A belated birthday lunch, compounded over three months, can only equal one thing: reparation in the form of a gloriously gluttonous meat buffet.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m pretty sure Dickson only chose Brazilian steakhouse Pampa, the newest darling of city carnivores, as our lunch destination as a reaction to my suggestion of a vegetarian café. Regardless, the more inexpensive daytime meal seemed like the ideal way to determine whether or not the $45 per person dinner tab would be worth the splurge (you can read more about the dinner service on Twyla’s blog).
Pampa is the kind of restaurant that makes a bang-up first impression (and one that, all shiny and new, would present very well in that patented then-and-now camera pan on Food Network renovation shows like The Opener, which Pampa took part in). The glass wine case gleamed in the muted daylight that streamed through the bank of windows, and the black, white and red scheme felt modern and clean. I loved how open the room felt (necessary too for the roving servers), and Dickson felt the need to comment on the large cowboy canvases that graced the walls – a reminder that vegetarians really need not apply.
I had made a reservation on Open Table just in case, but it probably wasn’t necessary. And though the restaurant wasn’t entirely full, I was still surprised at how busy it was – I had to wonder if the patrons were return customers, or curious first-time diners like us?
Both Dickson and I were already familiar with the rodizio restaurant – he has been to both Gaucho and Bolero in Calgary, and I had visited one several years ago in Montreal. Essentially, itinerant servers offering different cuts of meat will continue to pay a visit to your table until you flip your meat passport over to signal “Stop the pain!”.
Yay or nay?
Before launching into Pampa’s universe of meat though, we thought it best to at least peruse its salad offerings. It’s worth noting that Pampa does have a beautiful salad bar, accented with more glass, and garnished with touches of fruit. Some of the bowls were in need of refreshing during our turn, but there was enough variety of vegetable and grain-based dishes to satisfy most. A very unique carrot and pink peppercorn salad stood out for me.
But the main event began almost immediately after we sat down. Lunch sees only five different varieties, and we had our initial exposure to them, one right after the other – grilled chicken, grilled pork, pork sausage and two kinds of sirloin. I know Dickson was disappointed with the spread – friends who had attended the dinner service the night prior had identified a few of their favourites, none of which were on the menu at lunch.
The house-made pork sausage was quite tasty, with a casing that crackled and meat that was both juicy and well seasoned. I liked the grilled chicken, but Dickson thought it wasn’t anything he couldn’t recreate at home on the barbecue. The pork had to be consumed immediately – I waited a few minutes and it had dried to the point of inedibility.
Our hands down favourite was the picanha, top sirloin. Not for the faint of heart, it was served rare, with a layer of fat and a perfectly charred crust, studded with sea salt gems. We had thirds and fourths.
Carving is an art form
Our only complaint was the inconsistency in service. The servers were almost too efficient during our first half hour, and basically disappeared towards the last half of our meal. It was clear other tables were similarly drumming their fingers, hoping they wouldn’t have to return to the salad bar to fill up. I suppose that is the biggest downside when it comes to lunching at Pampa – it’s not a leisurely meal when you’re depending on traveling servers for main course access.
That said, I felt the $21.95 per person price tag was fair, given the salad bar bounty, amount of meat that could be consumed, and the tableside carving. Pampa had an atmosphere I wouldn’t mind returning for, and definitely has the workings of a special occasion restaurant. And in the end, being the first rodizio in Edmonton has its advantages – you won’t find this style of dining anywhere else in the city.
Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
9929 – 109 Street
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 1:30pm; Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5-10pm; closed Sundays