A churrascaria ranks right up there with teppanyaki and Mongolian barbecue as a dining event for the serious appetite. But these types of establishments often are gastronomical disappointments, making up for what they lack in nuance with sheer quantity, and substituting kitschy atmosphere for a true sense of ambiance. The rare exceptions are those that manage the dynamic of interactive service with truly flavorful cooking. In this regard, Dora's Brazilian Grill is a welcome addition to Shockoe Slip's ethnically diverse offerings.
This 130-seat conversion of a day spa is warm and vibrant with hardwood floors and geometric abstract paintings on the walls. Brazilian accents come in the form of green and yellow curtains, and festive music is kept at an understated volume. The bar boasts a wide range of South American libations including wine and fruit cocktails. One of four owners is always on the floor overseeing the elaborate system of service and offering warm greetings and entreaties to return soon.
Rodizio is a rotisserie cooking method using wood fire and immediate service to accentuate the qualities of the simply seasoned and otherwise unadorned prime cuts of meat. Toward this end many churrascarias operate out of a central open kitchen with a lot of flair. That Dora's kitchen is closed off from the dining room may lead diners to wonder what's going on back there as gaucho after gaucho emerges with another skewer of carne al carbon, but the approach also makes the dining room less raucous and de-emphasizes the theatrics of the preparation. With the yes-no card system in effect you can signal whether you want to be troubled with another skewered morsel of roasted meat or need to catch your breath. Here the suave, sashed servers have lost the traditional Patagonian cowboy attire and look more like cabana boys in their color-coded polo shirts, which may be another improvement on the standard Brazilian grill motif.
After starting with a simple salad served with a creamy green goddess dressing, what circulates past our table are round after round of sirloin, leg of lamb, flank steak, spicy sausage, chicken wrapped in bacon, drumsticks and so on. We sample generous portions of each and find everything to be perfectly roasted. The chicken is as moist as bacon-wrapped anything should be. The beef and lamb are perfectly seared outside and a beautiful medium rare throughout.
You should plan to fast for a day before visiting to make the $26.95 price tag really worth it. But even given what the upper twenties will get you elsewhere in the neighborhood, this is a good deal tastewise too. The black beans and rice, plantains and even the pepper relish are attentively prepared — perfect foils to the parade of proteins crossing your palate.
I'm pleased to see that Dora's recently has entered the lunch scene with an abbreviated offering of its dinner specialty as well as lighter entrees and some sandwich options. The three-meat sampler at $8.95 is an excellent foray into the cuisine, and may allow you to stay awake through the afternoon. The Cornish hen is in keeping with the simple preparations elsewhere and a good option for those favoring a truly light lunch. As with dinner, salad, beans and rice accompany each plate.
Dora's seems fit to make a serious go of it in the Slip. The old adage, “Do one thing and do it well,” most certainly applies here. And if meat on a stick is your thing, this will be your favorite new joint in town. S
Dora's Brazilian Grill ($$$)
1331 E. Cary St. (at 14th)
Lunch: Monday-Friday: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Wednesday: 5:30-10 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 5:30 p.m.-midnight. Sunday: Noon-6 p.m.