(This post simply expresses the author’s observations at the time of eating. Others might have had better or worse experiences at either place)
We have been regulars at Ipanema Grill ever since it opened a few years ago. Their new location on Cox road is probably only two miles from the house. But when Texas de Brazil opened a little over a year ago in Richmond, VA, a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore like me just had to go try it.
I told HH that: “I know we really like the owners of Ipanema Grill, but we need to keep an open mind. If Texas de Brazil is anything like the Fogo de Chao in Atlanta…" Was I going to switch restaurants to get my rodizio fix?
When we entered Texas de Brazil (TDB), I was awed by the beautiful interior. The stacks of wine behind glass panels were impressive as well. My stomach was fluttering with anticipation. But does the food measure up?
I was beyond disappointed.
Sure the salad bar was extensive. But I could not find anything that was even remotely appealing. Sure the smoked salmon tasted okay, but the all important rice resembled ordinary boiled grains – just filler.
And the meat?
One after another the meat runners came. The HH and I were experts at pacing ourselves in churrascarrias so we knew how not to be overwhelmed and we could sample the meat pieces slowly. There was an odd seasoning to all the meat – HH and I both agreed that it was too sweet which clouded the intrinsic flavors of the tenderloin, sirloin and lamb etc. And the chicken legs were the biggest disappoint of all! I mean, how could one mess up a chicken leg on a skewer?
I expelled a sigh of relief. I did not have to switch after all. For one thing, the buffet was pricey and second it was about six miles from the house. For me, ambience is important but I’d prefer food that can deliver the promise of a great meal.
That experience was a year ago. Fast forward to present time.
About a month back, we were having dinner at Ipanema Grill (IG) with a group of friends. One of them asked us if we have tried TDB – he thought they were really good. I whispered to HH “Maybe we should try them again – maybe they got their act together.” And so that next week, we went back to TDB.
“Remember- open mind.” I told HH as we walked into the restaurant.
Despite so many wait staff standing around it took a while for the waitress to come by our table and take our drink order. And then she brought HH the wrong beer! That set the tone for our annoyance. All this frou frouness and they couldn’t get that part right.
We got up and looked around the salad bar. I took some potato salad (IG also had this) and the rice which still looked like ordinary boiled rice. Both tasted as horribly as my first visit.
They also brought some fried bananas and mash potatoes to the table. I had one fried banana and did not bother to finish it. In IG I could polish off four no problem. The mashed potato remained untouched. Then the meat parade commenced. There was a slight improvement in the flavor, gone was that sweet coating but the meat still lacked the robust taste of perfectly salted churrascarria fare. Even their sausage tasted like ordinary kielbasa that one could get at the supermarket.
Trying to remain optimistic for at least one redeeming item, I asked if they had chicken legs on the skewer (it’s been a year; hopefully they have it down by now).
The waiter who was eyeing the pile of uneaten meat on my plate brightened up and said “Oh the parmesan chicken!”
HH and I looked at each other baffled “Parmesan chicken?!”
The meat runner deposited one piece of leg each on our plate. I took one bite and that was that. I am DONE here!
For a fresh comparison, HH and I agreed to return to IG a week after TDB to figure out why despite the glamorous setting of the latter, extensive wine list and meat variety, we were not impressed. Clearly, the salting technique or maybe the quality of the salt that IG uses is far superior to TDB. The meat at IG can be addictive and you can taste the difference between a tenderloin, a sirloin, a flank steak etc. and appreciate how unique each cut of meat is.
I can sing arias about the chicken leg at IG which happens to be my favorite, the skin is perfectly crisp while the flesh is amazingly juicy with the unmistakable tang of garlic (and I just so loove garlic!). What also sets IG apart is its salad bar. It is on a smaller scale than TDB, but the rice is subtlety – okay maybe not too subtlety- flavored with garlic and the grains have a nice chew to them. The potato salad is not your ordinary farinaceous dish either and it’s actually one of my favorite salad bar items. If there would be mash potato or pasta in the salad bar it would certainly be spiced up with a Brazilian flair.
So what am I getting at: Another reason that the menu at IG works is because there is no disconnect between the food at the salad bar and the meat that is served to you. Everything functions as one cohesive menu.
IG is not without its faults. During slow nights, the meat can come out overcooked or appear to have been on the grill too long. On nights that are hopping you can get neglected by the meat runner especially if they are understaffed and there could be some wait time on their popular cuts like the fabulous filet mignon with that scrumptious grilled layer of fat. But on nights when everything is just right, be prepared for meat-glutton heaven.
In summary, between a big restaurant chain and the local little guy, I’d go for the local guy. I guess there’s nothing like hands-on business owners who regularly go back to Brazil and do not lose touch with the idea that inspired their restaurant. They are not held up by franchise rules; they can choose to make the food the way they please. Besides, IG is a lot cheaper at $27 vs. TBD’s $42.99 (granted that TBD has a lot more cuts and simply bombards you with meat – but really how much can a person eat) and IG's kick-ass caipirinha simply completes the dining experience.
That said, I’d still want to give the Fogo De Chao restaurant that opened in Washington, D.C. a try. Their amazing Picanha still haunts my dreams…