Get Your Bacon On: Bacon Feast at Pampa

Pampa just celebrated their fifth anniversary in Edmonton, so it’s safe to say rodizio-style dining is here to stay. While it was never a surprise that a meat-centric restaurant would be a success in the city, I know I did wonder how much repeat business they could garner, given the single-meal extravagance at its core. Even Mack and I, who are far from being vegetarian, have found ourselves adopting meatless meals in the wake of visits to Pampa.

Pampa Bacon Feast

The Grill at Pampa

At any rate, meat lovers will rejoice with the return of Pampa’s second annual Bacon Feast. An enhancement to their regular menu, $14.95 on top of the $49.95 per person cost grants diners access to an additional two types of bacon-wrapped meat as well as a bacon-infused dessert.

Pampa Bacon Feast

Bacon-infused vodka Caesar

To give it a try, Linda convened several members of the local food community for a complimentary tasting, and Mack and I were fortunate enough to be included. It confirmed again the fact that Pampa is more fun when enjoyed with a large party. The theatrical style of dining, involving servers who rotate through the room with spears of meat for table side carving extends to its drink menu as well. This was the first time we experienced the heightened pour of Licor 43, a spirit crafted with a combination of 43 herbs and spices. The server stood atop a step stool and successfully filled a shot glass on the table from above. You can bet this commanded the attention of surrounding groups.

Pampa Bacon Feast

Pampa’s signature shot

Part of the fun of Pampa is cycling through the ten (or in our case, twelve) different cuts of beef, chicken, lamb and pork to find your favourite . Our fellow diner Sharman had a great tip to minimize the gluttony of this process – Mack and I shared what was dubbed a "meat plate", so we could more easily share tastes of the meat offerings without filling up on them right away. She also pointed us to some of the dipping sauces available at the salad bar.

Speaking of the salad bar, there were a number of hot entrees to choose from that I didn’t recall from previous visits. My favourite was a deeply flavoured black bean stew that doubled as another sauce option.

After sampling all of the cuts, Mack returned to the medium rare rump steak a few times. I enjoyed the bacon-enhanced meat – including the bacon-wrapped chicken on the regular rotation, but also the bacon-wrapped boneless veal leg on the feature menu. The other Bacon Feast option of the marinated crispy pork belly, with its luscious layer of fat, was also a crowd favourite.

Pampa Bacon Feast

Crispy pork belly

The Bacon Feast dessert was a warm chocolate cake with bacon-infused caramel, vanilla bean ice cream and caramalized bacon bits. The cake was well-made, rich and dense, but the bacon seemed like an afterthought instead of a critical component.

Pampa Bacon Feast

Chocolate petite gateau

The $75 per person price tag is difficult to account for based on food alone, but then again, dining out is never exclusive to consumables. The service accounts for much of the value as well, and as in previous visits, was again commendable. Our server was game for the table’s shenanigans, and made the evening light and fun.

Pampa Bacon Feast

Linda in a meat coma

For those seeking more intimate knowledge of Pampa, they will be offering eight person 3 hour classes starting in April. They will share "trade secrets" of grilling with charcoal, and hands-on instruction of meat-stuffed bread, Feijoada (the aforementioned black bean stew) and guava cheesecake. The cost is $119 per person – call Pampa to book a spot.

Thanks to Linda for the invitation, and to Pampa for hosting us! Bacon Feast runs for the month of April. Check out Linda and Sharman’s recaps about our meal as well.

Pampa
9929 109 Street
(780) 756-7030
Lunch – Monday-Friday 11:30am-1:30pm; Dinner – Monday-Thursday 5-9pm, Friday 5-10pm, Saturday 3-10pm, Sunday 4-8pm; Brunch – 11am-2pm

Not on Meatless Mondays: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

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.

Pampa

Interior

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.

Pampa

Salad bar

Pampa

Mack’s never happy about having to eat vegetables

PampaCompli

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.

Pampa

“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).

Pampa

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.

Pampa

Manjar de coco

Pampa

Passionfruit mousse

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).

Pampa

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.

Pampa

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.

Pampa

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.

Pampa

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!

Pampa

A satisfied party

Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse
9929 – 109 Street
(780) 756-7030
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 1:30pm; Dinner: Monday-Friday 5-10pm; Saturday 3-10pm; closed Sundays

Let’s Meat for Lunch: Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse

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.

Pampa

Interior

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!”.

Pampa

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.

PampaPampa

Salad bar

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.

Pampa

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
(780) 756-7030
Lunch: Mon – Fri 11:30am – 1:30pm; Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5-10pm; closed Sundays