My dinner with the gauchos
May 02, 2016 02:05PM
● By Steven Hoffman
Although I am never one to turn down a good London Broil – grilled medium rare with a superb California Cabernet to accompany it, thank you – the consumption of large quantities of meat during my lifetime was confined to my childhood, when it seemed all I ate were hamburgers.
Gradually, as I got older, my gustatory palate matured, due in part to the fact that I was more willing to experiment with new tastes, ones that eschewed the traditional fast food hobgoblin of a young mind, and locked me into the belief that what I was tasting was a reflection of becoming an adult.
Over time, I put away the foods that came with a toy and ketchup, and began what has become a tableside-kitchen countertop journey into the world of the quinoa, the tapas, the mesquite, the olive oil drizzle, the two dozen kinds of pasta, the rainbow of vegetables lightly sauteed with garlic cloves, and the three dozen methods of preparing seafood.
When I was a kid, I read nothing but baseball magazines. Now, I flip through foodie monthlies that my wife subscribes to, and find myself a half hour later in the international food aisles at our local supermarket, searching furiously for sauces that I can barely pronounce, that will soon find themselves as an accompaniment to salmon or tilapia or mako shark or flounder.
And so it was with great irony, that I found myself recently at the newly-opened Churrascaria Saudades in the Newark Shopping Center, on assignment from this magazine, to profile the tastes, ambiance and hospitality that a traditional Brazilian steakhouse provides.
“Churrascaria Saudades owner and Newark resident Phillip Piraino grew up in Brazil, where he developed a love for the culture and the way that people dine there,” said general manager Damon Eleuterius, who has worked in the churrascaria- style restaurants since 1999. “Over time, steakhouses like this began to pop up, and that's when Phillip decided that it would be nice to begin a steakhouse of this kind here in Newark.
“We're catering to everyone. I've noticed from my experiences that there isn't a group out there who doesn't try us at least once. In Atlanta, where I started, we would have business persons come in during lunch, and at the next table, we'd have college kids who were about to head to an Atlanta Braves' game.”
Within one minute of being seated at my table, I learned that the word 'Saudade' is the Brazilian expression used to describe a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone. The word is used for good reason; Brazilian cowboys, known as gauchos, would roam Brazil years ago in close proximity to a wide open terrain – called 'pampas' – filled with cattle, which would be used to supply food used for 'Churrasco' barbecues, that featured large pieces of meat slowly grilled over open-flamed pits.
I also learned that wait staff at Churrascaria Saudades are not merely there to clean tables and bring silverware. They are educators, and part of their job is to introduce guests to a new concept of restaurant eating. Kate, my personal waitperson, gave me a full lesson of how the brazilian steakhouse concept works, from being instructed to use tongs to help the gaucho guide the sliced meat from a skewer onto my plate; how to use both sides of a paper disk, one side of which is green, which indicates to the gauchos that you are ready for more table side carvings. Once flipped, the red side indicates “Nao, Obrigado,” or “No, Thanks.”
I also learned that within one minute of being seated at a table, a guest can have enjoy one of 13 varieties of beef, pork, chicken and lamb the restaurant provides, all hand-carved by a gaucho.
The meat would have to wait. I visited to the salad bar in the rear of the restaurant, to sample a variety of traditional side dishes such as kale salad, cous cous, bulgar salad, fresh salmon, sauteed yellow and red peppers, and a delicious riced cauliflower salad made with chic peas and dashed with a sprig of South American heat.
Tapping into some of the best vineyards in California, France, Italy, Argentina and Chile, the wine list at Churrascaria Saudades offers wide variety of Rieslings and chardonnays to accompany poultry, and a generous variety of Merlot, blends and Cabernet to please any meat eater. Bottles begin at $18, and in addition, there are 12 wines on tap, and wines per the glass come in at a very fair $5 to $11 range.
The restaurant also enjoys a good flow, which allows guests to have a lot of room to walk back and forth from their salad bar, and its softly-lit ambiance highlights the installation of a three-dimensional mural by the artist Lance Amici, which is made of six large sheets of Birch Plywood that features a 15-foot by 15-foot map of South America.
The next 45 minutes of my dining experience became a hazy and delicious blur – a constant parade of perfectly tender cuts of meat brought to my table by an endless roster of gauchos. I first tasted the Linguica, a seasoned pork sausage slow roasted over an open flame, followed it up with a helping of the filet mignon, and topped off my introduction with the Frango, chicken breast wrapped in bacon.
After 20 minutes in carnivore bliss, I flipped my circular card to red. Five minutes later, I turned it back over to green, and the gauchos returned, one after the other, with Alactra, a top sirloin dripping with juicy tenderness; the Picanha, the restaurant's specialty that featured a lean cut of top sirloin; the Lombo, a Parmesan encrusted pork tenderloin; and finally, the Costela de Porco, pork ribs perfectly slow roasted and nicely seasoned.
I flipped my card over to red for the last time. After a little more than one hour, I had been defeated by my gauchos.
It was then, when I was at my most filled and satiated, that I learned the magic of Churrascaria Saudades: that food is meant to be enjoyed slowly, over the course of a long time. As I looked around the already crowded restaurant, at smiling patrons who had patiently waited months in anticipation for the restaurant to finally open its doors, I suspected that very few of them had anywhere else to be that evening than here.
The full dinner experience here is $45.00, but if you want to just graze on the salad bar all evening, it's a very reasonable $22.50. If you'd like to bring the kids, children aged 6 to 11 are half price, and children 6 and under eat for free. Although the price for the full meal at the restaurant may frighten off those merely looking for a quick bite, Churrascaria Saudades is the perfect destination restaurant for a couple or group wanting a complete dining experience. It's perfect for any special occasion, such as graduation pre- and post-dinners, University of Delaware parent's weekends, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day birthdays and rehearsal dinners.
Leaving the restaurant, I began to think about how far Newark has come in terms of its culinary choices, and the distance of how far its locals have come along for the ride. When I first arrived there in 1989, as an editor at the University of Delaware, Newark was a gastronomic blitz of pub grub. Nachos and cheese seemed to form a mountain range of crispy goo from one end of Main Street to the other -- a grand design concocted by proprietors who wisely knew that their primary target audience was between 18 and 22 years old. In the last decade, however, the Newark restaurant scene has emerged from the myopic to the visionary, and that same stretch of Main Street has emerged as a mile-long connection of choice and experiences. Churrascaria Saudades joins that new chain link of maturity.
“We want our guests to walk away from Churrascaria Saudades feeling like a king or a queen,” Eleuterius said. “We want our guests to walk away feeling like they were given their own personal dining room during their time here, that the service was so spectacular, so over the top, that they would wonder, if there were any other people at the restaurant...even though we anticipate that there will be many, many more guests here.”
Churrascaria Saudades is located at 230 East Main Street, Suite 203, in the Newark Shopping Center. For hours and reservations, call 302-355-5551.
To learn more about Churrascaria Saudades, visit www.eatsteaks.com.