Brazilian grilled meats — and veggies too
Gauchao Brazilian Cuisine is a 30-seat equatorial bubble in East Somerville. The dining room has the interior design of a haphazard outdoor patio. At flimsy tables, burly workers fill the place for lunches of roast meats and house specialties, conversing in Portuguese with the attractive female waitstaff. A polite sign posted at the register urges customers to remember to eat their veggies.
The service is cafeteria-style at a food bar, and the pricing is elegant: Whatever you put on your plate is $5.95 a pound and cheerfully weighed right on the plate. At the register, juice dispensers offer various house-made drinks ($1.50), including passion fruit, and a cashew one that’s not remotely nutty, just clean and lightly sweet. Table service, and a prix fixe menu, is $12.
Gauchao’s fabulous food bar, which offers plenty of meat, has a surprising number of vegetarian options: bean salads, watercress, tropical fruits, slaws, rices. Potato salad is part of the restaurant’s multipronged attack on the idea of winter. A light mayo dressing binds a sensibly sized dice of potato, a discreet toss of peas and corn, and nothing more. It’s a dish that says everything about this place: simple, stressless, balmy.
The feijao tropeiro is a light traditional bean dish with eggs, shredded collard greens, fried pork fat and garlic, and sliced peppers, all cleverly held together with cassava meal, giving the dish a couscous-like texture. It’s a perfect accompaniment to roast beef. Gauchao’s fresh slaw — simply carrots and cabbage — is almost vinegar-free. A macarrao (pasta) dish of linguine with a tomato-based olive and scallion sauce, is excellent and, though prepared in great amounts and kept at a steam table, miraculously firm.
Savory stews, and even beef Stroganoff (called estrogonofe, it’s oddly popular in Brazil) are often available. Occasionally, there’s even more adventurous fare: an excellent spicy tripe stew, or the coracao de frango of roast chicken hearts.
The menu changes daily, and Gauchao provides a partially translated, and partially accurate, printed guide.
Next to the food bar, in a huge oven, dozens of excellent seasoned meats roast on long metal spikes, churrascaria-style. That is, rotisserie-cooked and carved off the skewer when you order it, in the South American tradition. For the peito de frango com bacon, boneless chicken is flattened slightly, rolled with bacon, impaled on a spike and slow-roasted. The bacon fat drizzles, the chicken sizzles, and in the end the chef cuts tender roasted slices directly onto your plate with a giant knife until you tell him to stop. Roast pork shoulder, various cuts of beef, and barbecued chicken are available, depending on the day. All are as you would expect from a cuisine so focused on meat — perfectly tender, passionately browned and spiced.
The dessert case houses containers of pudims (flans), mousses, sweet rice, and corn porridge, but the most appealing option is the reddest one. Blocks of crimson gelatin are suspended in a mildly sweet, solidified strawberry cream ($2). It’s a vision right off the cover of a 1975 issue of Good Housekeeping — and it’s just as good now as it was then.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at email@example.com.