Friday, May 23, 2008

Estancia Churrascaria

4954 Us-290 W
Sunset Valley, TX
(512) 892-1226

Phew! I never knew one little post on an East Austin Mexican Restaurant could be so controversial. I want to thank all the people that posted comments on the review, yes even the not so nice ones. Laura and I really appreciate the feedback. We read all the comments and discuss them ad nausium like giddy schoolgirls talking about boys at a slumber party. This set was particularly interesting and eye opening for us. I sure made a mistake with my wording, and I appreciate you gentle readers for pointing it out. That being said, I think some of you were a little harsh and misconstrued the intent of the review. I want to personally thank commenter Murphy for sticking up for us. Murphy – In honor of your awesome comment, I’m raising the rating of Juan in a Million to a 10 (as you suggested) and calling it the Murphy Memorial Rating. Right on!

Now on to the real review..

When I lived in Fort Worth we had a biennial tradition of going to a Brazilian Steakhouse and gorging ourselves on meat - lots and lots of meat. We would usually rotate through the different Churrascarias available in DFW at the time, Fogo to Chao, Texas de Brazil, and Boi na Braza. We even developed a meat lingo to describe our meals. A trip to a Brazilian Steakhouse was called a meat orgy. After partaking of meat orgy, you’ll get meat bloat, that full feeling when you’ve had too much turkey at Thanksgiving. And the truly dedicated, the ones who’d eat through the meat bloat will experience meat sweats, a clammy feeling accompanied with the meat bloat. And there was even one time when Zach, an Atkins devotee at the time, ate through the meat sweats and experienced meat euphoria. After finishing 3 plates of meat he had this stupid grin on his face like the hottest girl in the room had walked up and flashed him.

But since moving back to Austin, I’ve found my friends here are a lot more health conscious and generally frown upon the meat orgy. That is everyone but my brother, the recently converted vegetarian. That boy can never get enough meat now that he eats it again. So when he suggested Estancia for a family dinner I readily agreed. He was going to be traveling to The Netherlands on business for a couple of weeks so my whole family collected together for a nice dinner to see him off. I even called my BFF Becky to join us. I’d been busy going out with random strange men (remember the week of dating?) and hadn’t seen either my family or Becky in over a week. I’m a bad, bad daughter and friend sometimes, disappearing into my single life for days on end, popping my head up from time to time to check in. But sometimes the call of male pheromones will lure me away from familial responsibilities into a deep, dark land of fun, flirting, and general debauchery.

So first of all let me tell you a little about Estancia and the whole Brazilian Steakhouse experience. Most Brazilian Steakhouses come in the small chain variety, Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil both have about a dozen locations (mostly in the south, fancy that), Estancia, however, is a homegrown non-chain Brazilian Steakhouse. Plus one point. It is rather unfortunately situated on the frontage road of Ben White (near Brodie) in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express – yes, you read that right – in a Holiday Inn Express. Despite its unfortunate location, it’s been wildly popular since opening its doors. I’ve been there a couple of times and it’s always been full, which isn’t surprising since it’s not all that big. There are a couple of dozen tables situated in close quarter around a huge salad bad. The inside is cleanly decorated and understated. White linens, dark wood chairs, no garish artwork, romantic low lighting, etc.

When you’re first seated, a hunky Latin waiter takes your drink order, and you hit the salad bar. All Brazilian Steakhouses have a huge, well stocked salad bar. Some are better than others. I find Texas de Brazil generally has the best salad bar, but Fogo de Chao and Estancia are close behind. . They all generally offer 3 or 4 different kinds of salad, heart of palms, artichokes, fresh mozzarella, marinated peppers and mushrooms, shaved parmesan, and all sorts of other delectable treats. Estancia’s salad bar is similarly furnished, perhaps slightly smaller than Fogo de Chao’s or Texas de Brazil, but all ingredients are extremely fresh and delectable. It’s really only the small details that distinguish one salad bar from the next. Texas de Brazil has FABULOUS Lobster bisque and I don’t think the others have soup. Fogo has smoked salmon, but Texas de Brazil has awesome salamis and even sushi. To be honest, sometimes when my friends go to Brazilian Steakhouses, I don’t feel like I can handle all that meat, so I’ll order just the salad bar (which at Fogo is $20, not sure about Estancia). But that’s only sometimes, most of the time I focus on the real star of the Brazilian Steakhouse, those delicious, soft, hot, cheese filled rolls. Say what you want about the meat, I go to meat orgies fully intending to eat my weight in cheese rolls. I probably have at least a dozen while I eat, seriously.

