My vegetarian friends, you can stop reading this right now. I just visited the most profusely stocked, seductively fragrant steakhouse in town, and I'm not even ashamed to say that just thinking about all that salt-encrusted meat makes me salivate a little over my keyboard.
I don't normally frequent chains, because Richmond has too many interesting independent restaurants to tempt me, but I've added Texas de Brazil at Regency Square to my list. Permanently. Here, meat is offered on a grand scale, even an extravagant scale; in fact, what you have is a veritable theater teeming with culinary bit-players but only one very prominent star.
For $39.99 (soon to rise to about $42, half-price for children), beef, Parmesan-encrusted pork, lamb, bacon-wrapped chicken and Brazilian linguiça will fill your plate continuously until you beg your server to stop. An impressive salad bar in the middle of the restaurant sports not only the usual salad suspects, but also dozens of unusual choices such as smoked salmon, fried provolone, Manchego cheese, various Italian salami, sushi, steamed asparagus, grilled red and yellow peppers, artichoke bottoms, marinated mushrooms, black beans and rice, and even a velvety lobster chowder.
Texas de Brazil is a Brazilian churrascaria, a place that combines both churrasco, or meats grilled over a charcoal fire, with rodizio, tableside service in which the meats are carved with long knives from enormous swordlike skewers directly onto your plate by a black-booted, big-pants-wearing gaucho. The stock story goes that this style of cuisine evolved from the tradition of big outdoor family throw-downs centered on gigantic chunks of lots of different meats grilled over an open fire and hosted by Brazilian cowboys.
In its 21st-century, all-you-can-eat incarnation, a churrascaria can span the spectrum from the sleek, ultrahip Porcao, frequented by the Manhattanites of Park Avenue South, to the larger, post-19th-century industrial look of Texas de Brazil in Richmond.
Heavy doors from the parking lot of Regency Square open into a large, dark lounge. Past the looming salad bar and beyond the soaring wine rack, massive gilt-framed mirrors tilted to reflect the entirety of the restaurant flank the truly enormous low-lighted dining area. The red walls, large wrought-iron chandeliers and black fixtures of its interior heighten the drama of shining skewers and flashing knives.
Large spaces can be noisy, although loudness is inevitable when every table is filled, as it is most nights. Online reservations at www.texasdebrazil.com list specific time slots, with requests going in real time directly into the restaurant's booking system. It's all part of Texas de Brazil's mission to make every customer's visit as easy and enjoyable as possible.
To that end, the servers and carvers undergo rigorous training. And although the attentiveness and polite formality of the plethora of helpful employees is refreshing, their transparent training is almost mechanical and just a bit scary. I like eye contact and understand the rote singsong that inevitably creeps into the voice of anyone who has to repeat the same thing over and over all night, but by the time I'd run the gauntlet of well-trained automatons (five people said goodbye to me I counted), I was sprinting out of the open door.
Carvers are mostly Brazilians and transplants from other Texas de Brazil locations. Each mans two skewers at a time, both grilling them over an open charcoal fire behind the glass window of the kitchen and then roaming the dining room with one skewer at a time held high. Here the training is impressive; each piece of marinated flank steak, filet mignon or lamb chop is roasted to medium-rare perfection and surgically sliced onto your plate. A fluff of garlicky mashed potatoes comes with every meal, and grilled cinnamon-spiked bananas act as unexpected palate-cleansers.
If you have room for dessert (provided a la carte), try to resist touching the convincing plastic examples your server will bring out on a tray; they don't like that. Instead, wait patiently to savor the silky caramel flan that puts to shame all the other rubbery hockey pucks that go by that name. You're here to eat, and Texas de Brazil can convince even the most skeptical customer that feedlot dining is worth savoring. S
Texas de Brazil Churrascaria
1420 Parham Road
Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.;
Friday-Saturday, 4-10:30 p.m.;
Sunday, 4-9 p.m.