I write this with a distended tummy, a noticeable belly bulge that I didn't have an hour before I went to Texas de Brazil. It's an inevitable consequence of not only this trip to this churrascaria, but also any trip to any churrascaria. Why do I always end up consuming more meat in one sitting than I do in a week? Well, it's a matter of accounting: I paid $50, so how many pounds of cow must I eat before I tip the balance sheet to my favor?
The gauchos who came to my table bearing gigantic skewers of steak and carving machetes were more than happy to help me try to recoup the costs. Beef, lamb, pork, and chicken covered in Parmesan and wrapped in bacon. That one charred. That one bloody. Did I taste that already? Well, maybe just another slice, and sure, I'll try a sausage link.
And then there's the buffet, with cheeses, charcuterie and hot foods in chafing trays. And the cinnamon sugar-covered fried banana that they told me is supposed to be a palate cleanser. And the pão de queijo, baskets of cheese bread whose chew is somewhere between a fried mozzarella stick and a just-baked Pillsbury crescent roll. I knew they were all just insurance policies the restaurant takes out so that its profits stay in the black, a buffer against the insatiable. But still, I tried all of it.
Texas de Brazil has certainly made its buffet area look irresistible, with all sight lines drawn to the gigantic floral arrangement set on top of it like a Mardi Gras float. It's also the first churrascaria buffet I've seen that offers sushi rolls and an entire cut wheel of grana padano, an Italian cheese favored by Brazilians. But the best of the cold appetizers were the asparagus with a jellied orange zest dressing, the marinated shrimp, and the smoked-salmon steak, in that order. And it was a nice touch that the restaurant offered the Brazilian toasted cassava flour condiment called farofa, even if it gets few takers. And was that chafing tray of black beans next to the farofa actually feijoada in disguise?
Still, for a restaurant that hails from a state that touts its bigness, Texas de Brazil's hot foods area was magnitudes smaller than the one across town at Agora, which was, up until this year, Irvine's only churrascaria. Where I saw meat entrées in Agora's chafing trays, Texas de Brazil's had only four side dishes: the rice, the feijoada, some gratin potatoes, and mushrooms with wine.
There was, however, a lovely lobster bisque that, under different circumstances, I would've gulped by the gallon. And there was the garlic mashed potatoes the gauchos brought by tableside that made the buffet's offering of hot starches kind of moot. It was the only side dish that mattered when I started in on the meats—the perfect chaser to the picanha, a fat-rimmed, C-shaped cut of sirloin cap that might be the best piece of meat Texas de Brazil roasts.
My first piece of it was thrilling: Here was a steak with the exact right ratio of char, salt, fat and ruby-red flesh—the kind of bite that reaffirmed my choice to be a carnivore and made me scan the room for the gaucho to come back with more. He would return, of course—three more times. But something happened with every subsequent piece he sliced off: Each cut was less great than the last. Was it because I was getting fuller by the second? Or were those other pieces actually flat and inordinately chewy? I started noticing that everything else I tried that night followed this trend. There was garlic steak that was juicy the first time, but overdone and sapped of moisture the second. The barbecued pork rib, one of the first meats I had, was succulent; but the pork loin I ate later seemed to take on the personality of leather.
It's possible that as my appetite waned and my belt tightened, the worse everything tasted. But it's also possible that Texas de Brazil's meats were just cooked inconsistently. In fact, some pieces, such as the lamb chops, were glaringly overdone no matter when I had it. Also, the sausage was inedible, a sodium bomb so shockingly salty I downed an entire glass of water to counteract its effects.
As the evening wore on, I also noticed inconsistencies in the service. While the meat-serving gauchos were all smiles, the hostess was cold when we went up to her to ask why our OpenTable reservation was marked as a no-show. By the end of the night, I realized I was no longer enjoying myself. Trying to recoup the amount I paid by overeating was a bad idea . . . but try telling yourself that when you're there.
Texas de Brazil, 13772 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 209-1500; www.texasdebrazil.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 5-9:30 p.m.; Fri., 5-10 p.m.; Sat., 4:30-10 p.m.; Sun., 4-9 p.m. Dinner for two, $100, food only. Full bar.