Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review

Go hungry, and eat slowly at this Brazilian steak house

Estancía Churrascaría

10000 Research, 512/345-5600,
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2pm; Sat.-Sun., 11:30am-3pm; Dinner: Mon.-Thu., 5pm-10pm; Fri., 5pm-10:30pm; Sat., 3pm-10:30pm; Sun., 3pm-9pm
Restaurant Review
Photo by John Anderson

Estância Churrascaria

4894 Hwy. 290 W., Sunset Valley, 512/892-1225
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11am-2pm; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30am-3pmDinner: Monday-Thursday, 5-10pm; Friday, 5-10:30pm; Saturday, 4-10:30pm; Sunday, 4-9:30pm

My first experience at a Brazilian churrascaria (steak house) was in the city of Salvador; as luck would have it, the local outpost of Boi Pre­to Grill, one of Brazil's best upscale churrascarias, was only a block away from our hotel. We were blown away by the abundance of everything. We could have made an extravagant meal out of the salad bar alone. We were so impressed that we returned the next day to "the Beefery" (as we came to know it), so we could sample many of the fabulous meats and dishes we had no room for on the previous night.

Estância Churrascaria in Southwest Austin is not quite on the same scale, but it's definitely an experience worth enjoying more than once. Unlike a well-known chain coming soon to the 2nd Street District, Estância is locally owned by a group of Brazilian transplants. It features a relaxed fine-dining atmosphere, with rustic decor, wood furniture, and subdued earth tones. I was glad to see that the waitstaff is made up entirely of Mexican and Brazilian young men – elegantly dressed in the traditional southern Brazilian gaucho style – for a change not relegated to the role of busboy but instead acting as very professional, attentive servers.

The most common complaint I've heard from first-time churrascaria diners is that they filled up on the salad bar and had no room for the meat, so it wasn't worth the price ($28.90 all-you-can-eat for dinner). Honestly, they could not be more wrong. But to take full advantage of everything a churrascaria has to offer, it's important to pace oneself and pay attention to the explanation offered by the waitstaff upon arrival at the table.

On our first visit, we started with a killer caipirinha ($7.14), the national drink of Brazil, expertly made and refreshing. After taking the drink order, servers direct you to the extensive salad bar, with more than 20 items such as hearts of palm, marinated artichoke bottoms, grilled asparagus, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, varied greens, and a deliciously creamy potato salad, among others. Remember that this is only your starter and not your full meal, so go easy.

On the table you will find little cardboard cards for each guest. The green side says "Yes, please"; the red side, "No, thanks." These are to let the servers know when you're ready for the grilled meats or when you've had enough. Servers appear almost immediately after you turn the card to green, carrying big skewers of meat, which they slice directly onto your plate. At least 12 savory cuts of meats are available, including chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and sausage – all grilled to your desired temperature. The main course is accompanied by traditional Brazilian side dishes of fried bananas, garlic mashed potatoes, yucca fries, rice and beans, and bolinhos de queijo, which are light-as-air homemade cheese-bread rolls. This is the right time to peruse the extensive wine list. As far as I know, Estância is the only restaurant in town that serves Brazilian wines. We tried a different one on each occasion: Lote 43, a rich Cabernet-Merlot blend, and a Reserva Pinot Noir, both from Miolo Winery in Rio Grande do Sul. Outstanding Old World-style wines from an Italian family in southern Brazil, they pair perfectly with the grilled meats.

The most traditional cut of meat for churrasco is picanha, a tender cut of rump steak. They also serve picanha com alho, seasoned with garlic. Other popular cuts include alcatra, a cut from the top sirloin; costela (beef ribs); fraldinha, a cut from the bottom sirloin similar to the Mexican arrachera; filet mignon wrapped in bacon; leg of lamb sliced off the bone; homemade linguiça (pork sausage); pork ribs; and a variety of chicken preparations: boneless chicken breast, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, and seasoned chicken legs. All meats are slightly salt-and-peppered but not overseasoned to let the meat flavor speak for itself. The chicken could use a little less seasoning, but the bacon-wrapped breast is a definite winner.

If you've paced yourself properly, you'll want to taste some dessert. The fresh papaya cream ($7.25) is an absolute must, light and refreshing. Papaya is also a great digestive aid, so it's perfect after indulging in large amounts of meat. The homemade flan ($5.35) is delicious, as well. If you're too full but still want to satisfy your sweet tooth, enjoy an after-dinner liqueur from the selection brought to your table by a friendly server.

Do yourself a favor, and experience Estância Churrascaria. Go hungry, eat slowly, and enjoy. I guarantee you'll be back.

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