Over dinner at the Harvest Room in October, Mack and I had the opportunity to get to know Mandy and her boyfriend Ajit a little more – turns out, they love food as much as we do! We already knew Mandy’s brother Miles from working with him on What the Truck?! over the summer (they run The Lingnan together, with the rest of their family). So when Mandy suggested the lot of us should get together for dinner, we thought it was a great idea.
We proposed Pampa as a venue – it was new to nearly everyone, while my only experience was at lunch. At the time, I had thought the restaurant would be more conducive for the dinner hour, when patrons have the ability to linger and take in the food at their own pace. That night, with a cocktail in hand and good company at the table, Pampa did seem to have more opportunity shine after dark.
On a cool Tuesday night, our table was the first party to be seated that evening. This proved to be both an advantage and a disadvantage. On the upside: we were the first to access the salad bar that night, which meant we had our choice of the extensive selection of green, vegetable, pasta and grain salads and cold platters (some of the bowls were empty on my last visit). Notable for me this time was the balsamic honey reduction dressing.
Mack’s never happy about having to eat vegetables
mentary appetizers (the cassava fries were particularly delectable)
On the downside: the kitchen was clearly prepared to handle a much larger initial rush than they received that night. As a result, the severs descended, fast and furiously, on on our table with cuts approaching at such a rapid pace that all we could do was buckle down and eat. This explains the lack of meat photos to follow.
“Keep it coming” and “stop the pain”
On the other hand, with such quick succession of the eight or so options we had at our disposal that night, we were easily able to pick out which were our favourites. The house made pork sausage elicited rounds of approval (and calls for seconds), as did the bacon-wrapped chicken thigh. Both were so tender and cooked perfectly. I very much enjoyed the bottom round and its charcoal-tinged crust (it made me wish they had the salt-crusted picanha I liked so much on my last visit on rotation).
Bacon-wrapped chicken thigh
The group appreciated the parmesan pork, at its centre a moist medium rare, and the lamb, so juicy it literally left its mark on the table as it was being carved. The only type that didn’t go over well was the garlic steak – tough and hard to eat, it seemed as if the garlic was used to mask the poor quality of the cut. But for the most part, Pampa did honour meat in many incarnations with its preparation, technique, and flair.
We opted to try a few of the desserts – the manjar de coco didn’t quite meet Miles’ expectation of a crème caramel, while the passionfruit mousse wasn’t actually the star on its plate – the melt-in-your-mouth meringue took that prize.
Manjar de coco
Given the price of our dinner was upwards of $75 a person ($44.95 without drinks or dessert), we were a little disappointed with the service that night. Our server wasn’t subtle about pushing the liquor (reminding us numerous times about being able to cork and carry out bottles), at the expense of refilling water glasses. She also disappeared at various points that evening, including one long absence in between our plates having been cleared and wanting to order dessert. On the bright side, she did manage to scrounge up the lone plate of pineapple that was left in the restaurant. Mandy had heard from a friend that the pineapple at Pampa was great, but was told early on that evening that pineapple wasn’t available that day. Needless to say, Mandy left a happier customer (and, as she said, better able to digest dinner).
The elusive pineapple!
Before we left, we were very fortunate to receive a tour of the kitchen from owner Oscar Lopez (Mack and I were lucky to slip in alongside Miles). It was great to talk to him and get some background on Pampa. It was clear he is passionate about the rodizio concept, and pioneering such a restaurant in Edmonton.
Most fascinating to me were the grills – even standing five feet away, the heat was unbearable; I couldn’t imagine having to tend to the charcoal and wood, which reaches temperatures of 500 – 750F, over the busy dinner hour.
The grill (notice the intense sprinklers above)
We learned that the three tiers on the grill were used for different purposes – the skewers on the top level would be kept warm, the middle was used for slow-cooking the meats, and the lowest setting would cook things quickly. We asked Oscar about the segment on The Opener that showed the restaurant offering a seafood option – he said this was set up by the show for filming, and was never something he intended to continue with. Part of it had to do with expense, but given the heat emanating from the charcoal, seafood would cook much too quickly.
How do the skewers turn, you ask? Magic gears!
Oscar also showed us the heavy-duty air filter at the back of the house, which filters 6000 cubic feet per minute, necessary because of the continuous charcoal and wood burned in the kitchen. On a few occasions early in the restaurant’s history, a clogged filter meant the smoke drifted rather uncomfortably into the dining area.
What’s standing between charcoal and the dining room
While Pampa is usually busy over dinner, Oscar said that lunches have been slow. I had to wonder if a part of it had to do with the “buffet mentality” – that diners must feel like they ate their fill in order to deem that they received value for their dollar. Or, for some business persons, the idea of being interrupted every few minutes with a meat offering, stifling the flow of conversation, is a turn-off.
It’s hard to think that Pampa could be unsuccessful in beef-crazed Alberta. But from our own experience, it is a restaurant that for its price and promotion of gluttony, is very much relegated to special occasions and infrequent returns. Still, there is a place for it, and one that I hope more Edmontonians will discover. Thanks again to Miles for dinner – we hope to do it again some time!
A satisfied party
Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
9929 – 109 Street
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 1:30pm; Dinner: Monday-Friday 5-10pm; Saturday 3-10pm; closed Sundays