After Steve Barnes mentioned the new Texas de Brazil restaurant in Table Hopping and received a long series of comments regarding chain restaurants I became curious. So recently I made my trip to Crossgates Mall, where I go less and less frequently, and finally recalled where the Macy's store was, sort of in the middle of the "old" part of the mall (yes, I'm going way way back to those days in the 1980s). The walk to the restaurant space involves a corridor between the restaurant and the Lord & Taylor's department store, which is brand new. So one walks from the middle walkway toward the outer wall of the mall for 50 or 60 feet, then it's necessary to go all the way to another outer wall with a door to the parking lot - another 50 or 60 feet. In downtown terms one has to go almost around the block to find the door to the restaurant. I'm a bit puzzled about why they chose to do that, but it does give everyone a sense of the sheer size of the place - it's big. There is a dining area outside the restaurant walls, which are mostly glass, that gives the impression of a patio, or dining alfresco. The entrance doors are huge. So at this point one is impressed with (big) size. The floral ornament on the salad area is about 8 feet high. The walls are about 20 feet high. That in combination with the dark wood and dark red fabrics gives a feeling of unrestrained sense experience. And that is the point of the whole scene. I sort of drew back, but then gave way to the pleasures of the place, and there are many of those.
As I was lead to my table I was recalling all the negative comments from the Table Hopping entry, and I know why people make those comments. I've made just about all of them myself. I loathe chain restaurants for the most part because corporate food is mostly just crappy food, and corporate restaurant service is usually mediocre at best - in other words, there's no soul in chain food.
A lot of the service in these early days for Texas de Brazil is just explaining how things work. So the first questions must be: "have you been here before?" Since I had not, I was given good explanations of the peculiar service protocols: the salad area is a serve-yourself buffet with an enormous variety of foods. The meats are grilled by a staff of about 10 people who prepare them in the open grill area (which I found fascinating), and then they are served by that same staff who carry the skewers to the tables and provide custom cuts of what they have. One is given a paper token to indicate whether one is ready for a meat service or not.
So once one becomes introduced to all this, and drinks are ordered, one is in control of one's meal. I ordered the Brazilian soda, which was a great blend of cherry and ginger and a few other fruit flavors. I really like it. I bounced over to the salad area and walked around the 15 x 8 "table" with a side board for soup, beans and rice, and potatoes. I cannot even recall what I saw there was so much. What I do recall is that there was clearly attention to detail and an impressive selection that was more than one cut above the normal idea of chain restaurant salad bar.
Unrestrained luxury is what it's all about. I decided to make myself a tasting plate and took teensy servings of several things that looked more delicious than the others at that moment. I had an attentive server who catered to my every whim and was very enthusiastic about the food. I was too, so we shared breathless reactions now and then as she came to the table to see if I was having a good experience. I took my time in checking out each of my samples. Each one was indeed a delight, and the adorable little special cheese bread that was brought to the table complemented the cheese and capicola perfectly.
As always, it's difficult not to select more of a first course than one needs, but I had practiced iron-fisted discipline about not taking too much for my first plate. I turned my paper token to "green" for "go" and a server approached my table immediately with a top sirloin skewer. He gave me exactly the size I described, which was less than 2 oz. - a taste. Before I could think about much, very attractive lamb chops were there on offer, poised on my table. I took one, which again, was about 2 oz. I remembered my token, turned it over to "red" for "stop" and spooned some of my mashed potatoes onto the plate.
The steak and lamb matched the best I've had anywhere. I think it's because of the grill setup and how much care is taken to sear and then let the rotisserie process take over, maintaining the juices and keeping them at perfect temperature. If you are interested in these things you should definitely go and take a look. That and all the grill dudes wear great costumes.
But I digress. Everyone is given fried bananas that act as an aspic, unless they are refused. I enjoyed the novelty of it. So I was humming along with the tasting process and turned my token back to green. Immediately I was visited by filets wrapped in bacon - about 2 oz pieces. Following that were the little Brazilian sausages, so I took one. I turned the token back to red.
Although there is actually a lot of hustle-bustle, what with all those hot skewers and other wait staff and people walking back and forth to the salads, the sheer size of the room mitigates it so that the general atmosphere is cheery and relaxed. After finishing what was on my plate I visited the grill with my camera and watched in fascination as the skewers were deftly moved from low to high and then taken off for serving.
After the little trip to the grill I realized that my appetite was satisfied, and even though I let the new server go through the whole dessert routine with hysterical huge plastic models, I turned them away, and requested my check.
It's definitely an immersion, Disney World type of dining experience, with everything too much. But it's a way to confirm one's ability to summon luxury when needed. I think Texas de Brazil does that in spades. I don't know if I'll ever go again, but if someone invites me as a guest I'll say yes with genuine enthusiasm, because for me the pleasure was being able to taste a wide variety of things new and things familiar, and to do so in an atmosphere of relaxed pleasure. I didn't have to choose from a narrow menu, and I didn't have to sit passively while the servers brought waaaaay too much food, then packaged what I couldn't eat - something I consider to be a drag.
There is a salad-only choice, and my impression is that one would have a delightful dinner from the salad area alone.
I recommend that you go and try it for yourself. Post here in the comments about your experience - I'm curious to know if they stay consistently good, if I was wearing rose-tinted glasses about the whole thing, or if you agree that it's a restaurant chain that's trying to break the mold and provide a high quality experience.
LorreBob sez: if you want that big luxury experience for dinner in an expansive ambience, check it out.
Their Albany website for details, prices, etc. :