All restaurants are a form of live theater, and we’ve come to understand that some put more emphasis on the show than on the food.
We don’t expect organic shrimp gently poached in olive oil when we go to Benihana. But we clap like drunken seals when teppanyaki chefs flip shrimp tails high into the air.
No one eating at Medieval Times clamors for the chef’s turkey-leg recipe. But gnawing on one while horsemen lance one another distracts us from thinking about culinary refinement.
Similarly, it takes more than food to make a Brazilian-style steakhouse experience remarkable. A kitchen can only do so much with a menu dominated by grilled meats and a salad bar.
Churrascaria owners supplement their skewered proteins with gaucho-pants-wearing servers who wield dramatically large knives with which they shave your meat tableside.
What a disappointment, then, that the new Brazikat Brazilian Steak and Seafood House in Clayton fails to produce either good food or an entertaining show.
When I arrived for lunch at noon on a Wednesday, it was as if the notion of a paying customer caught the restaurant by surprise. The host stand was empty. Laminated menus were presented upside-down. No one wore gaucho pants.
I’ve eaten at Brazilian steakhouses where the salad bar is a keystone of the restaurant; Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil are two national chains that play the churrascaria game admirably.
At these establishments, an island oasis is stocked with dozens of prepared cold dishes, from smoked salmon to Gorgonzola mousse, that make you forget you’re there to gorge on meat.
The salad bar (Brazikat brazenly calls it a “gourmet food bar”) is anemic. Puny and relegated to a side wall of the dining room, the alleged 35-item bar was at least 10 items south of that advertised ideal on my visits.
Presented amid imitation crab and unseasoned pasta salad was a sort of asparagus two-ways: bright-green and near-raw or deathly gray and mushy. An urn of French onion soup (mind you, we’re still in a Brazilian restaurant) must have been reducing all morning, its broth so salty and acidic that I couldn’t take more than a spoonful.
The meats are not much more impressive, in selection, presentation or flavor.
An $11 lunch special includes unlimited runs at the salad bar, plus half a skewer of meat. The menu lists a dozen skewer options, but only a few are available at lunch, which a server told me after rejecting my first two choices.
A lump of mashed potatoes arrived on a plate, a signal from the kitchen that meat was on its way.
Alas, it was not on its way. Not for several more minutes, which gave a deflated raft of melted orange cheese ample time to coagulate atop the taters. A heavy garnish of paprika and blackish parsley that appeared to have been chopped the previous week did the dish no favors.
When the meat came, a server inelegantly plopped several large hunks of picanha from a skewer onto my plate. Exciting tableside gaucho service it was not.
Picanha, a rump cut with a layer of fat that’s prized in Brazilian cooking, had a blast of smoky flavor from the kitchen’s mesquite grill.
Despite a server’s recommendation — and my acceptance — of medium-rare beef, my picanha ranged from purple-rare to incinerated-gray. The fat cap that was supposed to have melted into the flesh during cooking, making it tender, wound up in an unappetizing pile in a corner of my plate.
Dinner came with similar disappointments.
A sampler ($20) that was supposed to come with eight varieties of meat actually contained six. Two of them — chicken and tenderloin — were wrapped in bacon so flimsy I wondered if it had ever been touched by heat.
Overly salty picanha and prime rib (I think it was prime rib; a server dropped the plate and walked away without ID’ing the cuts) were desiccated, foiling another order for medium rare.
Desserts are neither creative nor made in-house: brownie with ice cream, cheesecake, molten lava chocolate cake.
Brazikat’s wine list also is rather shallow for such a meat temple. And its options offer little value, even at the high end of the list, where markups tend to be most reasonable. Brazikat’s top bottle, 2009 A. Rafanelli California cabernet sauvignon, goes for $112 at the restaurant, almost two times its retail price.
There is, however, an entire mini-fridge stocked with Red Bull, ready to be mixed with the bar’s three shelves of vodka.
Brazikat is the second Brazilian steakhouse from Sam Barakat, who also runs the nearly identical Gaucho’s in Valparaiso, Ind.
He’s trying to provide an entertaining dining experience in his native St. Louis, which is admirable, especially in a town with more than its fair share of traditional steakhouses.
But for Barakat’s new venture to be a success, Brazikat must improve both the food and the show. I suggest beefing up the salad bar, then investing in some gaucho pants.
Where Brazikat Brazilian Steak and Seafood House, 172 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton • ½ star out of four • Menu A selection of meats grilled over mesquite wood, and a salad bar • More info 314-727-1007; brazikat.com • Hours Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily