Gaucho Gourmet

By Camas Davis May 19, 2009 Published in the July 2006 issue of Portland Monthly

In the sun-baked pampas of southern Brazil, gauchos, known to us northerners as cowboys, have for centuries shown off their ranching skills by expertly skewering prime cuts of meat and then roasting them over a fire. Dressed in a baggy white shirt, loose pleated pants called bombachas and leather boots, a gaucho may pause to sharpen his fação, an incredibly menacing, swordlike knife, before slicing off tastes for fellow ranchers—who are, in turn, expected to lavish him with praise for his churrasco, or gaucho-style barbecue.

It was only a matter of time before urbanites caught a whiff of the smoky meat. Today churrascarias are common in metropolises like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Tokyo and London, and since January Portland has been home to Oregon’s only churrascaria.

"I want my restaurant to be as authentic as possible," explains Henrique Konzen, co-owner of Brazil Grill and a native of Rio Grande do Sul, the southern Brazilian state that’s heralded as the country’s churrasco capital. Although the atmosphere is decidedly modern, even a bit sterile, the bravado here is all swaggering cowboy. Tableside, you’ll be greeted by a traditionally dressed gaucho with skewered offerings that range from beer-and-cognac-marinated chicken to filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Everything is served rodizio-style (meaning "all-around") and the meat just keeps coming, so it’s best to bring a group of hungry roughriders with you, says Konzen. "When you come here, it should feel like a party." In other words, slip on your bombachas—it’s Brazilian rodeo time.