Though I've always been fond of the food at Churrascos, what I've been even more fond of at Michael and Glenn Cordua's South Ameri-can restaurants is the service: unfailingly smooth, unruffled, efficient, polite. A friend says that the best waiter he's ever had, bar none, was at the original Churrascos on Bissonnet. I don't doubt it.
But last November, when the Corduas shuttered that original Churrascos and moved to a new megalocation in the Westchase Center, I couldn't help but wonder if such eminent professionalism would survive the trip to the huge, new swankienda. Now, having eaten at said swankienda, I'm pleased to report that the move to the new Churrascos -- which is about two and a half times the size of the original -- has been made with nary a hitch. My party was greeted by a pair of the willowy, hiply dressed hostesses that Churrascos seems to have cloned, and even though the restaurant and bar were hopping with activity, we were seated almost immediately. Throughout dinner, every time I littered the table with a strip of paper from my sugar packet or put down a utensil I no longer needed, it was immediately, though discreetly, snapped up by a waiter.
Not that I noticed. I was too busy looking at my surroundings. The new Churrascos has been decorated by Aurora Barcenas in hacienda style: whitewashed surroundings accented by some blood red walls in the bar and the corridor to the restrooms; heavy wooden beams and massive carved doors; a tall-ceilinged central room flanked by intimate dining rooms whose ceilings seem to hover just overhead, though without feeling oppressive; a large stone fireplace crackling and popping.
Does the food live up to the dramatic surroundings? Absolutely. In fact, if I have a beef with Churrascos, it's that the food can at times be too rich and -- worse -- too salty. But that's really a footnote. Who can complain much about an appetizer of yucca polenta -- surrounded by spokes of smoked crab fingers -- that melts in your mouth with buttery tenderness? Or a special of baby snapper fillet with a smear of avocado relish and two mammoth grilled sea scallops on top? Or the coarse-crumbed cake known as tres leches? If living with a bit of excess in the kitchen is what's required to get food this compelling, then I'm happy to make the sacrifice. -- Kelley Blewster
Churrascos, 9705 Westheimer, 952-1988.
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Churrascos: marineros (appetizer), $12, baby snapper, $23; tres leches, $6.