Brazilian Food for the “OC”

| September 11, 2012

By Albert Hayashi

GOOOOOOOAL!!!!! When we think of Brazil we tend to think of Carnival, Rio and Soccer, but don’t forget about their native food.  Walking into Irvine ‘s new Brazilian-style steakhouse Agora Churrascaria, a new world appears to unfold.  With 25-foot cathedral ceilings, the restaurant gives the guests an innate feel of being in a large hacienda lodge where gauchos (cowboys from the southern region) returning from herding cattle come to feast on Picauha (sirloin) or Miminha (tri-tip). We were seated in the middle of the restaurant next to the busy food bar where people walked passed us to and from the bar (try to request a seat on the edge next to the wall for improved intimacy and privacy).   Having spent some time down in Brazil , Agora’s modern linear décor seemed out of place but appropriate for the planned communities of Orange County . With the light smell of meat in the air and the background conversations reflecting off the rustic river-rocked lined walls, I began my adventure with Brazil ‘s national drink, the Caipairinha.  The Caipairinha is a powerful drink consisting of cachaca, sugar & fresh lime.

The restaurant offers a cold salad bar, to start the meal,   which features different types of salads and vegetables. There is also a hot-food bar featuring garlic rice, potatoes, chicken stroganoff, seafood specialties and many other delicious items. After passing through the buffet, I dined on a tasty black bean stew called Feijoda, which is the national dish of Brazil .   The gaucho servers circled the guests bringing choice cuts of beef, chicken, lamb and pork, which were prepared in the traditional “churrasco” style where the meat is cooked over an open fire pit and seasoned with rock salt to accent the individual tastes of each cut. To signal the food serving gauchos I wanted to be served by, I turned over the provided paper chip to the color green.  The gauchos move around the restaurant with meat skewer in hand, carrying meats such as lambo de porco (pork loin) or frango (marinated chicken legs), traversing the tables looking for green colored chips.  After receiving a choice cut of meat, I was given the option to continue getting one of 12 or more meats being prepared and served by the gauchos or turn over the paper chip to the color red, which indicates no more meat to be served.  Be careful not to attempt to grab the meat from the skewers as many of the gauchos are walking around with large sharpened knives cutting the meat for you. Between “mini” meat courses, I was given fried bananas to cleanse my palette.

For dessert I tried the classic flan and a mango sorbet.  In addition, I continued on my cultural food experience clAgora Restaurantosing with another traditional Brazilian cocktail called the Batida.  This drink consisted of passion fruit juice, sugar and cachaca.  Agora literally translates to “now” in Portuguese and “marketplace” in Greece , symbolizing both the immediately responsive service and elaborate cornucopia of food.

The Thursday night respectful crowd consisted mostly of families and a few couples.  The dress code for Agora Churrascaria Restaurant is a business casual style of clothing.  My server Herman as well as the gauchos were first rate and made the food experience very enjoyable.  The meals are moderately priced between $19 for lunch and $35 for dinner.  One price includes all you can eat salad bar, buffet side dishes and the circulating gauchos bearing an array of meats.  This is not the place to eat if you are a vegan or vegetarian, but a place for meat lovers.  If you want to know what food fueled the Brazilian athletes to five World Cup championships, give Agora Churrascaria a try.