Today’s topic: Meat.
(Those of you of the vegetarian persuasion are hereby excused.)
There’s a certain category of ethnic restaurant unlike any other that we associate with opulence, excess, gotta-impress-the-future-inlaws, over-the-top carnivorous indulgence.
We speak, of course, of the churrascaria or Brazilian steakhouse.
Places like Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil feature serving implements that look like weaponry bearing unlimited quantities of seared meat. They also feature bills as sky-high as your cholesterol level after your churrascaria chow-down.
Which is where Villa’s Grill comes in. “We’re a neighborhood churrascaria. We tried to make it more affordable, so people can eat here more than once a year,” says Villa’s partner Peter Nguyen.
The “more affordable” begins with the location, next door to a walk-in clinic in a neighborhood shopping center. The spot housed two earlier restaurants, a barbecue place that didn’t last long and, more recently, an order-at-the-counter Indian restaurant. The casual look of the two previous restaurants has been replaced with linen-dressed-tables, a magenta-and-gray color scheme and a “wall of water.” Pretty and pleasant but nowhere near over-the-top.
Villa’s had just gotten its liquor-license approval when we ate there but it had not yet begun serving. The Brazilian national drink, the caipirinha, made from sugar-cane spirits, lime and sugar, will be the specialty.
Our meal began with the salad bar, adequate but not memorable. It offered one kind of lettuce and predictable toppings including cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion slices, croutons, garbanzos and shredded Parmesan. Picking things up a bit were sizable bacon curls and cauliflower pieces prettily dressed with green herbs. A pickled, chopped veggie relish with a vinegary punch was our favorite item. Our server brought baked bananas (a surprisingly welcome sugary treat) and a basket of tiny cheese rolls to the table.
Buffet-style side dishes included rice with peas, mashed potatoes that looked to be instant (or perhaps they had been whipped into their shiny appearance), a veggie stir-fry and a mild stroganoff-type dish. On a second visit to Villa’s, the side-dish table stroganoff had been replaced with an unappealing biscuit-topped tuna dish that smelled fishy. In the plus column, there was an outstanding black beans dish flavored with generously sized hunks of smoked meat.
Speaking of meat, it was time for the processional to begin. We turned the paper circles at our table to the green, “yes, please” side. The first skewered meat paraded past our table was the Brazilian steakhouse specialty known as picanha, or rump cap. It looked wonderful as it was sliced from the roast, crispy and spicy on the outside, beautifully rare on the cut side and it tasted every bit as tender and juicy as it looked. We immediately wanted another slice, but that’s not how things work. It’s one slice per walk-by.
Next up was top sirloin, again cooked to somewhere between rare and medium rare. Not quite as tender as the picanha, but again good. A savory beef sausage was both peppery and garlickly. Possibly we were just reaching our limit by this point, but the flank steak, more sinewy than either the picanha or the top sirloin, seemed just OK and, after one bite, we pushed aside something called garlic beef, which was individually sized portions of beef that had been over-cooked to a gray-throughout, well-done state. Bacon-wrapped chicken was up next, but we had to pass.
When the server made a pass-through with a whole, spit-roasted pineapple we said yes to a slim slice, though, and we’re so glad we did. It was the perfect contrast finish to a protein-heavy meal.
You should know: For the record, the individual who started Villa’s (there’s been a Villa’s in Irving for several years) is a Brazilian native and knows what’s authentic.
The details: Pricing is fixed. Dinners, which feature eight types of meat, often including Parmesan pork and leg of lamb, are $24.99 per person. Weekday lunches offer four meats and are priced at $14.99. Saturday lunches are $18.99 and Sunday brunch (11 a.m.-5 p.m.), which includes a larger selection of desserts including flan, papaya cream and chocolate mousse, is $19.99.