During a tour of the recently opened fourth location of South American steakhouse Churrascos, which resides in the same Gateway Memorial City complex that's already seen wide acclaim for steakhouse Vallone's, chef David Cordua points up to the 15-foot wide horn chandelier that hangs over the entrance. Along with the extensive use of reclaimed wood throughout the dining room, the horns give a ranch like feel that Cordua says recalls the restaurant's original locations.
The 8,400 square-foot restaurant seats almost 300 between the dining room, bar area and patios, with private two private dining rooms and an open kitchen. The space — which was designed by by San Francisco-based MBH Architects whose previous work includes Apple stores — simultaneously moves Churrascos forward while recalling its past. David Cordua took similar inspiration for the menu by adding touches inspired by the family's roots in Nicaragua.
During a tasting, Cordua highlighted the new items on the menu that represent his new approach, but, fear not, the classic churrasco steak and signature tres leches remain untouched.
Watkins presented a new version of sangria that's far less sweet than the typical fruit-forward, empty the liquor cabinet version that's served around town.
The meal began with an Ahi tuna ceviche that Cordua described as Mediterranean-style due to its use of olive paste and puffed rice balls. The tuna's flavor shown through, and the rice balls added a satisfying crunch that's typically only comes via chips.
Next up come pork taquitos in a taro-root taco shell. Topped with pineapple-spiked pico de gallo and crema fresca, the course also brings together sweet, salty and crunchy.
Cordua descrbies his arepas as "Mexican pizza;" at Churrascos, the corn masa flatbreads are topped with grilled shrimp, queso fresco, tomatoes and basil. This riff on the classic margherita pizza maintains that necessary Italian crispiness but is gluten-free.
The meal's two highlights quickly followed. First, plantain-crusted calamari arrived with pieces of fried cheese and chicharron. Unlike the usual rings, the calamari came as thicker wedges that allowed the squid's natural flavor and texture to come through the batter. Then, a split lobster tail came with seared scallops and tamale dumplings in a smoked tomatillo broth. The dumplings had the light, soft masa texture that's so important in a tamale but didn't overwhelm the lobster and scallops' natural sweetness.
In between courses, beverage director James Watkins presented a new version of sangria that's far less sweet than the typical fruit-forward, empty the liquor cabinet version that's served around town. It demonstrates the way in which his addition to the Cordua group is reaping benefits in both wine and cocktails.
Finally, the chef brought out a whole branzino, filleted down the middle to avoid the painstaking task of having to pick bones from the fish. Served with rice laced beef chorizo and sweet plantains, it's a delicious riff on dirty rice that's both familiar and slightly unexpected.
Just as Churrascos has been for 25 years and should continue to be for years to come.