by Marene Gustin
Clara Peller would never have uttered the TV tagline “Where’s the beef?” had she been dining at Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria. That’s because chef/owner Mark Shim knows his meat, and he knows his diners like plenty of it.
The Brazilian-style steakhouse serves more than 20 different types of mouth-watering meat in sandwiches, as a la carte steaks, and in the traditional rodizio manner where waiters roam the dinning room with meat on skewers and carrying carving knifes, ready to slice some tender Argentinean skirt steak, pork sausage, kidney, or sweetbreads onto any empty plate in sight.
Pradaria is a meat-lover’s paradise, a carnivore’s castle. And it’s the brainchild of a Japanese trained chef.
“Yes, I trained under master sushi chef Akio Muranaka,” laughs Shim, who owns the upscale Todai Houston sushi restaurant. “But I grew up in Argentina. South American barbeque is part of my culture. I love meat!”
In fact, after a 20-year career in restaurants that were mostly Asian, Shim decided to add Brazilian-style churrascaria to the seafood offerings at Todai and found out that his sushi eaters loved it. That’s when he decided to open Pradaria, named for the Portuguese prairie where the tradition of slow-roasted beef seasoned simply with sal grosso or rock salt began.
Pradaria opened in April last year and, because Texan?s love their beef and have really taken to the concept, there are now more than a dozen churrascarias in town. But the extensive variety of cuts and the different-priced servings set Pradaria apart from the South American crowd.
“I wanted to have a wide array of South American dishes,” Shim says. “I wanted traditional cuts of meat that other places here don’t carry, and I wanted to offer them in options. Besides the all-you-can rodizio, I wanted to offer a-la-carte and family-styled plates as well. With the rodizio, many diners go beyond their tolerance level.”
Which is easy to do when waiters are hovering over you offering more and more succulent meats. Big eaters can really stock up on protein here, not to mention the overflowing salad bar and housemade desserts for just $22.95 at dinner. Weaker stomachs are wise to order a la carte.
As for those cuts you won’t find anywhere else in Houston, one is cupim, from the hump of the Brahma bull imported from Australia. Shim himself favors the entraña, an Argentinean skirt steak and the maminha, a tri-tip bottom sirloin. Whatever cut you try, you’ll find the flavor is also authentic. Shim developed his own technique to slow roast the meats over charcoal while overhead gas jets cook it through, giving your beef the smoke flavor the real Pampas cowboys enjoyed.
Shim has assembled a team of Brazilian chefs to man his grill, and he uses some of the best prime Black Angus. He’s obviously doing it right as Sunday brunches are packed with hearty eaters gorging on his meats, gourmet salad bar, and sides of steamed rice, black bean feijoada, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, yucca fries, polenta, fried bananas, and potato cakes. And quite a few of them even make it to the dessert bar for a helping (or two) of the secret-recipe flan or the signature papaya mousse. So drop in and experience the taste of the southern prairies. It won’t wreck havoc on your pocketbook, but you just might have to loosen your belt a little.
Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria is located at 10694 Westheimer Rd. For more information, call 281/501-2960 or visit pradaria.com.
Marene Gustin also profiles opera diva Patricia Racette in this issue of OutSmart magazine.
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