Tucanos is a Brazilian-style churrascaria located in the same upstairs Gateway space that another churrascaria, Samba Grill, had occupied. I remember Samba Grill as being cavernous, dark and without much eye appeal—particularly when empty, as it often was. Well, there’s no trace left of Samba Grill; the space has been given a total makeover and now it’s an energetic, eye-catching eatery with a focus on the huge buffet in the center of the restaurant, decorated with gigantic brightly colored faux flower petals. The owners—including Brigham Young University grad CEO/president Stephen Oldham, formerly of Rodizio Grill—have done a bang-up job creating a lively, attractive place to dine. Now, if only some of that energy could be channeled into the restaurant’s service.
In case you’re unaware, a churrascaria is a Brazilian-style all-you-can-eat restaurant with a big focus on meat. Servers rotate through the restaurant offering various cuts of grilled meats, poultry and pineapple served from four-foot long sword-like skewers. In addition, there are hot and cold buffet bars with everything from hearts of palm and hard-boiled quail eggs to Brazilian feijao com arroz (rice and beans) and even stroganoff (which, for reasons I can’t fathom, is always a fixture in these places). All this is yours for $19.95 at dinner and $11.95 at lunch (although the Tucanos Website states lower dinner prices). By the way, at that same Website (Tucanos.com), you can sign up to receive a free birthday dinner, as I did. Upon completing the application on the site, I hit “send” and got a message saying I was now included in the Tucanos database. Cool!
We were promptly seated at a too-small table for four and then just as promptly ignored for what seemed like an eternity. Were we supposed to help ourselves to the salad bar first? I was eager to order a birthday bottle of wine, but couldn’t find anyone to take my order. The skewer servers who patrol the restaurant don’t take drink orders. Eventually, a seemingly harassed young woman showed up at our table and took soft-drink orders for the kids and wine orders for the adults. I settled on a bottle of Woodbridge Zinfandel ($18) from the pithy wine list, thinking Zin would go nicely with all that grilled meat. After a 10-minute wait, our server stopped by the table to inform me, “We’re trying to find wine glasses.” A few minutes later, having successfully located two wine glasses, she returned—with a bottle of Glen Ellen White Zinfandel. Apparently, to Tucanos’ staff, all Zinfandel is created equal. One more try, and some 20 minutes or so after arriving, we finally had wine.
So let the fun begin! “It’s my birthday,” I said to our server, “And I’m looking forward to my free birthday meal!” “No problem,” said our server, “Can I see your card?” My card? I thought, does she mean my ID card? Nope, apparently when you sign up for a free birthday dinner online at Tucanos you receive a Free Birthday Dinner Card in the mail, and I hadn’t gotten mine yet (still haven’t). “Not a problem,” I said. “I’m in your database!” “I’ll have to speak to the manager,” said our server.
Slices of dry pork loin were followed by tender, juicy top sirloin and even tenderer and juicier shredded beef brisket, which reminded me of the fabulous “debris” served at Mother’s in New Orleans. Fiery Buffalo chicken wings (Buffalo wings in a churrascaria?) preceded garlic Parmesan beef (a crowd favorite), spicy linguiça sausage and tough, chewy chicken hearts. The coração de frango was definitely not a crowd pleaser.
Normally at buffets such as Tucanos dirty plates are regularly replaced with clean ones. But not at our table. Dirty dishes just kept piling up throughout dinner on our already undersize table. When I cornered our server to inquire about how the birthday situation was going, she said, “Oh, the manager said you have to have your card.” No free birthday for me, apparently. Although I get reimbursed for meals by City Weekly, this Tucanos birthday thing was sort of sticking in my craw. It was my birthday, after all. At a table across the way, the service staff was singing and percussing their way through a samba version of “Happy Birthday” for a customer who, apparently, had his birthday card.
There are specialty items on the Tucanos menu, and my wife was interested in the lobster tail since the churrasco selection doesn’t include seafood (although the Website menu mentions their frutos do mar seafood selection). No one seemed to know the price of lobster or how to order it, although one skewer guy (“I only eat meat,” he said) told us it was $6.95. Wow, that’s cheap! I thought. When we finally located the one server who had the info on special orders he informed us the lobster was $29.95, not $6.95. The shrimp skewer was $6.95. “OK, we’ll have that,” I said. When the bill came, we’d been charged $7.95 for the shrimp.
After pitching a hissy fit, a manager finally agreed, half-heartedly, to comp my birthday meal. No one sang “Happy Birthday” to me.
TUCANOS BRAZILIAN GRILL 162 S. 400 West, The Gateway, 456-2550, Tucanos.com. Lunch & dinner daily.