By Cheryl Baehr
By Mabel Suen
By Cheryl Baehr
By Mabel Suen
By Cheryl Baehr
By Nancy Sitles
By Nancy Stiles
By Patrick Hurley
Meat. Meat meat meat meat meat meat meat. Meat meat meat meat meat meat meat meat meat meat meat. Meat meat, meat meat meat meat meat meat. Meat meat meat.
"Meat?" meat meat.
"Meat," meat meat.
16123 Chesterfield Parkway W.
Chesterfield, MO 63017
Dinner Mon.-Thu. ...$29.95
Dinner Fri.-Sun. and holidays...$31.95
That's all you really need to know about Bacana Brasil, the churrascaria that opened in April on the outskirts of the Westfield Chesterfield Mall. That's really all I can remember: Meat meat meat until the colors blurred and the room spun. Hours later I lay awake in bed, thinking it would be a really good idea to call the vegetarian I dated in college just to shout, "Meat!"
If you've never dined at a churrascaria, you've almost certainly seen an ad for Fogo de Chão or another Brazilian steak house in an in-flight magazine: Smiling gauchos brandish skewers of dripping meat; one slices the first juicy piece with his sword. I don't know why these ads are so common in the pages of in-flight magazines. Maybe the idea of limitless meat appeals to exhausted, famished business travelers. Maybe a churrascaria is the only thing that can make Philadelphia seem exotic.
The gimmick is this: You sit at your table and order drinks as you would at any regular restaurant. There's no menu, though. Your server tells you to help yourself to the salad bar and the buffet of hot foods. The "gauchos" gauchos in costume, if not in fact wander among the tables with skewers of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and shrimp. (There's salmon, too, but not on a skewer.) One gaucho pushes a cart burdened with what looks like an entire side of beef. It's either the leg or the shoulder; we heard differing answers from the gaucho and our server.
On your table is a disc; one side is red, the other green. When you're ready to accept meat from the wandering gauchos, you turn it from red to green. When you need a break, you turn it from green to red.
At Bacana, the disc is essentially a coaster, and when we first needed it, one of us was using it as such. Not that it mattered. Bacana's gauchos offered us meat after we'd turned the coaster to red. I think one of them was eyeing us even as we ate dessert.
Before you turn your disc to green, you'll be tempted to get a salad, at least. Maybe just a handful of rabbit food to ease your conscience. Resist. You can eat a salad tomorrow. You can eat two salads tomorrow. You almost certainly will eat two salads tomorrow. Trust me: In the days after a meal at a churrascaria, you'll crave greens and fresh, soft fruit more often and with more ardor than you've ever thought possible.
Besides, Bacana's salad bar and buffet offer little of interest. There is a selection of different greens, if you must, though I spotted only three dressings, including one that looked like melted strawberry ice cream. The salad bar also offers a wide selection of (intentionally) below-room-temperature vegetable dishes, grains and composed salads. Nothing I tried rose above ordinary.
The buffet of hot foods includes fried chicken wings. I can't imagine why you would want fried chicken in addition to all of the other meat; if you do, know that these wings are average. There is also feijoada, the traditional Brazilian stew of black beans and meat, which I found bland. Next to the pot of feijoada and a tray of rice is a tray labeled farofa; these are roasted bits of cassava flour meant to be added to your stew. But if you don't know this, there isn't really anyone around the buffet to tell you.
Really, though, you're here for...the meat.
Our first gaucho brought top-round sirloin. Three fat steaks were impaled on his skewer, and the slices he cut for us were thin, medium-rare and delicious by far the best meat of the night. On the other hand, steak heavily seasoned with garlic and pepper was much too chewy. And I say this as someone who doesn't mind a hanger steak with a little chew.
There seemed to be several gauchos carrying skewers of chicken, sometimes wrapped in bacon, sometimes unadorned. Feel free to skip the latter, but the chicken with bacon was wonderfully smoky. The shrimp were shrimp, unpeeled and not exceptionally flavorful.
Avoid the salmon at all costs. It was served in pieces, each topped with some kind of dill sauce. The dominant flavor was salmon that had been cooked a couple of minutes too long.
Both lamb and pork are presented as super-size shish kebabs. The chunks of lamb were my second-favorite meat after the top round, surprisingly tender and with an excellent balance of lamb's natural flavor and char. The pork wasn't quite so good, but it delivered the simple pleasures of barbecued meat.
There are sausages, too. They aren't bad.
The biggest disappointment was that shoulder/leg on the cart. The gaucho carved a few slices for each of us, but most of us just picked around one. The meat was something like roast beef, and fatty OK but unremarkable. Another gaucho suggested topping it with one of the sauces on our table, a thin, caramel-colored liquid with a flavor somewhere between soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. It was fine, but the meat just seemed like such a waste.