Back in the day, when we all could eat more than we can now, my dad was a huge fan of all-you-can-eat restaurants, especially the many Chinese buffets around Miami in the ’80s and ’90s. He knew each one’s strengths and weaknesses: which ones had the best spare ribs, the best fantail shrimp, the best house special fried rice, and so forth. He was a beloved regular at a lot of those places, and even though he wouldn’t consider himself a foodie, it was his quest for the best versions of a dish and the best bargains around South Florida that started your Saboscrivner on my persistent path as a culinary explorer, reporter, and reference librarian.
But beyond the Chinese buffets, the height of luxury was the all-you-can-eat Brazilian churrascaria, Texas de Brazil (https://texasdebrazil.com/), a decadent steakhouse where uniformed gauchos walk a never-ending parade of grilled meats to your table, impaled on giant swords, for you to enjoy until you slip into a meat coma. This was our destination for the most special of special occasions, our most rare and revered restaurant. There were multiple steaks, including filet mignon (some wrapped in bacon!), Brazilian picanha, and flank steak, parmesan-crusted chicken and pork, Brazilian sausage, lamb chops, leg of lamb, and a star player I’m saving for last because it is the best.
Beyond the meats is a sumptuous salad bar, if one could even call it that — one of the most bountiful, bombastic, breathtaking buffets imaginable, where the actual salad is a mere afterthought alongside fancy salami and prosciutto, fresh mozzarella orbs, spreadable Boursin cheese, fancy Spanish manchego (sheep-milk cheese), cold-smoked salmon, chilled marinated shrimp, California rolls, roasted peppers, caramelized garlic cloves, and other roasted, grilled, marinated, and pickled vegetables. You also help yourself to luscious lobster bisque, and the gauchos also grace your table with soft Brazilian cheese buns, mashed potatoes (I usually ignore both of those), and fried bananas served with cinnamon and sugar (big fan here).
Note that all this decadence doesn’t come cheap. The all-you-can-eat dinner is normally $49.99, or you can opt for just the salad bar (which is honestly my favorite part of Texas de Brazil, and would be a fine, full meal on its own) for $24.99. Monday through Friday, lunch is somewhat discounted at $34.99. Still, it’s way too extravagant for us more than once a year (and believe me, we don’t even do this once a year).
But we did last year, and we did again this past weekend, thanks to a very special month in Orlando called Magical Dining. Every September, our official tourism association Visit Orlando sets up Magical Dining with dozens of participating restaurants all over the city, generally mid-to-upscale establishments. Each restaurant announces a prix fixe menu with a few options to choose from: appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and the price is $35. This is a real bargain at most of these restaurants, and it gives people who might not normally treat themselves a chance to try some delicious dishes at new, unfamiliar, and highly vaunted restaurants around town at a discounted price. And best of all, $1 from each Magical Dining bill goes to a number of worthy local charities!
My wife and I rarely take part in Magical Dining. As you can tell from this blog, we generally gravitate toward more casual restaurants, and very few of those participate. At these higher-end places, sometimes there isn’t an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert on the Magical Dining menu that appeal to both of us, and we figure we’d rather hold out for a special occasion and order our top choices off the full menu, not a small, curated list of options. (Of course, you can still order off the regular menu at any of these places during Magical Dining.)
But Texas de Brazil might be the best deal of all, because you get the full salad bar, the full unlimited meats, AND a dessert (which normally costs extra) for the excellent discounted price of $35 (plus tip, of course). That’s a bargain, for all the same stuff plus a dessert! My wife loves steak, we’re both crazy about lamb, and I go nuts for sausages and that spectacular, stupendous, sublime… sensual salad bar. We squeezed in a reservation for the last weekend of Magical Dining, which I strongly recommend you do next year.
We arrived before our 5:00 reservation, in time to hit the salad bar buffet early, before it would be ravaged by ravenous rubes. Dig the artful presentation of beautiful cured meats:
Some of the Saboscrivner’s greatest hits on this buffet plate, even chilled couscous salad in a vinaigrette and some of the best potato salad ever. I am careful not to fill up on carbs, but I can’t make a rare visit to TdB and not load up a plate with these wonders. Rest assured, dear readers — I was a member of the Clean Plate Club.
Meanwhile, the gauchos were coming around, so I was building up a supply of meat to last me some time, while going through my buffet items. This plate includes medium-rare flank steak (left), two lamb chops (top), two slices of picanha (right), part of a sausage (bottom, next to the fried banana). GO AHEAD, TAKE THESE BANANAS!A lot of the meats tend to be more done than we both like, so we always ask for as rare as possible, and end up content with medium rare. I find all of Texas de Brazil’s meats to be extremely salty, so keep that in mind too.
But here’s the star of the show, both of our favorite meat: BRAISED BEEF RIB, sliced right off the giant bones in front of us. If you go to Texas de Brazil, it’s very possible you might not even realize this was one of the meats being walked around. It doesn’t circulate often, probably because it’s an expensive cut that takes a long time to prepare. And as far as I can tell from having had two or three TdB lunches, they don’t offer it at lunch time! Last year for Magical Dining, we learned to very politely request it as soon as we were seated, and then to get at least two slices once it makes its way to us. I love braised, stewed, and other slow-cooked meats even more than grilled steaks, and this beef rib is fork-tender. It seriously shreds apart with just the side of your fork, and then completely melts in your mouth.
I’m proud to say that neither of us wasted any food, but I was stuffed after finishing everything you saw above, and my wife got equally stuffed from a lot less (but she didn’t mess with the buffet like I did, minus a couple of those spicy marinated chilled shrimp). I had ladled us each a bowl of lobster bisque at the beginning, but ended up having hers at the end of my meal, because it’s too good, and it would have been a shanda to waste a drop.
And after all that, we were still entitled to desserts, included in the Magical Dining deal! We got our desserts boxed up to take home, because we couldn’t eat another bite. There were two selections, and we each chose the one you would expect us to choose, if you know us.
Unfortunately, my wife’s chocolate cake was very dry and disappointing:
My Brazilian cheesecake was pretty good, because even bad cheesecake is pretty good, but it was a small sliver:
Bonus pictures of the desserts we took home back in 2018, the last time we were here (also for Magical Dining Month):
Key lime pie that was much better than either of this year’s dessert options:
Bananas Foster pie that was incredible, that I was wishin’ and hopin’ they would offer again this year:
Coconut chess pie that was also spectacular:
I don’t remember which two were included, and which one we paid extra for just to try it, but all three of these were awesome, and far better than this year’s two dessert choices. But then again, I’m a pie guy.
So here are your takeaways:
- Magical Dining is a wonderful thing, and you should totally treat yourself next September, whether it’s here or one of Orlando’s other great participating restaurants.
- Texas de Brazil is an incredible indulgence, a sensational splurge, a truly unique and celebratory destination for carnivores, gourmands, and just plain old hungry people. Heck, if you’re doing a low-carb diet, it could be a great restaurant to cut loose in, since meat and most salad bar offerings are the star attractions and carbs are supporting players. My wife and I love it, but now we’re good for another year, or probably far longer. We got it out of our systems for a while, and no, that wasn’t a colon-related joke.
- Or was it?