Here’s a restaurant concept that’s new to Sacramento and has the potential to catch on and flourish. It’s exotic enough to be intriguing, unusual enough to be engaging and, yes, specific enough to be divisive.
As friendly and inviting as Roseville’s Flame and Fire has been during recent visits, it is easy to see both sides of the divide. Many people will be delighted by this place; others will say once – or once in a while – is enough. Even the price point will seem great to some and off-putting to others.
Opened in late June, Flame and Fire is a Brazilian style of steakhouse known as a churrascaria. Restaurant staffers dressed as gauchos roam from table to table, wielding large knives and carrying even larger skewers of meat. In Brazil, this style of service is known as rodizio. Another server, more like a traditional waiter, is assigned to your table to handle everything else.
Here’s how it works: You are handed a card the size of a coaster at the beginning of dinner. On one side, it’s green, on the other, red. When you spot a skewer of meat that catches your fancy, simply turn the card to green and one of several gauchos, clad in black leather boots and flowing red shirt, will promptly visit your table, slice off a piece of meat and serve it to you.
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You can do this as much as you want for as long as you want. It’s all-you-can-eat for $45. The price includes 15 styles of meat at dinner and a serve-yourself salad bar with an impressive array of dishes, many done with an appealing South American twist.
During our first visit, a friendly server gave us a rundown on dining churrasco style, took our beverage order (a bottle of Rosenblum Zinfandel, because our first choice, the Sobon Zin from Amador County, was unavailable) and handed us our service cards.
I had warned my two friends to show up hungry; I had gotten some intel that the evening would involve plenty of food. They came with hearty appetites.
We started with the salad bar. You could easily make a meal out of this alone. In fact, it’s one of the options. For $29, you can forgo the skewers of meat and opt for the salad bar only. The variety of dishes was impressive; so were the preparation, freshness and flavors. Brazilian pasta, potato salad, cold cuts, fruit, olives, cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, sun-dried tomato salad, squash salad, spinach salad, deep-fried bananas, on and on and on.
The dining room is nicely appointed, open and largely unexceptional. It is tempting to say that locating a Brazilian churrascaria in a suburban strip mall detracts from the cultural authenticity, as these shopping centers can have an overriding sense of sterility. But we just had been to a Persian restaurant in Folsom, along with two Indian restaurants in Folsom, and an upscale Peruvian restaurant in Rocklin, and all were in strip malls. It’s a challenge to create an atmosphere that looks and feels genuine, especially when the view from the front window is a parking lot. But these places and many others make the best of it.
I warned my friends again: “Don’t get too full on the salad bar. There will be plenty of meat coming soon.”
No sooner had those words left my mouth than we spotted a skewer-sporting gaucho. He was carrying pieces of pork, charred on an open flame. They looked impressive. We showed our green cards. He eased a piece onto each of our plates. We turned our cards over, with red facing up, and we settled in for our first bites.
The meat smelled terrific, but it looked dry, and after one bite, that was confirmed. No worries. It was only three or four bites, and within minutes, I saw another gaucho with a skewer of sizzling steak and turned my card over.
This was a large piece of tri tip and it was much better: blackened on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside, cooked about medium, with just a little pink in the middle. I was just getting warmed up. I sampled picanha (top sirloin), fraldinha (bottom sirloin), followed by a delicious Brazilian sausage, then leg of lamb. My favorite selection was the garlic picanha, which is a marinated steak that has a tremendous depth of flavor.
It didn’t stop there.
I had filet mignon wrapped in bacon. I had chicken wrapped in bacon. I had plain filet mignon. I had more lamb. My friends were aghast. They brought up Joey Chestnut. I believe I heard the word “glutton.” But I didn’t take it personally. “Hey, I do this for a living,” I told them. “I’m on the clock.”
I was in the zone, delighted by the food, the continuous service and the magical powers of my dining card – turn it to green and meat magically appears. But my friends had hit the wall, their cards permanently stuck on red. They looked on as I ate and ate.
