Avenida Infante Dom Henrique
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Germany plays Brazil today, and while we still hope the Canarinho can pull it out, Neymar’s injury and Thiago Silva’s suspension means this may be our last chance to highlight Brazilian cuisine before the end of the World Cup. In the United States, as well as Germany, it seems, the idea of Brazilian food usually conjures up the picture of a giant buffet with roving gauchos serving up meat on skewers. Fine cuts of meat are less Brazil-specific than they are at home in the broad swath of land between Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil – the land of the gauchos. Nevertheless, large transnational chains like Fogo de Chão and Texas de Brazil are responsible for popularizing this concept of Brazilian cuisine, which has now gained global popularity. But while we were living in Rio de Janeiro, we were curious if Brazilian steakhouses are the same or similar in Brazil. On many a carioca’s recommendation, we decided to head to Porcão, a high-end churrascaria north of Botafogo bay so large it has its own exit off of Infante Dom Henrique. Turns out, while beef is only a very small slice of Brazilian cuisine (think of fancy steakhouses representing all of US cuisine abroad), the experience at Porcão was very, very similar to those you would find in the United States. There were a wider variety of cuts of meat – Matt’s favorite anticuchos (hearts) come to mind – but overall, we have to say we were a tiny bit disappointed the experience was not more different. Don’t get us wrong, the food was excellent. But trust us when we say when you go to the Texas de Brazil or the Fogo de Chão in Chicago you are are getting basically the same experience (minus the Portuguese, of course).
You know the routine. You pay a set rate for the meal (at the time we went for lunch it was R$110; about 55 US dollars, and then you stuff yourself on the lavish salad bar and buffet. Then, you return to your seat and wait for the roving guacho to come around with particular cuts of meat that suit your fancy. And come they did, as always: every cut imaginable, overall of a wider variety and a bit saltier than you find at US versions. This Porcão was quite large, and seemed to cater to the business executive crowd, who hosted clients and co-workers for marathon meat-eats.
The salad bar, was of curse quite extensive, and consisted of various salad fixings, fruit and veg, a small selection of cheeses and bread. Again – no pão de queijo – basically a food crime against humanity. There were some winners at the salad bar though. We really enjoyed the mango and goat cheese salad. One major difference from the US, though is that at Porcão, there was no fish or chicken – only beef. Now, there was basically every type of beef under the sun, but if you don’t like beef you are pretty much out of luck. Sides were only so so, perhaps a little better in the American rendition of the Brazilian steakhouse.
However, where Porcão excelled was in the atmosphere. Most of Rio does, of course, and you simply cannot replicate it at a strip mall in suburban Chicago. In this particular location, the natural setting also plays a big role. Diners here are treated to a very cool view looking out on Sugar Loaf over Botafogo Bay (above). In fact, we don’t think we’ve ever been to a restaurant with quite so nice a view. So fans of the Brazilian steakhouse experience in the US – rest assured that your beloved meat skewers are very much a Brazilian thing – but you may not get quite the authentic view.