Cuts of beef, redolently steaming as the server carries them on a spit through the restaurant. Stopping at each table to see if the chip is red or green, the server holds out the spit to tempt those with green chips and pull the meat off the spit and place it on their plate, before moving on to another table. This is the Brazilian rodizio, or churrascaria, and it has finally come to Cuzco.
On the edge of Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas Braza Brava Rodizio recently opened its doors. It is on the second floor of a colonial building near the edge of Suecia Street that used to be the ancient road from the Plaza up to Sacsayhuaman lined with massive stone walls.
Braza Brava Rodizio joins a global trend. Brazilian rodizios have left their home in the plains of southern Brazil where gauchos tend cattle and often have a gourd of herva mate at hand, not unlike their brethren on the Argentine pampas. In Brazil the notion of grilled meat served at a fixed price to people who can eat as much as they wish has spread to cities throughout that massive country.
In the last two decades rodizios have spring up in all the industrialized world like flowers after a rain storm. In many cases they were opened, either as rodizios, churrascarias, or as Brazilian steak houses, by Brazilian immigrants eager to spread their nation’s culture and make a buck in the process. In other cases they were started by entrepreneurs who had no necessary connection with Brazil other than the desire to find a trend and make a buck off it.
Initially it was Argentine beef and Argentine steak houses that spread like weeds around the world. But the Brazilian version promised more than good meat. It was a concept, that of the roving waiter, exotic cuts of well flavored, quality beef and other meats, an extensive salad bar, and eating all you can for a fixed price that came together as the rodizio. In much of the world the rodizio is the South American restaurant par excellence. And, the servers often dress in Gaucho costumes making this ethnically mixed worker of the South American plains and cattle herds the iconic symbol of South America.
Of course Machu Picchu and the Inca are another iconic symbol of South America, one that stands as a mountainous counterweight to the enormous plains of the east (or to the unbelievable expanses of rain forests felled to accommodate the world’s demand for beef).
Now a native of Cuzco has taken the Brazilian idea and brought it to the heart of his city. Braza Brava Rodizio stands as a Cusqueñan guard on the edge of Suecia Street against the invasion of multinational and Lima capital into the Inca city. Ironically it does so in the image of the gaucho rather than the Inca. Macdonalds to its right has already claimed the Inca as its own in its design and marketing. So this Cuzco entrepreneur decided to grab the gaucho and the power of the largest country in South America as his own.
Braza Brava was not the first Brazilian rodizio to come to Cuzco. Before it opened in the city’s colonial — and tourist– core, two others had already pioneered the food on the broad Avenida de la Cultura that traverses much of the Huatanay valley and is Cuzco’s main artery.
The space was ample and intriguingly decorated with sparkling wine glasses on tables and cushioned benches against the walls. In the back it has a substantial bar to the side of the kitchen door and above the stairs that rise up to it, it has a salad bar, part of the rodizio code.
On the weekend night we went the restaurant was initially empty but for us. This was surprising. But then the restaurant is very new. It has only been open for a month os so.
The waiters told us that they would be adding additional dishes to the menu that was there for people who did not want the rodizio, eat all you can, meat. As it was, the menu favored basic dishes taught in culinary school.
We first went to the salad bar, while the kitchen prepared the meat. I have to admit to wondering if they would give us a full rodizio since there were so few people in the restaurant. I also chuckled at the thought that the purpose of the salad bar was to fill people up so they would not eat so much meat–lower cost to prevent consumption of higher value. The salad bar was attractive and enticing, but we resisted in order to save room for the meat. However the salad we did have was a bit stale.
In the meantime, our servers brought out a plate of lyonaise potatoes, croquettes, and fried wantans along with three hot sauces. The sauces were as they say in Spanish, were neither chicha nor limonada, neither chicha nor lemonade, that is they just weren’t that good. The lyonaise potatoes were tasty, but we were leery of eating too many because of the impending onslaught of meet.
An the meat did come. Skewers started coming in the hands of our server and as soon as we would finish one cut another would arrive.
At first it was chicken legs, pork belly, barbecued wings, “baby beef”, grilled beef heart, pork ribs, sirloin tip, lamb ribs, house made sausage, chicken gizzards, and the the Brazilian beef cut picanha. The server had told us that they were using local meat because they had trouble getting continuous supplies of Brazilian meat. She also affirmed that within a week or so they would be relying on Argentine beef because it was the best.
Finally beef arrived, then sausage, pork, and at the end some lamb. While some of the meat was good, in all honesty, it was unimpressive. Often the flavors were off and only one of the cuts was tender. One was so tough that we needed files to first sharpen our teeth in order to even begin to eat it.
So, I delayed in writing this review to give Braza Brava a chance to get on its feet since the restaurant is new. A month later our team returned. The same servers were working. While before they were quite attentive, this time it seemed they were preoccupied and were very slow in recognizing us and helping our team.
We came at lunch time, but they were not ready. The invited us to consume from the salad bar but there was nothing there. It took them a while to place the salads there and re-invite us.
This time, the salads were fresher and more flavorful and the meat, overall, was better.
But it seems Braza Brava has yet to find the groove of a good Brazilian rodizio. The meat just does not rise to the quality it should have. Both times we had meat that was tough and off flavored. This was surprising since loin, the particularly tough cut was unusually difficult to eat it was so tough. And, this time the lamb simply tasted bad. Rodizio is known for the quality of its meat and on that the place will rise and fall. We hope the management and owner of Braza Brava will dedicate the attention to bring this place up to the level it should have.
Nevertheless, the place is well appointed, almost elegant, the free pisco sour is outstanding, and the other cocktails are also well prepared, although the mojito did seem off balance. If you just want an adventure, why not go to Braza Brava, but for good meat try an Argentine or Uruguayan grill in Cuzco.