Nestled in an office park next to Tyson’s, Chima Brazilian Steakhouse was packed on a recent Thursday night. Walking in – you get the strange feeling that you may be attending a party at a James Bond Villan’s House. Sleek decor with a 70′s mod feel and thumping music greeted us. After a minute or two we were able to find a seat at the bar, and were treated one of the best Caipirinhas I have had in the states. The caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil – all Cachaca (a liquor distilled from sugar cane – similar to rum), lime juice, ice and sugar. This version was made from scratch in front of us and was beautifully tart, sweet and strong all at the same time. Unfortunately – we ended up enjoying our drinks in silence, watching hockey highlights as it was too loud in the bar to carry on much of a conversation.
Moving to our table, we were delighted to find the dining room was a bit quieter. Our eager waiter greeted us and prepared to explain the concept of a churasscaria to us. Any proper Brazilian Churrascaria uses the Rodizio concept – usually featuring a prix fixe menu offering access to a hot and cold salad bar, and numerous cuts of grilled beef, pork, lamb, chicken and even fish served by circulating servers. In Brazil this style of service is popular and can be found in Italian restaurants (think pizza and pasta) as well as steak houses. The servers are dressed as Gauchos (cowboys) from the south of Brazil, men known for their love of grilled meats and skill in cooking over a fire.
To start our meal we were treated to a batch of Pao de Queijo, or – cheese bread. This traditional snack is made with manioc flour, eggs, milk, oil and plenty of cheese. The resulting puff is slightly crunchy on the outside, but soft and chewy inside. They are delicious, but save room for the main attraction!
To really start your meal, you need to make a move to the salad bar… It seems almost unfair to call it a ‘salad bar’, because the reality of it is so much better than any image you may conjure in your head when you hear those words. You CAN get a traditional salad if you are so inclined, but try out some of the other dishes that are artfully displayed along the expanse of the table. Examples include – but are not limited to: marinated peppers, shrimp salad, hearts of palm, various cheeses, prosciutto, asparagus, salami, smoked salmon, calamari salad and carpaccio. You will also notice a bank of hot dishes – those in the know will finish their salad/appetizer plate first and go back to serve themselves hot rice, black beans and farofa (fried, seasoned manioc flour that meat is traditionally dipped in) just before they give the servers the go-ahead to bring the churrasco around.
The busy gauchos weave between the tables with several different cuts of beef, sausage, chicken, two lamb preparations, pork and even fish (swordfish and salmon were both offered during our visit) – all flamed grilled . You signal that you are ready for the churrasco by using a little disc – orange means “Bring it on!” while black means you are taking a break or finished (traditionally this is a green/red proposition, but as long as the servers know what you want who cares what colors are used!). Be prepared for the eager servers to keep coming around (frequently!) until you decide to take a break. Each gaucho will let you know what they are offering, and if you are interested, will carve a sample to your desired degree of done-ness. It is considered good manners to help by taking the carved meat with your tongs (provided with the other utensils on your table) and moving it to your plate. It is also worth noting that you should only take a little of any one thing at a time – this is so you can try everything, but also so you can get seconds of your favorites!
My two favorite cuts of beef were the Picanha and the Fraldinha. Both are Brazilian cuts that are simply seasoned with salt. The Picanha is a lean steak covered with (and cooked with) a fat cap which bastes the meat and keeps it moist and flavorful. This cut is known in the US as tri-tip or sirloin cap, but the fat is usually trimmed before this comes to market here. The Fraldinha is explained on the menu as flank steak and has also been described as the Sirloin Flap, but this is really more like a hangar steak, with a deep meaty flavor that I adore. The chicken thighs and lamb chops were other stand-outs of the rodizio – each perfectly seasoned and cooked to showcase the best of what each meat can be.
There ARE dessert options – but who has room? We finished with espresso and left very happy customers. If you have not experienced a Brazilian Steahouse, give Chima a visit, if you are already an aficianado - they will not disappoint.
8010 Towers Crescent Dr.
Tyson’s Corner-Vienna, Virginia 22182