By: Valerie Westen Furr
Miami is known for its exotic Latin culture, which reaches out to stimulate our five senses. The music, dancing and art that can be found locally makes visitors and residents feel as if they stepped into a club or gallery in Central or South America, but the experience is topped by the flavors brought to us by the multitude of restaurants in the area. Cuban and Colombian delicacies are often the obvious choices, but the local Brazilian steakhouses also bring us traditional cuisine reminiscent of the popular churrascarias of the homeland. Although there are many vegetarian choices offered in these restaurants, meat is always the focus on the menu. The churrasco-style cooking resembles the American barbecue, but nothing compares to the personalized service and the rodizio presentation – food served on long skewers from which you can choose your preferred meat. This one-of-a kind dining experience was inspired by the cooking style that gauchos (cowboys from southern Brazil) used centuries ago when they cooked their meals over campfires in the pampas (the plains where they herded the cattle). Today, in the churrascarias, the term “gaucho” refers to the chef and server who will come to your table and offer you meat or succulent dishes on demand. Whether you’re in the mood for an elegant and sophisticated dining experience, or casual yet delicious lunch break, the area offers several options that will send your taste buds on a gastronomic journey to Brazil.
Two of the most popular churrascarias in the area are located in South Beach. Fogo de Chao, which means “campfire” in Portuguese, offers an elegant atmosphere and impeccable service for lunch and dinner. Part of an original Brazilian chain of steakhouses founded in 1979 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the restaurant made its way to the U.S. in 1997. The perfect setting for a romantic date or family dinner, the restaurant also offers five private and semi-private dining rooms for group events, meetings and wedding celebrations. Each of the formally trained gauchos roaming the room holds a skewer of one of the 15 delectable meat choices on the menu that they have roasted over an open fire. Each guest is given a card with a green and red side. When the green side is flipped up, it signals that you are ready for one of the gaucho chefs to begin tableside service. The meat cuts have exotic Brazilian names such as picanha, the most popular cut f sirloin; cordeiro, a fresh young leg of lamb sliced off the bone; and linguica, slow-roasted pork sausages seasoned to perfection. As with other churrascarias, the all-you-can-eat buffet offers a wide variety of cold vegetables, salads, cheeses and other gourmet sides to complement the meats. The gauchos can also provide you with limitless service of traditional Brazilian hot side dishes that include pao de queijo (warm cheese bread), garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas. Fogo de Chao’s full bar serves traditional cocktails, such as the caipirinhas and caipiroskas, as well as a variety of wines – there are more than 300-from all over the world. But be sure to save some room for dessert, as Alceu Pressi, assistant general manager and native Brazilian who oversees the gauchos’ service, swears by the delicious traditional papaya cream, vanilla ice cream blended with fresh papaya, topped with a splash of cassis liqueur. (Fogo de Chaoe, 836 1st St., 305.672.0011; fogodechao.com)
Another popular Brazilian restaurant in South Beach, Texas de Brazil, redefines opulence for a churrascaria, offering much more than the traditional Brazilian rodizio with 60 vegetarian and gluten-free options, and even a sushi bar, satisfying not just the meat lovers. Patrons come for the personalized service as well as the endless food options and views of the marina, but return because it is a company that has a heart, says Event Manager Michael Burstein. “They’re blown away not only by the food, but the beauty of the restaurant,” he says. The restaurant can accommodate parties of all sizes, from a small date to a family dinner to a large wedding party (there is a ballroom). The spacious bar and lounge offers an array of cocktails and 700 varieties of wine. Culinary Director Evandro Caregnato, a Brazil native, designed the menu and oversees the day to day operations between the kitchen and the gauchos, most of whom are Brazilian themselves. Texas de Brazil takes pride in the overall dining experience; the cuisine, the service and the atmosphere, which is vibrant yet relaxed. The name Texas de Brazil clearly describes its concept: a Brazilian menu with grand Texas-style hospitality and service. Reservations are recommended for this popular South Beach destination, which is only open for dinner service. (Texas de Brazil, 300 Alton Rd., Ste. 200, 305-695-7702; texasdebrazil.com)