- CHURRASCARIA OBSCURA: Good food, but hard to hail the waiter.
Gaucho’s new home is no stranger to red meat. After all, its previous occupant was Tony Roma’s ribhouse.
But it feels like a bit of a step down for the Brazilian-style churrascaria, like a millionaire having to move into his kid brother’s bachelor pad.
The old Gaucho’s location, on Rahling Road in West Little Rock, was more upscale, with a large, elegant dining room in muted tones. Now it has the feel of a chain restaurant, thanks to the decor and layout it inherited.
That said, the menu has not changed. And while we detected a slight decline in the quality of the food, we’re not sure if the surroundings influenced our taste buds.
Having been to Gaucho’s several times before, we were familiar with the drill. Although there are other options available, the restaurant’s raison d’etre is its all-you-can-eat meat extravaganza. For $21.95 a person, a table can share a host of side items that can satisfy a big appetite all by themselves: garlic cheese mashed potatoes, black beans, rice, collard greens, biscuits and caramelized baked bananas.
But the real attraction is the Brazilian barbeque, with a variety of skewered meats cooked rotisserie-style over charcoal. Servers continuously rotate through the dining room with different offerings, which include top and bottom sirloin steak, lamb, pork, meatballs, chicken and sausage. Each diner has a circular disk that is red on one side and green on the other. If you want to keep sampling the meat, you leave your disk with the green facing up. When you’re full, turn it over to stop the influx.
With that in mind, we noticed the new space has some practical liabilities. Because the restaurant is broken up into different sections with multiple levels, many lines of sight are cut off. That means the servers don’t always notice when your plate is empty, and you wait longer to get the next round of meat. We had to flag down a server just to get started, which is a big departure from the old location, which was an open, uninterrupted room. There, the servers came so often you had to fight them off.
But like we said earlier, maybe we’re being unfair by allowing the previous location to color our judgment. The service during our recent Saturday night visit was excellent, and our only complaint was having to sit 30 minutes at the bar after arriving on time for an 8 p.m. reservation. (The main advantage of the new place is the increased space, which is necessary, judging from the packed house and the line at the door.)
If you’re not interested in the meat binge, Gaucho’s offers a range of chicken, pork and seafood entrees from $13.50 to $18.50, all including salad.
The specialty drinks are very good, and we especially liked the caiprinhia, a classic Brazilian concoction made with lime juice and a sugar cane liquor. The wine list is not extensive, but it is reasonably priced (from $19 to $35 a bottle, unless you want the $65 Chilean cabernet), and it appropriately offers a wider range of reds (since most diners will be eating red meat).
If you have room for dessert, the selections change daily but always include cheesecakes, pies, and other cakes. A chocolate creme brulee we tried was certainly not traditional, but it was rich and well prepared.
Gaucho’s remains a unique addition to Little Rock’s restaurant scene, and although its new location has changed the dining experience somewhat, the quality is still there. Those who never ate at the old place will be impressed, and we’ll eventually relax and stop comparing.
11 Shackleford Drive
Go for the all-you-can-eat Brazilian-style barbeque, and bring a big appetite.
Open seven days a week, with lunch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (On Sunday, the dinner menu is in effect all day.)
Expensive. Credit cards and reservations accepted. Full bar.