But that’s probably not why most of you will go to Estancia. You’ll go there to eat meat, and Estancia has plenty of that. 10 different kinds to be precise. The hunky, Latin waiter brings you a huge plate and a little card that’s red on one side and green on the other. In theory, when you want more meat, you flip the card to green and MORE hunky Latin men descend upon you bearing large skewers of meat. They come in a steady stream until you flip your card over to the red side, and then the hunky men stop coming. I always keep my card on green, I still want to see the hunky guy even if I turn down his offering of meat.

Most Brazilian Steakhouses offer a variety of meat options. Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil each have 15 different kinds of meat which Estancia only offers 10. I made sure to try all 10 of them.. strictly for the review.. of course.. I even stole the “meat brochure” so I could remember all 10 kinds. I’ll go in order, even. Picanha, the crowning jewel of most Brazilian Steakhouses, is probably my favorite at most Churrascarias, sirloin flavored with garlic and sea salt. I’ve never had bad Picanha at any of the Brazilian Steakhouses I’ve been to, I highly recommend it. Alcata – top sirloin – not memorable to Estancia, skip it. Fraldinha – a “juicy cut of bottom sirloin” as the brochure so nicely tells us and boy are they right. This is probably my second favorite cut at Estancia, and they do it better than all the other Steakhouses. Eat some. Costela – beef ribs – eh, these were ok, I eat a lot of BBQ ribs and these were ok, but not the best I’ve had. Filet Mignon – bacon wrapped no less – yum, try it if you still have room, but its not as good as Estancia’s Picanha or the Fraldinha. Cordiero – leg of lamb – ok so Estancia’s lamb isn’t as good as some of the other Brazilian Steakhouses. The lamb at Texas de Brazil is NOT to be missed, but here, I’d skip it. Lobo de Porco – parmesan pork. Again, the Lombo de Porco at Texas de Brazil is probably my personal favorite, here it’s good and worth eating, but not as nice as Texas de Brazil’s. Frango – bacon wrapped chicken legs – tasty but filler. Fogo de Chao’s chicken is better, but it’s a good palate cleanser between cuts of beef and who can turn down anything wrapped in bacon? Linguica – pork sausage – can’t match Fogo de Chao’s. Costela de Porco, ok so I was getting kind of full at this point and didn’t try these. I had another helping of Picanha and Fraldinha. Sue me.

The meat is generally accompanied by a 4 or 5 side items. Sweet marinated plantains, polenta squares, mashed potatoes, some other filler and more rolls. Most seasoned Churrascaristas (I just made that up BTW) will bypass the side items in favor of more meat, but I love plantains and eat as many as I can. Estancia’s side items are probably the weakest part of the meal. They’re an afterthought here. Texas de Brazil’s plantains are world class and Fogo’s mashed potatoes are drool worthy on their own. This is the one place Estancia could use some work. Onto dessert, if you still have room. I like the papaya cream, a light fruit pudding, usually offered at all the steakhouses. I mean it’s light and creamy, and you’ve already consumed about 10,000 calories on the meat, why not go all out and get dessert. They also have a fine selection of flan, cakes, cheesecakes, etc. Blah blah, I know you’re still drooling over the meat.

And here’s the best part about Estancia, it’s only $30 per person while Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil are each $50 per person. Sure you have slightly less selection, but do you really need those extra 5 meats when you already have 10 to choose from?

Bottom Line: Tasty meat, great salad bar, cheaper than Fogo

Estancia - 8.5
Mariah's Note: So I ate at Estancia recently for my brother's birthday. It was oh so tasty. BUT, the next day I, and 2 other members of my party, became violently ill and remained so for several days. I have to assume with so many sick people that we got food poisoning at Estancia. Now, the manager was VERY nice when my mother (who had paid for dinner), went back and informed him of the mass poisoning. He even offered up 4 free dinners (about a $200 value) and refunded half the bill. Still, I thought in all fairness I should disclose this to you all. That being said, I'm knocking their rating down to a 6. Sorry Estancia.
~Mariah Adjustment - 6