So far, the Brazilian steakhouse concept hasn’t worked in Wichita, and I’ve always been skeptical that it could.
The churrascaria of dining style — where gauchos serve gut-busting quantities of shaved meat tableside — is popular in bigger cities, and it’s expensive. A night at Fogo De Chao in Kansas City, Mo., or Texas De Brazil in Dallas could easily cost $50 to $75 a person.
El Gaucho Steakhouse, the restaurant that operated from late 2007 to early 2009 at 8550 W. 21st St., tried a version of the concept, but it didn’t fly.
Now, Chapada Chophouse and Churrascaria, a restaurant that entrepreneur Tad Fugate opened in the old Ted’s Montana Grill space at 2142 N. Tyler last October, is testing whether Wichita is ready for a churrascaria.
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I’d put off visiting the restaurant, mainly because I hadn’t heard much about it — good or bad — and that’s unusual for such a high-profile restaurant.
But when I finally went last week, I had one of the best and most fun meals I’ve had in Wichita in a long time.
I’m still not sure if the concept is going to work here, but I hope it does.
ON THE MENU: Chapada’s menu is a little confusing upon initial examination. Diners have the choice between the all-you-can eat churrascaria, which costs $29 a person and includes unlimited meats shaved tableside, plus unlimited trips through a salad bar that also offers soups and other appetizer-type dishes. They also can order from the chophouse menu, which features several steaks, pork chops, chicken and salmon. A list of appetizers includes beef carpaccio, ahi tuna, crab cakes and more, and a list of dishes titled “plates” includes several sandwiches, steak tacos and a lavosh pesto pie. Salad, soup and family-style sides also are on the menu.
DON’T MISS DISHES: My meal at Chapada was wonderful. I loved everything I tried, from appetizers all the way to dessert.
My favorite was the churrascaria meal. We were trying to sample a variety of things, so I was the only person at the table who ordered it, and I made every other person at the table jealous. I started with a trip through the “gourmet food bar” but avoided the appetizers and soups, anticipating the hugeness of the meal I was about to consume. I crafted a little wedge salad, having found hunks of iceberg precut for assembly, and topped it with blue cheese chunks, tomato and a creamy dressing.
Once my dining companions’ meals had arrived, the meat service began. I was given a plate and a tiny pair of tongs, and young men in gaucho pants carrying large skewers of meat would occasionally stop by and offer me some. The diner grabs the slice with the tongs as the gaucho shaves a slice. Of the seven meats offered, I had six. (The linguica, a grilled pork sausage, never passed by my table.) All of them were excellent, especially the picanha, a slow-roasted beef sirloin seasoned with sea salt. It was deliciously seasoned on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside. I also loved the lombo, a lean pork tenderloin with a salty crust and a perfectly cooked center. The coxa de frango was a skewer of chicken legs coated in a delicious, exotic seasoning. Other offerings — all wonderfully succulent — were a beef tenderloin, a sirloin tip and little bites of bacon-wrapped chicken breast.
My only complaint about the churrascaria meal was the sporadic nature of the service. There were uncomfortably long periods where no gaucho was visible and my plate sat empty while everyone else was eating. That improved as the meal went on, and a manager would stop by occasionally to see if there was something in particular I wanted. But the system could use some finessing.
Of the other dishes we tried, a standout was the crab cakes from the “small plates” menu. We ordered it as an appetizer, and the dish featured two jumbo lump crab cakes served with an almond, apple and radish salad for $9. The crab cakes, perfectly fried and spiked with corn, were some of the best I’ve ever had in Wichita.
Though we didn’t have a bad dish that night, among the other standouts were the steak tacos ($9 for three), made with spicy hunks of steak and a wonderfully fruity salsa in perfect grilled corn tortillas. They came with a side of fejoida, an addictive black bean and pork stew.
For dessert, we tried the creme brulee trio ($8), which featured three small servings in three flavors — coffee, raspberry and banana. Each was decadent, with a perfect crunchy sugar top and creamy, sweet underside.
AMBIENCE: The restaurant looks much like it did when it was Ted’s Montana Grill, but that’s a good thing. I always liked the private booths, the wood accents and the dim lighting. The waitresses wear distractingly short skirts, and the servers’ tall boots go “clunk clunk clunk” across the wooden floor.
PRICE RANGE: The churrascaria meal might be steep for non-special occasion budgets at $29 a person. (Kids can try it for $10.) But the rest of the prices are pretty reasonable. Appetizers are $4 to $11. Sandwiches and tacos are $8 to $10. Unlimited trips through the food bar are $12 at lunch and $15 at dinner. Chophouse items, including steaks, chicken and chops, are $14 to $25.
SERVICE: Aside from our slow start with the churrascaria, our service was good. The servers and managers on the floor were friendly, professional and knowledgeable.