at the table the whole time transfixed on the juicy meat arriving piece by piece.
Photographically, we tried to make best of what is quite a difficult meal to visually portray. The first two pictures show various selections from the salad and warm food bar.
Standard salad options are augmented by more interesting items such as breaded and deep fried bananas. The list of selections was extensive: salad, rice, beans, crab salad, fried items (potatoes, bananas etc), vegetables, and so forth. Looking around, rice with black beans seemed a popular choice as an accompaniment to the meat.
Initially, I thought the pieces of meat were on the small side. But, the unending procession of meat servers that constantly arrived table side soon dispelled that thought completely. On more than one occasion we had to change our little wooden rod to red, for fear of being overrun with meat.
The following picture gives an example of the single pieces of meat you receive. Pictured are garlic steak, pork, pineapple and sausage (left to right):
The full list of meats we tried included the following (I assumed a picture of each would be a little overkill):
Chicken Breast: We tried chicken twice. The first came to the table seemingly overly fatty. The second order we received was far superior. This was obviously straight from the grill, it was moist and juicy. We would have ordered more but were stuffed to the gills by the third round.
Pork: Akin to our chicken experience. Our first round of pork was a little on the dry side. A later second attempt yielded a superbly juicy and tender meat. This made me wonder if sitting at the front of the restaurant closer to the grill would be the ideal tables to reserve.
Not that any of the above was bad, but the fresher of the grill examples were that much juicier and flavorful. Given a second visit, I wouldn’t accept every order of meat that wended its way to me, I would simply be a bit choosier.
Ham: A little forgettable I thought. Simply a large ham with slices shaved off on request. I’m not a huge ham fan at any rate, my father in law seemed to be impressed though.
Sausage: Smoky and spicy sausage slices. A chorizo style sausage which I did not expect, a very enjoyable surprise.
Garlic Steak: Whilst the flavor was pleasant, I found this a little tough. This was outclassed by the other two beef items we tried.
Top Sirloin + Tenderloin: Both were juicy, flavor packed slices of meat. The tenderloin in particular was cooked beautifully rare in parts. These two items were probably the tables’ favorite, creating many happy faces.
Pineapple: Much fuss seemed to be made over the pineapple in various reviews we had read. Personally, both myself and Wendi thought it tasted pretty much as expected, grilled pineapple on a stick.
Not that it was bad mind you, it was quite tasty. I think many people might find grilled pineapple a novelty, we grill it at home regularly every summer, so we may just be more used to it.
They also state they serve lamb, chicken wrapped in bacon, pork ribs and pork loin. We didn’t see these ourselves. Most likely, these selections drifted by whilst we were ‘set to red’ and devouring the meat we had already stockpiled.
Intriguingly, chicken hearts are also available on request. We weren’t brave enough to order a full skewer ourselves. A couple to our left did order some just as we finished. Sadly we weren’t around to see them arrive; and more importantly to ask for a bite!.
Service was largely excellent, save for one slight grumble. When meat is served, it is done so two ways. Smaller individual pieces like chicken breasts or sausage are skimmed off the skewer and placed on your plate for you by the server. For larger pieces (pork, ham, beef, pineapple) the server shaves a slice off the larger mass. It is then up to you to then use a pair of small tongs to pry the meat from the larger mass, thereby preventing it falling to the table. The two following pictures demonstrates each respectively:
The single problem with service was the first encounter we had with a hunk of meat that required prying off with tongs. We hadn’t quite grasped the tongs idea, nor had we been fully explained what they were actually for. A server arrived at our table, we looked at him, him then at us, nada. Naturally he saw we were confused, but rather than say “You need to use the tongs to grab a slice of meat” he merely pointed his skewer at a pair of tongs on the table and grunted.
Once we had learned the trick of the tongs, it was easy sailing, and the subsequent service was great. All the Passadors were friendly and amiable, if a little hurried. The manager stopped by our table at one point to say hi and check in, always a welcome touch. Our main server who explained the eating process, brought desert, and took care of our bill was also very polite and friendly. We were all surprised when we learnt it was only his second day.
The meal ended with Tiramisu ($4.25):
Desert at Braza Grill is not included with the $18.95 fee and is an extra cost. Our experience suggests it may also be an afterthought. Deserts are presented to the table on a wheeled out trolley, replete with plastic replica examples. These always fill me with wonder, I imagine factories of people churning out fake plastic desert replicas. I could go on, but I digress.
It’s likely that the deserts are bought in from an outside supplier. Wendi noted that the Tiramisu was of frozen origins, as it was not quite thawed in places, but nice enough nonetheless. We all shared a few bites of the desert, but were quite full from the main meal.
I frankly really enjoyed the meal at Braza Grill and will definitely go again, Wendi was less keen, but agreed the service and food were good. The notion of endless grilled meats is a sure fire winner for me. Wendi, as a lapsed vegetarian, would prefer a more balanced meal that was also more structured.
I also found the meal to be a great value. We happened to have a $10 discount coupon (from a mailer we received in the post, Hometown Values I think). Dinner for four with two drinks, desert, tax and 20% tip came to roughly $100. The discount coupon certainly helped, as did the free corkage, but I still think $18.95 is a great deal for all the lovely grilled meat.
I should mention a further option we didn’t take advantage of. The Braza Grill website states “Fill a to-go box at our Salad Extravaganza, and then receive 2 slices of a selection of meats to take with you too!”. I didn’t quite believe it myself but saw many patrons do just that as they left. Which means for the princely sum of $18.95 your going to get a filling and tasty dinner plus lunch the next day as well!