Apr. 27, 2011 - Issue #810: Election
A meaty treat
Pampa is not an everyday restaurant, it's an experience
And though they do have a surprisingly well-equipped salad bar, the reputation of Pampa is rightly skewed towards the all-you-can-eat meat aspect of its dining.
It makes use of a fixed-price dining concept known as "rodizio": for a payment of $45 (lunch is a much cheaper $21, but with less meat selection), you get continuous table service from a fleet of sword-wielding workers peddling 10 different kinds of meat. Hit that salad bar all you like; the meat comes to you, secured by skewers, sawed off at your behest.
The dining room has a very open feel, if also a fairly nondescript one: outside of the glass walk-in wine cellar, it mostly consists of simple tables draped in white cloth, though the large windows make for pleasant blasts of natural light. On a Thursday night that was busy, if not teeming, a friend and I were quickly seated near the window-wall.
When our server arrived, she explained the process: at our table were two little discs, red on one side, green on the other. Flip them to green and the meat service begins. Flip them to red if you want a break or for the meat to be over. While she was there, I ordered the Caipirinha ($9), a staple Brazilian beverage consisting of Cachaça—a distilled alcohol made from sugarcane juice—sugar and lime. It's sharp and strong and surprisingly sweet, the raw alcohol tempered by the blast of sugar. The lime is the least powerful taste here, serving more as flavouring to the sweet/bitter medley of sugar and alcohol.
We started at the salad bar's sizeable, buffet-style offering: different leaves, pastas, fruit and veggies alongside dips and sauces, with a few more exotic flavours for good measure.
When we returned, our discs were flipped to green. And we waited. A little while, actually, due to our position on the edge, though we were both brought chicken hearts, a savoury, salty snack, and french fries made of manioc, a tuber native to South America.
When the meat started making its way past our table, it was worth the wait. Of the 10 or so types, they're all juicy, smoky, well-glazed, spiced or bacon-wrapped as the case may be, all products of the Brazilian charcoal rotisserie. There was a steak glazed with a soft, thick, mouthwatering garlic sauce. Tasty cuts of ribeye. Chicken encased in a bacon sheath proved the saltiest aspect of the servings, whereas the thighs that later arrived at our table were soft and tender. The signature cut of rumpsteak was perfectly rare and dripping with flavour.
But what stood out most for both of us was the sausage: a recipe crafted in-house, the shimmering cylinders had well-deployed cumin to balance out the meatier pork taste perfectly.
It all just kept coming. By the time we were doubling up on servings, we flipped our discs to red—the gorge was over. It didn't feel as gluttonous as I thought it might: though the cuts of meat keep coming so long as you desire them, the slices are small enough to encourage responsible eating. You won't suddenly find your plate heaping with a pile of meat you couldn't possibly finish, unless you really let it accumulate.
Pampa feels like a twice-a-year sort of indulgence for those of the carnivorous persuasion. More than that might be overkill, but kept in moderation, it's the kind of place you'll look forward to eating each time. V
Mon – Fri (11:30 am – 1:30 pm & 5 pm – 10 pm); Sat (5 pm – 10 pm)
Pampa Brazilian SteakHouse
9927 - 109 St, 780.756.7030
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