As the gauchos paraded by our table brandishing huge spears of juicy, caramelized proteins in a non-stop moveable feast, I had a question:
"Can you eat healthy in an all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steak House?"
It was a concern I imagined many a health or diet conscious CTBites reader might harbor, especially if a friend or significant other was suffering a severe steak jones and insisted on a visit to Stamford's new Rodizio Grill, an authentic Brazilian Churrascaria in the space formerly occupied by Houlihans.
When asked, Renee Torres, a Managing Partner of Rodizio (meaning "continuing service") smiled, her eyes brightened, and she nodded enthusiastically.
Pointing over to the vast gourmet salad table imported from Brazil, boasting more than 40 hot and cold dishes, including ceviches, salads, veggies and fruits, she told us. "We source as much locally as possible – depending on the season -- and make everything right here."
Now, full disclosure: I'm not a salad bar kind of guy, if only on style points. But I'd certainly go back to Rodizio's iteration, as I actually have done on both visits there, framing the offerings as tapas rather than a “salad bar.” My favorite: the shrimp ceviche (a South American specialty) which was bursting with lemony flavor topped off with a mild kick. Shut your eyes, and you’re on the beach in Rio.
Standouts amongst the salads were a dilled cucumber and tomato, a rich Quinoa, delicious roasted edamame, and roasted pineapple and coconut. We were also impressed with the refried black beans, roasted veggies, and creamy mashed potatoes. The only disappointments were the mozzarella balls. The seasoning overpowered the cheese and rendered its texture overly mushy.
According to James Layfield, also a Managing Partner, many vegetarian and health-conscious customers opt for the salad bar only, and Rodizio provides lots of leafy choices for them, as well as a reduced price. His other restaurant, The Melting Pot in Darien, skews largely female, and he has been pleasantly surprised that Rodizio attracts a good share of women, who seem especially drawn to the salad bar.
Men come mostly for the meats which are all rotisserie grilled in gigantic ovens imported from Brazil. The slow, revolving spit roasting dramatically reduces the fat, which drips down into holding pans at the bottom of the gas-flamed grills.
Most of the red beef Rodizio serves is sirloin. One of the least expensive cuts of steak (good for Layfield’s bottom line), sirloin is happily one of the leanest (good for diners’ bottoms). Rodizio's chefs trim off most of the fat, and when carved off the skewer in thin 1 ½ ounce servings, a strip of top sirloin (Picana) has a calorie count under 100, according to the USDA. When the cut comes mixed with parmesan and spices (Picana com Parmesao), it’s more calorific… but even more tasty.
Full disclosure: as a steak lover and unrepentant carnivore, I don't much care for sirloin, because the lack of marbling deprives it of taste and juices. Moreover, the cut is often tough. However Rodizio’s rendition changed my opinion a bit. The slow rotisserie and special seasoning lend more flavor to the sirloin, and the thin carves across the grain help reduce the toughness. The kitchen will cater to a request for rare, which is more tender than the medium found on most skewers.
Of all the red meat cuts, the Fraldinha, or Beef Tender, came closest to a “melt in your mouth” experience. The Assada, beef pot roast served with onions, potatoes and carrots, also enjoyed a smooth almost silky texture, and thus was ladled on the plate rather than carved from a skewer.
But Frango, a sweet and spicy skinless chicken, offers a much healthier alternative. It is anointed with piri-piri, a Portuguese hot sauce which is counterpointed with sweet seasoning. In my mind, this South American Classic is the downright star of the show. Health and taste-wise, it’s white meat and sweet heat.
Not as heart friendly, ironically, are the chicken hearts (Coracao), which are relatively high in calories and cholesterol. But this South American specialty (and Midwestern farm favorite) is small, flavorful, and not to be missed. Indeed, our gaucho Asher told us most patrons give them a try.
In addition, the gauchos also bring sausages, turkey wrapped in bacon, glazed pineapple, and lamb (which was not available at both visits.)
The first Rozidio Grill opened in Salt Lake City, where seafood is scant, which explains the lack of fish on the menu. However, Renee and James promised that soon fish would be making a debut in Stamford and would be locally sourced. The kitchen is experimenting with textures that can be skewered without flaking apart.
Renee also pointed out that nutritional and gluten free menus are available upon request.
I didn't bother asking her which of the desserts were healthy. (Full disclosure, I have a sweet tooth the size of a tusk). All their deserts are homemade from scratch on site. Although only six in number, the top choices are Pudim de Leite, a creamy and surprisingly light flan, a chocolate cake topped with ice cream, bananas and sauce that give a new dimension to “decadent,” a flight of fruity tropical Brazilian Cremes, and Torta de Limao, an amazing Brazilian lime pie with a classic crunchy graham cracker crust.
These desserts, as well as coffees and drinks are served ala carte.
During both visits, one on a weekend, another on a week night, the room was teeming with laughter and conversations. The convivial gauchos literally connect with everyone at the table. Indeed, the room seemed full of what Brazilians call Alegira. Joy.
With some discretion and restraint, diners can actually eat as smartly as at most restaurants. Or they can go crazy and gorge to their heart’s content, if not its health.
The price points are quite reasonable for a steak house and far less than Brazilian Churrascarias in New York City. There’s also a deep discount for youngsters.
FULL RODIZIO (appetizers, unlimited salad bar and meats) LUNCH 19.99 DINNER 34.99
SALAD BAR (unlimited Salad Bar) LUNCH 13.99 DINNER 22.99
Desserts and Drinks ala carte.
5 Broad Street