Selecting a delectable salad

As my Grandma used to say, it's just “good horse sense” to shun seafood in the desert. A more reasonable place in which to enjoy fresh fish would be any coastal community's restaurant. Perhaps a bit myopic, Grandma's logic precluded her from ordering chicken at a steakhouse. So if she knew I sought out churrascarias to compare salad bars, I suspect she'd gasp like the time I used a credit card to pay the rent.

But now, unlike then, I got my money's worth.

The two churrascarias, Brazilian-style barbecue restaurants, in Glendale and Burbank are Gauchos Village and Picanha, respectively. Both restaurants feature gaucho-clad waiters circling the floor with skewers of sizzling meat, ranging from filet mignon and tri-tip to pork loin and lamb. With a green- and red-sided wooden indicator at Picanha, and a coaster at Gauchos Village affirming or declining more meat, the waiters gauge whether to keep carving or pass by your plate.

It's one thing for restaurants to excel at preparing their signature dishes, but what about the back-burner options? Both Burbank's Picanha, 269 E. Palm Ave., and Gauchos Village, 411 N. Brand Blvd., in Glendale, offer a 20-plus item all-you-can eat salad bar — hardly inconsequential, but neither a carnivore's first choice. Based on my recent lipids panel, however, the salad bar was my only choice.

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Gauchos Village

The décor is dotted with sequin-and-feather-masked mannequins that depict the Brazilian Carnaval. High-backed chairs frame marble tables in a cavernous room sun swept by a skylight. A friendly waiter quickly took my drink order, and didn't balk at my mention of “no meat.”

I piled my plate high with a delectable strawberry and spinach salad and string beans but saved space for hot items such as Brazilian-style fish stew, red beans and the most delicious form of rice I've ever consumed — rice croquettes. Had I left room, I would've snagged some fried bananas and chicken empanadas, both dishes having received a second-helping thumbs up from my lunch mate. The service was so swift at Gauchos Village that dirty plates were cleared as quickly as drinks were refilled. Total cost for two salad bars and drinks was less than $40.

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Picanha

Not to sound like Popeye, but I really wanted me spinach. Absent that and a Caesar, which would've been nice, Picanha featured an ample selection of cold salad bar dishes, two-bean salad, both tuna and chicken salads, heart of palm salad, onion salad and sweet corn. On the warm end of the bar set sautéed zucchini, black beans with pork and a chicken stroganoff that was a bit too buttery for me. By the time I returned with a second heaping of delicious tuna salad, my diet Pepsi glass set as empty as I'd left it.

Midway through our meal, the hostess, courteous and apologetic for our otherwise busied waitress, filled my glass and dropped off a basket of warm rolls. Sadly, they tasted woefully undercooked.

When the $36 bill arrived, my lunch mate attempted to pay with his American Express, but, apparently, he could have left home without it. Picanha doesn't take AmEx, the hostess politely informed us. But according to the website, Picanha “accepts all major credit cards.”

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The Decision

While I left both restaurants happily full, Gauchos Village left a better taste in my mouth. Each restaurant is moderately priced, and, based on all of the meat-gobbling diners who surrounded me, worthy of their beef bragging rights. But if I'm looking for a variety of roughage coupled with cooked favorites like saffron rice and fish stew, sorry, Grandma, I'm heading back to Glendale's Brazilian steakhouse.


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