Friday, November 26, 2010

Ummba Grill - Not Your Mother's Brazilian Churrascaria

"Brazilian Churrascaria" once a novel concept to American diners, has become the familiar in recent years - the words immediately conjur up an image of a traditional dining room, with servers making their rounds at each table offering giant skewers of meat that are carved directly onto your plate on request - as much as you can handle, until you reach the point where you can barely stretch out an arm to turn the red/green indicator over, signalling that you need to stop (at least for a while). 

Ummba Grill brings a new take on Brazilian Churrascarias, doing away with the all you can eat, brought to your table concept that leads to inevitable over-gorging, and streamlining service to two types:
(1) You can choose from their ready-made selection of entrees and hot/cold side dishes in a buffet-style line - but pay only for what you take, by weight - or (2) order a la carte items from the menu.  The other innovation was to put a chic yet casual space in a shopping center setting, and offer Brazilian entertainment on Sundays with music and dancers.

'Bicycletta' and I had passed by Ummba Grill many times on our way to the AMC Theater at Century City, and was always intrigued by the concept, the chic lounge style space on the terrace, the Brazilian dancers in full feathered garb - as well as the banners advertising Happy Hour specials.  Emboldened by my recently scored certificate (for $25, which I bought for $2 during their promotion for 80% off original price of $10), and its requirement for $50 minimum food purchase - we decided to check it out with 'Lindyhopper' last Sunday evening during the Happy Hour window, to further stack up the savings, and order anything we wanted on the menu.

Since we were there during Happy Hour (Mon-Tues all day, Wed-Sun 4pm-7pm) - this meant we could also get specialty drinks for $5 (with a few exceptions, like the Mediterrenean Capirinha) and 1/2 price appetizers (all except sliders), wines and beers.

I had the regular Capirinha ($9 regularly), while Lindyhopper and Bicycletta had sodas.  It was the start of the cold weather in LA, so we sat inside at the marble tables, though being right next to the fire pit did not help make us any warmer.

We couldn't wait to get our hands on food both to warm up and to see how it all tastes - but were having a difficult time narrowing down choices from the appetizer menu as everything looked good.  Then we realized since we were within the Happy Hour timeframe, we could actually just go crazy with ordering whatever we wanted! 

We finally decided on four plates to share, family style, so that we could sample more dishes.  The first was the Salmon Croquettes with Garlic Aioli ($8.95 regularly).

The croquettes were attractively presented as a set of two sitting on a splash of aioli, flavorful with a crispy outside and a flaky, warm filling of salmon.  The aioli was balanced and well proportioned to the croquettes, so as not to overpower them.

Next were the Shrimp Empanadas with avocado tomatillo salsa ($8.95 regularly) - which came two to a plate, and had fairly large and tender pieces of shrimp inside.  The pastry shell was flaky, but could have been served at a slightly hotter temperature (though perhaps we were just affected by the cold weather - and the dining area is sort of an open space leading out to the bar on the terrace).

Our third appetizer was the Coxinha - fried balls stuffed with chicken ($8.95 regularly) - served up on bed of mashed potatoes with a few greens and cherry tomatoes.  Between the two 'fried balls' appetizers we had in this meal, I preferred the Salmon Croquettes, but may be a bit biased as I am not a fan of chicken, at all, in general.  Though, this one tasted more like tuna than chicken.

Our last appetizer was the Fried Polenta ($7.95 regularly) - which looked like oversized fries topped with shredded parmesan cheese and herbs (parsley?).  Interesting way to serve polenta, and I liked the combination of the crispy outside with the crunchy / mealy inside.

For our entree, all three of us ended up choosing the Picanha ($15.95) - 4-5 slices of top sirloin with Brazilian special seasonings plus two side dishes.  Temperature was a big part of experience...and unfortunately on the day of our visit, everything on the plates were just too cold. 

Our side dishes were also lackluster:  Three Cheese Macaroni (fairly bland and not rich and creamy enough in texture) - two orders, Brazilian Garlic Rice (garlic flavor was too muted for our taste), Feijoda (black beans with chunks of beef - single note in flavor), Plaintains (got cold too quickly, wasn't crisp on the outside nor soft on the inside), and Mashed Potatoes with Arugula (could be a little more rich and creamy).

That said, this is better than your average mall meal, though I would have been sorely disappointed if I had paid full price (and in my mind of course I am still comparing the quality of the meat to other Brazilian churrascarias I had been to in the past - which were fall-off-the skewer, amazingly tender, juicy and flavorful). 

One other point of disappointment was in that we missed the "Brazilian Sundays" Entertainment - there are supposed to be dancers every Sunday 4pm-10pm - but from 4pm til 7pm when we left, there was no entertainment to be seen.   That would have been a highlight and part of a unique experience that one would not expect at a shopping center - and would have justified the prices and average tasting food. 

That said, we left satisfied with the value that we got from the meal, only because of all the compounded deals - with the happy hour pricing for all appetizers and my specialty drink, and the application of the $25 voucher (which I paid $2 for during a promotion) - the total cost came to  $66 including a 20% tip ($64 + $2 for the GC) for three people.

On top of all this, I signed up at the mall concierge for Westfield Century City Dining Rewards - each food purchase at the mall, whether it be at the dining terrace, any of the other eateries around the mall, or any of the food stores (e.g. See's Candies) can be recorded by the concierge within 7 days of purchase.  Once you accumulate $500 in receipts on the above, you can earn a $25 reward certificate to spend as you like at the mall.  So, my meal was not only fairly low cost, I also earned $64 towards the total needed to get a $25 reward certificate!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 5 stars
Overall experience -  bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 80%


Ummba Grill (Westfield Century City)
10250 Santa Monica Blvd # 200A, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Ph: 310-552-2014

Ummba Grill on Urbanspoon

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