Which leads me to another divisive nature of this concept.
How do you feel about all-you-can-eat? If you think it’s fun to occasionally bear down and ring every last dollar of value out of a dining experience, you’ll love churrasco and you’ll be wowed by Flame and Fire. For $45, you can indulge almost any carnivorous craving while playing a mind game of upside-down economics – the more you eat, the more money you save.
If you don’t like that distended-belly feeling and think food comas are for amateurs, you’ll walk out of Flame and Fire muttering some version of “não mais.”
Where you come down on this question likely will determine whether Flame and Fire is worth visiting. Beyond that are the more specific questions within the question. If you’re OK with all-you-can-eat, but not so big on post-meal belt loosening, are you able to stop before you’re miserable? Will you still feel you are getting your money’s worth if you are sated rather than stuffed?
Then there is the question of price: $45 seems like a great deal for someone who can really chow down. I’m thinking of a 235-pound linebacker or an endurance athlete who just completed a marathon or a century bike ride. For them, it pencils out to practically stealing.
But for others who are budget conscious, we’ll do a little more math: $45 each is $90 for a couple; throw in a $30 bottle of wine and the tip and you’re inching up on the sesquicentennial mark. Is this how you want to spend your Andrew Jacksons?
The question about food quality is worth considering, too.
While the salad bar items are done well, they are still salad bar items. They cannot compare to the same dishes that have been made to order.
The meat is roasted over an open flame and has that hearty, seared and charred kind of texture and flavor. Most of it is cooked in the medium to medium-well range. It is good food, but it does not compare to a high-quality rib-eye or buttery-tender filet mignon cooked to perfection (or specification) and served as the focal point of a well-organized plate.
If you are looking for that, a traditional steakhouse will be more to your liking. You can focus on a single dish and won’t feel obligated to eat beyond your comfort zone.
Chefs dressed as gauchos? It’s a little hokey maybe, but nobody gets hurt and they don’t overdo the whole gaucho persona: no horseback riding, no saber swinging, no draping ponchos accidentally plopping into your garlic mashed potatoes.
Some of you, if you’re into the precise application of the English language, will spend way too much time pondering the name of the restaurant, wondering if it’s a lyrical moniker or one that’s merely repetitious.
So many questions for one new restaurant.
In the end, if you’re the right kind of person – a hearty eater looking for something a little different and only slightly exotic – you’re going to be a fan of Flame and Fire.
But if all-you-can-eat is more than you can stomach, and employees dressed as South American cowboys in a Roseville strip mall makes you cringe, this is probably not going to be your skewer of meat.
Flame and Fire
963 Pleasant Grove Blvd. Suite 1000
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday; dinner 4:30-9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 4:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4-9 p.m. Sunday.
Beverage options: Underwhelming selection of wine; limited selection of craft beer; full bar.
Vegetarian friendly: Yes, but stick to the salad bar option.
Gluten-free options: Meat, of course, along with many items from the salad bar.
Noise level: Quiet.
Ambiance: Spacious, open dining area done in upscale casual.
Overall * * 1/2
This rating could go up or down depending on how you feel about meat and lots of it. If all-you-can-eat steak and prompt, continuous service sounds exciting, welcome to your new favorite restaurant. But if you’re so over over-eating, it might not be for you.
Food * * 1/2
The food is cooked over an open flame on heavy-duty skewers. It makes for a hearty, rustic style of eating. But the cooking invariably lacks the precision you’ll see at a traditional steakhouse. The salad bar is surprisingly large, eclectic and high quality.
Service * * *
Friendly and attentive. Servers show up with meat, slice it for you and keep coming back every time you turn your service card over to the color green. What’s not to like?
Value * * *
If you’re a big eater, you can probably devour more than $45 worth of bacon-wrapped filet mignon and tri tip. A more modest option is at lunch, when there are fewer meat selections for $25. The large salad bar-only option is $29 for dinner, $19 for lunch.