Call me meat-averse. Mostly (97 percent?) vegetarian. Flexitarian, if you must.
Needless to say, the new Texas de Brazil steakhouse in Washington's Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood held little appeal for me. Even for you, friends, I was not planning to go there. Machete-like skewers of meat. No thank you.
But veterans of this chain and others, such as Fogo de Chão, know that you can decline the meat and just graze from the 50- to 60-item salad bar. (Assuming you are OK with watching a constant parade of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and Brazilian sausage go by your table.)
I realize this sounds like an unfair setup. Going to a steakhouse for the veggies? Isn't that like going to a fast-food restaurant for the ambiance? I waffled until I saw this questionably trademarked boast on the Texas de Brazil Web site: "You will find this is a steakhouse that even vegetarians love®."
(But then the restaurant also claims to be "The Most Incredible Dining Experience On Earth®," with all the bravado of Ringling Bros.)
Well then. You asked for it. Challenge accepted.
As a Brazilian steakhouse rookie, I was a little bewildered and overwhelmed by the glistening, loaded salad bar, for which I would fork over $24.99, plus tax and gratuity. (With meat, the experience is $46.99.) I asked my server for guidance, and with the politeness characteristic of all the staff I interacted with -- even the suited employee who told me "we don't allow filming" as I tried to snap photos -- she took me through the options.
So you want to hear all, or most, of them, too? Lucky for you, I tap-tapped notes on my phone in between bites. (Apparently, there's no prohibition on note-taking.)
In no particular order: Sushi. Cheese: grilled provolone, Manchego, mozzarella, goat cheese terrine, Grana Padano. Asparagus. Zucchini. Salad: iceberg and mixed greens. Potato salad. Tabbouleh. Tomatoes: whole and sliced. Hearts of palm. Pineapple "carpaccio." Green beans. Israeli couscous with scallions and cranberries. Shrimp salad. Smoked salmon. Speck. Salami. Bread. Bacon. Pickled/roasted vegetables: olives, caper berries, beets, giardiniera, cornichons, Malagueta peppers, bell peppers. Mint jelly. Chimichurri. There were also bottles of olive oil and vinegar. What counts as an "item" is unclear.
I was glad to get the tour because only some of the dishes were labeled. When we got around to the hot items on the bar, I perked up with hope.
Lobster bisque? No go.
I eyed the feijoada, a sort of black bean stew. I eat a lot of beans. Sorry, beef base.
Well, how about those sauteed mushrooms? Beef as well.
Surely the potatoes au gratin are -- nope, chicken base.
And just to clarify, none of these were marked as containing meat-based ingredients.
Which, as far as warm items go, left a meat-free diner with... white jasmine rice. The server suggested topping it with chimichurri. (I did. Not bad but not the thing to build a meal around.)
Overall, it felt a lot like being the side-dish-eating outlier at Thanksgiving. Some dishes were underseasoned, some were overseasoned. A good number hit that middling mediocrity that leaves you largely indifferent, neither in love nor in disgust.
There were highlights, such as the spiced pineapple. The chunky Brazilian vinaigrette was refreshing, and I'd take the marmalade-based sauce accompanying the asparagus on just about anything. I could probably have eaten a vat of the goat cheese terrine, mostly because I adore goat cheese. And let's not forget the Brazilian cheese bread (gluten-free!), which arrives on the table warm and chewy. It's bottomless and addictive. I'd vanquished four diminutive rolls before I even knew what was happening.
By the time I'd cycled through three plates of small samples, I was full, no doubt. But a $24.99-worth feeling of money and calories well-spent? Meh. I'd take a well-composed meatless entree any day®.
Texas de Brazil, 455 Massachusetts Ave. NW, suite 100. 202-898-1413. www.texasdebrazil.com.