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Latin Quarter Churrascaria

Latin Quarter gaucho

Scott talks with 90.7's Nicole Creston about churrascarias in Central Florida. You can hear Scott's WMFE-FM segments Fridays at 5:45 p.m. or Saturday mornings at 9:35. Or, click this link to listen to current and past podcasts.

Central Florida now has more than its share of churrascarias, the all-you-can-meat glutfests that remove even the exertion of having to leave one’s seat to go get more food.

For the uninitiated, a churrascaria is a Brazilian steakhouse wherein servers, called gauchos, circulate the dining room carrying large skewers of meat products to slice and serve directly onto the plates of gorging patrons. Rodizio is another term that is often associated with this type of service, although in rodizio style restaurants there are no skewers.

I recently wrote about the opening of Fogo de Chao, which, along with the older Texas de Brazil, offers a high-quality churrascaria experience. The meats are first rate and cooked (and seasoned) beautifully; the staff is experienced and professional, following the proper guidelines for safely serving the foods; and the salad bars, the one time guests will be required to leave the comfort of their chairs, are temptingly stocked with various salads, meats, cheeses, soups and other items that should but never do fill the guests up.

Frankly, I don’t see how churrascarias make money. Fogo, for instance, charges $42.50 for an adult. A roomful of average-waisted guys on the Atkins Diet could wipe the place out. But, they seem to thrive.

And last year, Latin Quarter, the pan-Latin-American restaurant and nightclub at Universal’s CityWalk, converted its upstairs dining space into a churrascaria. I finally got around to giving it a try, and while it does some things nicely and has some uniqueness (women gauchos, a rarity), I left largely underwhelmed.

The salad bar has fewer offerings than most other restaurants of this type. That shouldn’t be a point against it, I admit, but as a comparison it must be noted. It had a decent black bean soup, grilled asparagus, mixed olives, blandly grilled portobello mushrooms and sushi (!). There are also the various cured meats, cheeses and, traditionally for churrascarias, the only chance for seafood, here a salmon.

Everything was good enough, and in retrospect I wish that I had stuck with the salad bar as my dinner (it is an option at $19.99, compared to $36.99 for salad bar and meats). But I did see an egregious violation of sanitation practices at the salad bar.

Latin Quarter saladMy guests and I were among the first to dine on the evening I visited, and the bar was nicely displayed, none of the food had been dug into yet. And sitting atop many of the items were tongs that had been placed there by staff members. Tongs, of course, are utensils used to prevent one’s hands from coming into contact with the food. But if the handles of the tongs are lying on top of said food, it’s pretty much the same as having someone reach in and grab a fistful of salad greens, or whatever. 

You’d think it would be otherwise in an enlightened society, but an astonishingly large number of people still don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. They pick up a pair of tongs, they contaminate the tong handle. They place the tongs on top of the food, they contaminate the food. What is there not to understand about this?

For their part, the gauchos followed the proper sanitation guidelines. (It’s imperative that the gauchos’ skewers not touch a diner’s plate for the same cross-contamination reasons.) I just wish what the gauchos were serving had been better.

I have no qualms about the quality of the meats, which included lamb, filet mignon, flank steak, pork tenderloin, chicken legs and sausages, among others. But the seasonings seemed to be either salt or garlic, and lots and lots of either. Several days later and I still taste salt.

The best thing offered was a grilled pineapple, which is traditional in Brazil but something I’ve not seen at any of the other local churrascarias. The whole pineapple is skewered, just like the meats, and slathered with butter and cinnamon (no garlic or salt!). When it’s grilled, it forms a lovely caramelized coating. It’s a terrific palate cleanser between meats. How I wish it had been offered first instead of last!

Latin Quarter Churrascaria is open for dinner daily. Here is a link to the restaurant’s CityWalk page. The phone number for reservations is 407-224-3663. (The first time I called the number it rang more than 10 times before someone answered and immediately hung up.)

Latin Quarter server

Women gauchos are rarer than the beef at churrascarias.

Latin Quarter grill

The grill area is visible from the salad bar area. Pretty, no?

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Friday, 19th December 2014

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