If you’ve ever been to a the Brazilian steakhouse before, you know the drill: Go light on the salad bar and hot food buffet. The big show at rodizio dining is the nonstop serving of meat and seafood at your table.
You don’t want to be waving away a server bearing a giant skewer of seared lamb because you stuffed yourself on pasta shells and potato salad.
Our Gourmet and his Lovely Dining Companion recently visited Gauchos Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse on Lowell Street in Manchester. While OG has dined at similar establishments in other locales, it was his first time at Gauchos. It was also the first time for LDC since the restaurant changed ownership a year ago.
Owners Ben and Clark Graves, son and father, bought Gachos from Jose Nieves, who opened the restaurant 16 years ago. During an interview last December, the Graveses told the Union Leader they planned to make some improvements. They added Brazilian cheese bread, for example, and recently opened a butchery, but they have kept the basic concept intact.
For $34.99, patrons can sample more than a dozen varieties of meat and seafood. That includes the Market Table salad bar/hot-food buffet, which can be purchased alone for $22.99. While the buffet is fine, our analysts at OG can comfortably conclude next to nobody visits Gauchos for the Market Table alone.
We started our Gauchos experience at that Market Table, which featured plenty of fresh vegetables but only iceberg lettuce for the base. Some mixed greens would have been a nice addition. The wide variety of dressings included a traditional Brazilian vinaigrette, which featured chopped onions and tomatoes and was a refreshingly light choice.
From the hot food buffet, we both sampled the chicken and vegetable soup, which was exceptionally good and not overly salted. OG tried the chicken marsala, pasta with red sauce, fried plantains and the fried yucca. Thumbs up for all but the yucca — only because the OG discovered he likes yucca as much as he likes brussels sprouts.
We skipped the clam chowder and carnitas for the above mentioned keep-the-vessel empty reasons, but we mention them here to note the variety of options for the pre-show.
After a brief period of dining on salad, garlic bread and the Brazilan cheese bread (think mini-muffins), it was on to the main event.
For the uninitiated, rodizio dining — that’s a secret code for all-you-can-eat — involves a novel way to communicate with the wait staff. Each patron has a card near their plate. Turn it on the green dot side for “slice me up some of that prime rib.” Flip it to the red dot side for “I am taking a break because my plate is full of meat.” You’re armed with a pair of tongs to grab your serving of meat as your wait person carves it fresh for you tableside.
We had not even given the green light before a server visited us with a giant plate of salmon. Served with a caper sauce, this flaky, fresh filet was an unexpected top-five entry on our list of this baker’s dozen.
While not an item per se, bacon played the role of best supporting meat on a trio of choices: bacon-wrapped marinated chicken breast, bacon-wrapped sirloin steak and bacon-wrapped pan-seared scallops.
The scallops were clearly the green-card side up winner of the bacon round at our table, while the chicken was on the dry side. Extra points for Ben Graves (we recognized him from the Union Leader story) for overhearing that we hadn’t had the scallops yet and making sure a server showed up at our table to offer some.
We both put the prime rib at the top of our list — our slices were rare, juicy and lean — followed by the salmon and scallops. OG especially also loved the flank steak and the Brazilian sausage (which had spicy kick similar to chorizo). We also both gave high marks for the lamb and pork loin.
For $35, Gauchos offers a great value and more delicious seared meat than you could shake your tongs at. OG would pay a return visit for the salmon alone — which we realize is an odd way to praise a Brazilian steakhouse.