In the culinary spirit of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I checked out the newly opened Galpão Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse in Napa a couple weeks ago for lunch. The opening staff were brought in from HQ in San Antonio TX and from Brazil. Their service was more confident and knowledgeable than usually found at new spots and the Portuguese accents added to the ambience.
The full 17 meats (beef, chicken, pork, lamb and salmon) from the rodizio are served, not skimping for lunch service, as well as a salad bar and hot side dish buffet. Lunch price is $37.50 per person vs. $57.50 for dinner. I tried my best to sample all the meats and managed to try 13 of them over about 90 minutes before I had to move on to the rest of my day. A color brochure on the table illustrated the meat dishes to make it easy for me to keep track.
After a quick scan of the salad bar, my strategy was to tread lightly there to leave room for the main event. Best bite from the 40+ item salad bar was the steamed asparagus. Hearts of palm were oddly tough and tinny tasting. I mean, I can buy better canned heart of palm than that at the supermarket, and it was weird that this Brazilian specialty was not of better quality. Rubbery French green beans, steamed rice that was dry and crunchy from the heat of the chafing dish, black beans with pork that had little flavor also missed. No kale, sliced oranges or farofa to accompany the beans. Roasted sweet peppers and deviled eggs were fine. What looked like cubed potato salad turned out to be chicken turned snowy white with mayonnaise. The buffet also included prosciutto, salame, cheeses, including a wheel of parmesan, fruits, soup of the day, and a variety of salad greens and the usual toppings and dressings that I did not try.
Then I turned my service card to the Green side to signal the gauchos circulating the room with skewers of roast meats and the onslaught began. A basket of warm pão de queijo (cheese bread), fried bananas, a mountain of cheese-topped mashed potatoes, jalapeño hot sauce, and chimichurri appeared on the table. The puffy cheese bread might have been the best thing of the meal, much more delicate than typical. Generally the meats were prepared competently, not oversalted, and perked up when accented with the two sauces. However, the big problem was that nearly all were served well-done whereas I’m a rare kind of gal. This worked for the beef short rib that turned out to be my favorite cut, but the other meats --- filet mignon, rib eye, lamb chop --- were a waste of good meat cooked to death like this. In some cases I was able to wait until a new batch came out from the kitchen and could ask for a rare slice, but eventually I ran out of time. I did like the spicy picanha for its tasty crusting and pink middle. On the other hand, the chicken drumstick had an off, sour taste to it and mushy texture.
One disappointment was that chicken hearts were not available. I mentioned this to a couple staffers who said they've been hearing this from other customers. Apparently one returned with his own skewer of hearts and the kitchen grilled them for him. I felt guilty leaving a big pile of uneaten meat on my plate. I did ask if I could take the mashed potatoes that I'd hardly touched, the squishy fried bananas and the rest of my pão de queijo with me. My server was able to box up three of the pão for me.
On the way out, I stopped by the kitchen to peer through the pass at the grilling operation. The meats are cooked over Lazzari mesquite charcoal. I also noticed stainless steel tanks for an on-site brewery. There were some large parties that day having a good time. Galpão Gaucho would be a good spot for entertaining a big group at a fixed price. The restaurant has a large bar and lounge area. The three TVs in the bar will be showing the Olympic games, and this would be a fun spot for viewing while enjoying a caipirinha and appetizers.
Galpão Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse
1990 Trower Ave
Napa, CA 94558
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