Texas De Brazil Churrascaria Steakhouse
201 Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove
SERVICE: Pleasant but still gaining their sea legs
AMBIENCE: Vivid and booming, with a striking centerpiece salad bar and kinetic feel
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday 5 to 9:30 p.m., Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 3:30 to 10 p.m., Sunday 3:30 to 9 p.m. Mall parking outside the restaurant; $47.99 for all you can eat; $29.99 for salad bar only; credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible.
Men with knives are coming at you, one after the other, skewers of steak in one hand, machete-like blades in another. Dressed like gauchos, they look as if they’ve just dismounted their horses — but this is the mall (the Smith Haven Mall, specifically) and they mean no harm. They’re simply looking for the color of the little plastic discs on each table.
“Picanha?” they might ask, if they see that disc is green. “Sausage?” At first, you nod and wield comparatively tiny tongs, accepting slice after slice of steak, lamb, pork loin. Just when you can’t stomach another bacon-wrapped filet mignon, though, and turn your disc to red (meaning: stop), the server appears with a tray of enormous desserts, goading you to eat just a little bit (or a lot) more.
Gluttony is the organizing principle at Texas de Brazil, the first Long Island location of an all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue (aka churrascaria) chain that started outside Dallas in 1998. Wedged loosely between L.L. Bean and Macy’s, it’s a vivid spot awash with natural light and eye candy everywhere you look: a wall of wines here, meats roasting behind glass there, a dried flower arrangement bigger than many people exploding from the top of the salad bar.
The concept is this: For $47.99, eat as much flame-roasted (over coal) meat as possible, and raid the superabundant salad bar ($29.99 on its own) as many times as your feet and stomach will carry you. This is a universe with its own logic, though, and since servers are still gaining their sea legs, here’s some things they may or may not tell you.
- If you tend to be coldblooded, do ask for a table near the meat-roasting kitchen in the back, where blasts of heat emanate. A side benefit is that you’ll have first pick of emerging skewers — sort of like standing near the kitchen at a cocktail party.
- Do come hungry, but don’t overorder. You can’t take anything home, so what you don’t eat goes to waste.
- Do approach the salad bar strategically. While it’s human nature to reach for everything, not all of the salad bar items are created equal. The California roll is surprisingly decent, as is crisp steamed asparagus, a simple potato salad, and couscous with cranberries. The paper-thin pineapple carpaccio is a must, a perfect foil for the meat fest to come. (Also, grab some chimichurri for your table; it’s unlabeled on one corner.) Avoid the tough prosciutto, lackluster mozzarella and bland shrimp salad.
- Don’t miss the hot items next to the salad bar, specifically the moqueca, tender hunks of cod in coconut milk. The much-touted lobster bisque here is heavy on cream but light on actual lobster.
- Do go for flank steak, the filet mignon or the rump cap steak called picanha, fattier and juicier than sirloin. All steaks are purportedly cooked medium-rare, but often less than that. On the whole, steaks and the peppery lamb chops fare better than chicken or pork skewers, which were usually dried out. Those little Brazilian sausages? They taste almost exactly like kielbasa.
- Don’t come on Monday or Tuesday, after a busy weekend clears the kitchen out and skewers are more limited.
- Do pace yourself. If filet mignon is the first thing to pass your table, the temptation will be to front load just in case that gaucho never reappears. He probably will.
- Do use the tongs given to you to peel the meat from chops as gauchos slice it. This is a collaborative effort.
- Do drink plenty of water, because the meats are roasted with copious salt. If you order a drink, do consider the caipirinha, a zingy cocktail of cachaça and lots of lime. Other cocktails were overly sweet. The Brazilian beer Xingu is a robust dark lager comparable to porter, and pairs well, too.
- Don’t assume desserts are included — they’re not. If you indulge, pecan pie and carrot cake are serviceable, while the bananas Foster is a flop.
- If, at the end of the meal, you feel as if you’ve just dropped more money than you ever intended at a chain restaurant, don’t beat yourself up. It’s about the experience, after all.