"Welcome to our third day of business!" exclaimed the server as a quizzical older man entered Brazil Cali Grill in Santa Ana. The restaurant was so new that the bottles of Tabasco on the tables still had their plastic seals. Trays for the buffet line gleamed; the chalkboard remained unsullied by erasures of specials past. And the crowds were sparse, mostly made up of drones from nearby offices who didn't want to brave the lines at nearby Tommy Pastrami or Musubiya Balls and Burgers
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But the workers at Brazil Cali Grill beamed. They aren't just proud of having opened their doors; they know the future is theirs. The past decade has brought thousands of Brazilians to OC, drawn by our surf and MMA industries, yet few Brazilian restaurants exist, nearly all of them either burying eaters in meat or drowning them in açaí shakes. This restaurant wants to split the difference. Brazil Cali does offer a small-scale churrascaría, offering different cuts of meat every day of the week, from turgid, glistening linguiça to a fabulous picanha with fat layers that make each bite a luscious second of life.
But the chefs are also aiming for something bigger. Brazil Cali is a buffet, but trays change depending on the daily Brazilian special. Some days, it can be a cod casserole, salty and tomato-y and perfect; other days bring beef Stroganoff, a Brazilian obsession I've never completely understood but is fabulous here, all about the creaminess and its fabulous meat. A chicken slathered in a mango sauce was just okay; far better is the daily feijoada, the deep beef-and-bean stew you should throw on top of the white rice, the better for each grain to soak up. And for bread? Pão de queijo, chewy cheese bread.
The final bill can get a bit pricy, since everything at the buffet is sold by the pound (there's a couple of standalone dishes, but the kinks still need ironing out). But Brazil Cali already has the essentials to succeed. Go now for a meat fest, but give it time to grow and introduce more regional Brazilian dishes, a fabulous cuisine we still don't know enough about—puxa!
Brazil Cali Grill, 3701 S. Harbor Blvd., Ste. E, Santa Ana, (714) 504-6693; www.facebook.com/BrazilCaliGrill.