Myrtle Beach’s Gauchao’s sets up shop in Wilmington
Gauchao’s Brazilian Steakhouse Churrascaria
6317 Market Street
(910) 399-6228 • Price: $$$
Bottom line: Gauchao’s has a cool concept but poor execution.
I am not a fan of chain-style restaurants. Please, consider that whilst reading this review. Really, I loathe them. In my defense, I didn’t choose to hate them at random. I didn’t put these restaurants in a hat with mosquitoes, flat tires, and people who talk during movies and just happen to draw the restaurants. Chain restaurants often have bland, lifeless menus—dishes made by a committee rather than a chef. They often ignore local products and produce—a commitment to standards and practices over customer satisfaction.
Unfortunately, a number of these reasons are displayed at Gauchao’s, the newly opened Brazilian steakhouse located in Ogden on a particularly busy chunk of Market Street. Even the simple research one must do before endeavoring to review a restaurant sparked my ire. Just check their website, www.gauchaobraziliansteakhouse.com. More garish than informative, it gives only rudimentary data. Diners who wish to know more will have to set foot on the property. Though it bills itself an “authentic churrascaria,” having never been to Brazil, I cannot state with any certainty this is correct. But I sincerely have my doubts.
For anyone unfamiliar with the style of service offered in a churrascaria, dinner consists of two basic parts. First comes the salad bar. “Salad bar” is something of a misnomer. The four-sided apparatus is well-stocked, but only one of the four sides carries the accoutrements of salad. The other three are laden with bread, artisan cheeses, sushi, mashed potatoes, black beans and even broiled salmon. It isn’t quite as bizarre or unsettling as seeing brownies on the salad bar at Harris Teeter, but it is at least a little strange.
The salad bar proves to be inoffensive, though during my visit the gouda clearly sat out in the air a little too long. It was saved by the bread, which offered a pleasant mix of crusty and doughy. While the Brazilians aren’t known for their sushi, for a restaurant which doesn’t specialize in seafood, I can’t say it was bad. And the broiled salmon was probably one of the evening’s highlights.
However, churrascarias are known for their second course. Waiters bring meats on skewers and slice them tableside. In the case of Gauchao’s, 15 different meats navigate the dining room. Lamb, pork, beef and chicken are whisked from the kitchen by highly efficient staff. Patrons are given small cardboard disks to signal them: green on one side to beg for more and red on the other to beg for rest. The novelty of this style of service doesn’t wear off as quickly as one might imagine. Still, novelty can only mask so many flaws.
Just because a restaurant lets diners try 15 different items doesn’t mean everyone will like 15 different items. I found most offerings disappointing. Multiple beef dishes arrived routinely under-seasoned and overcooked, including both the top and bottom sirloin. If the garlic steak had any garlic on it, I remained blissfully unaware. The pork ribs had such a high gristle-to-meat ratio that, for a moment, I couldn’t believe I was still in North Carolina. Surely we have better pork to offer!
The picanha, billed as a signature steak dish of Brazil, arrived at my table twice. The first was dry and overcooked, with little seasoning to recommend it otherwise. I tried two bites and pushed it aside, knowing full well it wasn’t getting any better. When a second waiter arrived minutes later and offered me the picanha before I could object, I received a beautiful slice of mid-rare beef, juicy and succulent. I appreciate their never-give-up approach, but that kind of inconsistency doesn’t impress me.
One high note proved to be the chicken drumsticks. Moist and flavorful, the meat cascaded off the bone. Should I find myself back at Gauchao’s, I’ll be telling the chicken-leg guy to remember where I’m sitting—and to come back early and often.
Pleasantly, I was deceived by the dessert menu. I selected something called “Papaya Cream,” and expected some form of custard. It wasn’t just a concoction of my mind—the photo on the menu implied as much. What I received seemed more like nearly-melted papaya ice cream. The consistency proved strange, but likely because we north of the equator don’t have any dishes of that temperature and texture. The sensation was odd, but I rather liked it.
Gauchao’s dining room is beautifully appointed and as clean as I’ve ever seen. That’s particularly impressive considering they’re not just handing people plates at the tables. Establishments with salad bars routinely feature messy floors. It isn’t their fault. When children and careless adults prepare their own plates, likely a mess will ensue. Not so at Gaucho’s. And the copper sunburst sculpture hanging over the salad bar is a marvel rarely seen in local restaurants. It’s worth a look.
In addition, the staff couldn’t have been more gracious or helpful. If anything, they tried too hard. At least three times my silent request to stop receiving new slices of meat were ignored as servers offered cuts in spite of the red disk prominently displayed on my table. This in no way upsets me, as I was still free to say no. I hope I never become so jaded that merely saying a few words to a waiter feels like a chore.
While reasons for a restaurateur to be proud are not reasons for a patron to frequent his establishment, the $33 price tag seems rather steep for the unimpressive and the mediocre.