I've probably walked by the vacant space that housed the Santa Fe-inspired restaurant Anasazi 60 times during the last four years, and each time lamented that such a terrific space was going unused. Now, at long last, it is again occupied, this time by Pampas Brazilian Grille.
The location in question is the Desert Passage Mall at the Aladdin, which has been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance of late. The last two times I've been in here, there have actually been crowds, and the shops look to be doing a reasonable business.
This new restaurant should help the esprit de corps at the mall. Walking in, one is still struck by the magnificent stonework that was a feature of the old restaurant, but now there are sponge-painted walls, floor-to-ceiling glass dividers and huge columns to give the room a different sort of grandeur.
Tables are lacquered to a shine so polished you could shave in the reflection. A team of young, energetic servers swarm around your table. The only thing missing are the huge, rotating spits that are the distinguishing feature of the Brazilian-style rodizio, or barbecue restaurant. Here, they are hidden in the kitchen; too bad, since part of the romance of this concept is watching the meats turn slowly over the fire.
Stars fell on Las Vegas last week as three of the most celebrated chefs in France—Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon and Guy Savoy (here to open his eponymous restaurant at Caesars Palace)—were all in town at the same time, an event no other American city has ever been able to boast. The suave, globe-trotting Ducasse, looking resplendent in a killer suit and tie, was here to promote his partnership with French winemaker Bernard Magrez. Robuchon manned the stoves at his L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Joel Robuchon at the Mansion, thrilling his minions as he greeted them at their respective doors. And Savoy had the splashiest opening of the year, serving his signature dishes, such as artichoke soup with black truffles, oysters en gelee, and roasted veal chop, to the instant rapture of all who tasted them.
Meat is what you will eat here, all right, and lots of it, marinated beauties carved tableside. First you get a coaster to put on your table, which you place green side up if you want the meats to keep coming or red side up when you are ready to surrender.
Then, a basket of irresistible appetizers follows, a few popover-like cheese rolls that I personally cannot stop eating; bonillos, chickpea-flour fritters with a nice, spicy kick, and deep-fried bananas, a dish that tastes good but might as well be served with a side of Rolaids. Rice and feijoa, stewed black beans, also come at this point, although it would make more sense to bring them with the meats.
The next step is the cold buffet, a bountiful, well-stocked spread. I was impressed by the quality of the ingredients, good smoked salmon; a terrific salad of penne pasta, cherry tomatoes and diced salami; Caesar salad; a mixed olive salad; and the best potato salad I have tasted in a long time, laced with crunchy celery and spices.
As I was loading up on the buffet, though, it occurred to me: That's how they get you. If you eat too many of these salads, and they are hard to resist, you won't have much room for the meats.
And meats are the real stars. Heading the list is picanha, a cut of sirloin that these boys are adept at carving the way you like it. (Their swords are swift and true, so have no fear.) The outside tends to be more well-done and the insides rare. There is also alcatra, the top sirloin, not quite as tender or beefy as the picanha; and fraldinha, skirt steak. What the hell, they're all good.
Frango is nicely spiced chicken, and there is also duck, although it is not listed on the menu. Peru is turkey breast wrapped in bacon, hefty, moist chunks, and presunto is fresh ham on a skewer with a whole pineapple under it so you can have either or both should the mood strike.
There is also a wonderful cordero, or lamb, vegetables en brochette and spicy linguica sausage, a Portuguese concoction that spurts grease when pierced but tastes great. At the end, the waiters brought over massive beef ribs, called costela de boi, which turned out to be the best dish of the evening. They had fresh grated horseradish to go with it.
It's all quite a feast, but I do have one complaint. The meats come to the table rapid-fire and nonstop, and the pace tired me out. I'm a fast eater, but I couldn't keep up with this meat parade. Having said that, this is still the best rodizio in town.
Desserts are not included in the meal price, but if you still have room, they are made in-house and worth trying. There is passion-fruit Bavarian, a creamy pudding topped with a layer of passion-fruit jelly; and a dense, rich tiramisu. Chocolate eruption is good, too, but who wants to erupt after a meal like this?
It's too bad that when I dined there, the restaurant did not have its liquor license. I like to enjoy a meal like this with a nice caipirinha, sort of a Brazilian mojito. Management says it'll be on the menu soon.