The dining room and bar at Brasa Churrasqueria (2037 Metairie Road, 504-570-6338) are finished in paneling, banquette mirrors and inlay ceilings, giving a midcentury modern look to this new South American steakhouse in Old Metairie. The details that get to the heart of the restaurant, however, are built from brick and iron.
In the kitchen, and occasionally visible through the flapping doors, is la parrilla, the grill. It’s an altar-like construction, custom-built in the restaurant, with clanking winches, adjustable racks and multiple dangling hooks all in service to the wood fire smoldering on its brick platform.
Steaks go on the grill but so do the avocado halves and bunches of romaine for salads, the sweetbreads and corn and the carrots finished with goat cheese and honey. Even the carpaccio gets a brief sear, just to add a flavorful edge of char to the otherwise raw beef.
To hear chef Edgar Caro describe it, la parrilla is no mere means to an end but an object of veneration. He can’t help but experiment with whenever another ingredient comes around.
“You get so much flavor this way,” Caro said. “The recipes can be simple, but if you're cooking like this you can get so much out of it.”
Brasa Churrasqueria officially opened last week in the former home of Chateau du Lac, the longtime French bistro that shuttered in February.
Mention of a South American steakhouse often conjures the idea of Brazilian rodizo, the all-you-can-eat concept popularized in the U.S. by chains like Fogo de Chão. So it bears mentioning that Brasa Churrasqueria is different. The feel is upscale/casual and the menu is a la carte, making it more akin to La Boca, the Argentine-style steakhouse in the Warehouse District.
Caro grew up on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Mata is a native of El Salvador. The two men came to New Orleans for college and have been friends since. Brasa is their slow-cooked, wood-fire-fueled tribute to the carnivorous compulsions of South America.
“We wanted to distinguish ourselves as a steakhouse and represent this culture,” Mata said.
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La parrilla is a central mode of cooking in South America, especially for the downtime ritual of an asado, a barbecue, and that’s what inspired Brasa. The restaurant's name refers to the smoldering coals formed in the grill, which is where the magic of la parrilla comes from.
"You burn the logs, they comes apart in this iron basket and fall below and tell you when they're ready," said Caro, speaking with evident affection for the process and tools of the trade.
The opening menu at Brasa has a pork chop, whole roasted fish and a burger, shrimp remoulade, shrimp bisque and a side section of potatoes (a native South American crop, after all). Some desserts get a bit of the grill, like warm, charred strawberries arranged around ice cream and fresh mint. Later, they’ll add chicken and other dishes to the menu. A brunch menu, still in the works, will have more weekend barbecue-style dishes, South American style.
But first and foremost, Brasa is a steakhouse, and it's one cut from a different cloth than the American standards of tender filet mignon and New York strips. The opening menu here has distinctive Latin American steak cuts like entraña, or skirt steak; lomo, a tenderloin cut; and ojo de bife, here done as a large, 16-ounce. rib eye. Then there’s the picanha, or sirloin cap (also known as culotte), which has a thick layer of fat cooked down to a crunchy ridge.
Latin American flavors make it to the bar, with drinks like a Maracuya sour with pisco and aquafuba (the "water" from chickpeas) in place of eggs. The "pre-1870 Sazerac" is made with cognac and aguardiente, a potent, anise-flavored South American liquor.
Next to the bar, there’s another eye-catching display of bricks, though very different from those used for la parrilla in the kitchen.
These are blocks of Himalayan sea salt, which line the walls of a built-in, glass-front butcher case. They cast a pink hue and work to extract moisture from steaks the kitchen sets aside for dry aging, a process that condenses the beef and intensifies flavor.
After that, of course, like half of the ingredients here, they go right on the grill.
2037 Metairie Road, 504-570-6338
Tue.-Sun, 4-10 p.m.
Lunch hours (Friday and Saturday) and brunch to come.
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