Thursday, April 21, 2011

Restaurant Review: Master Grill

As soon as I heard about the concept I knew that Master Grill was going to be the first restaurant I would visit after my move to Texas. I've never heard of the Brazilian steakhouse concept before this, and upon hearing of it I had to try it since it's the most Paleo-friendly restaurant I know of.

The setup is that after being seated you get this little plastic token that has a green and red side that indicates whether you're open to a goucho (meat server) coming to your table and offering a selection of meat, to be carved off right onto a serving plate. It's all you can eat, and additionally there's unlimited access to an extensive salad bar that has meats, darkened and chilled vegetables, cheeses, and more. Check their menu here.

The decor is quite cozy and relaxing, with the atmosphere controlled to let only so much sunlight in, leaving the rest to golden light fixtures. I was seated towards the front by the greeter, and in hindsight I slightly regret that decision since it looked so much more soothing in the back. It's not gorgeous inside or anything, but everything is put together to be worth deeming professionally acceptable.

I planned way in advance to come in quite hungry to take nearly unfair advantage of their buffet, as I fasted for over 24 hours and did some weight lifting two hours prior, and was not disappointed. My token was on the green side virtually the whole time I was there, and in between meat servings I raided the salad bar of its many items and things unknown to me, hurrying to make sure I made it back to my table before the gouchos went back into their dwelling.

While there being only be a single table of salad bar items may seem small, the variety is very satisfying. The spread includes floral and citrusy roasted bell peppers, silky raw salmon with sour capers, mild and salty cheeses, spiced and peppery potato cubes, shrimp with paper-thin shells, smoky salami, and more. From the Paleo perspective what pleased me the most is that the majority of the buffet is subsumed under my nutritional guidelines, with very little straying from it. I gorged myself on a much as I could, but soon I lost my adventurousness in favor getting extra helpings of asparagus, roasted peppers, and that delightful salmon. I usually prefer all my vegetables hot, but they were a good temperature and texture contrast. The cheeses were the low point, as most of them are very mild, the strongest one hardly registering as salty, and were drowned out with the other flavor pairings. I couldn't taste the mozzarella at all.

The star of the show, of course, is the meat. It was always to my pleasure to see the goucho approaching me, bringing a surprise on a skewer, and the green token ensured constant visits. They didn't give entire cuts -- say, a whole chicken breast -- but the portions were doled out at the perfect tasting size, allowing me to have room for every single meat they had. My first offering was the bacon wrapped chicken breast, which was chicken done right. It was juicy, salty, porky, grassy, and slightly sweet all at once, no flavors interfering with each other. From here I don't remember the exact order of my dining, but I believe I was given the Parmesan pork next. It's too bad they don't offer that cheese in the salad bar, for it's my favorite: Sharp, tangy, highly salty. The covered pork underneath is mild and succulent once gotten to. The leg of lamb soon followed, a new meat to me, and has an decent marbling and equal, mild parts gamey and sweet taste. A good introduction. The top sirloin has a great spicy and burnt crust, strongly similar to the wonders of outdoor barbecues, with a unsullied and beefy interior. The pork sausage was sweet and tangy. The finish of my tasting array came with what I believe I heard to be hotel steak, which was smack dab medium-rare and had the strongest of all the fatty flavors. A good healthy greed made me ask for extra helpings of the chicken and lamb. (My second regret: Not getting more of that Parmesan pork.)

Not all was great, however. Flank steak was another new cut I was pleasured to try, but it was an overdone-gray and overcooked bland. Garlic is one of my favorite things to pair with beef, but their garlic beef has too much an overwhelming burnt and smokey taste, the garlic probably destroyed by the heat. My biggest disappointment was the filet migon wrapped in bacon, which came off more as a firm sausage saturated with bacon flavor.

Due to my nice workout I thought to have some dessert, choosing the chocolate cheesecake sitting atop a grid of caramel and mango sauce. Delectable. The cocoa mingles with the slightly funky cream cheese wonderfully, and I was determined to wipe off just about every drop of that sharp mango sauce underneath, though the caramel is overridden.

I ate until I was bloated, but it was worth it to have eaten more than I paid for. I walked out satisfied with my choice and am already getting hungry thinking about my next visit there, whenever that will be. At worst the servers could work to make themselves more visible, as several times throughout the evening I lost track of my waitress and sat parched for water for several minutes. Nonetheless everyone showed good concern for my experience, and did well to remember my requests even as they took a long time to process, especially that one goucho who cooked a leg of lamb at my sole asking. However, I felt like I was slighted come dessert, as I didn't know they charged extra for it and saw no pricing guide beyond the buffet cost; it's not even on their website. That's unfair.

The execution isn't mind-blowing, but it's the best buffet I've ever been to and am gung-oh to recommend. If you want to minimalize the expense like I have, you'll do best to weight train and deprive your stomach like I did, to make possible a great gorging on the feast they have.

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