You can’t refrain from stating the obvious about Rafain, the new Brazilian steakhouse in Fort Worth’s West 7th corridor: You need to like meat to thoroughly enjoy the experience here.
The clubby and dimly lit enterprise, an offshoot of the far north Dallas restaurant of the same name and located in the former Patrizio space, offers an all-you-can-eat bonanza of beef, chicken and pork served tableside via roaming “gauchos.”
And a pricetag of $44 per person (for dinner) goes a long way toward paving the way to wearing one’s fat pants the next day.
The setup is comparable to other culinary cohorts (Texas de Brazil, Fogo de Chao). Order your drink — which is not included in the above price — from your server, then head to the salad bar, where numerous palate primers await. A caipirinha ($9), a margarita-like mixed drink that fuses the sugarcane-based liquor cachaca with lime and ice, refreshingly set the pace for the indulgent proceedings.
We moved from our table, which overlooked busy Crockett Street, toward the back dining room to take in the plentiful options from the salad course. A large circular counter overflowed with everything from pedestrian items such as mixed greens and a Caesar salad to the unusual, such as spicy peppers stuffed with a dab of crab; a lovely light calamari salad; mustardy, tangy Brazilian potato salad; and the largest block of Parmigiano-Reggiano I’ve ever come into contact with.
Back at the table, was it my imagination that hungry folks outside were starting to take notice of our ringside repast? Perhaps I hadn’t eaten enough carbs yet. Thankfully, four starchy servings were on deck: cheese-y rolls with a strangely endearing gummy center; polenta squares, fried and warm with pliable filling; fried banana wedges; and a plate dolloped with a mound of mashed potatoes.
Feeling full? You’re clearly a Brazilian steakhouse novice, then, for the main event had yet to begin. Each diner at the table gets a coaster (green for “I’m ready,” red for “I give up”) to subtly signal to the gauchos to rev up their proteinated engines. Once you do this, get ready for an onslaught of flank steak, Parmesan-crusted pork, garlic beef, filet mignon, leg of lamb and more. You can specify your preference for the meat, but frequently, my medium-rare requests resulted in pieces more medium than I liked.
Some 17 skewered items make the rounds at Rafain. Among the best were the flank steak, a flavorful, rock-salt-seasoned, crusty-crusted cut; the garlic picanha, top sirloin dusted with a spicy rub; and the filet mignon, a buttery bite nicely seasoned with salt and black pepper.
If you see something listed on the menu that doesn’t come to your table — for instance, the lamb chops never passed our periphery — ask your server; the staff is more than inclined to satisfy. And we were frequently asked if we’d like clean plates, as if new plates would nullify the amount of food we had just eaten.
Once the meat wave recedes, dessert awaits. The relatively small selection of diverse sweets included key lime pie, flan, caramel cream puffs and chocolate mousse squares. Coffee (again, not included in the feast’s price) was offered and was a much-needed digestif.
Afterward, on the sidewalk outside, my fears were confirmed. You could see inside the restaurant, and the curtains on either side of our table provided a veritable theatrical setup to the whole experience. But maybe that’s just the essence of Rafain, which takes dinner theater to the max.