Brahma aiming to be an affordable steakhouse option
Dining at the new Brahma Steakhouse & Lounge recently, we encountered two vastly different types of experiences, with one exemplifying the difficulties facing a new restaurant, and the other demonstrating its potential to be successful.
Brahma, which opened in March on Washtenaw, replaces The Smokehouse Grill and Pub, which specialized in barbecue. (The former restaurant's moniker was still on the restaurant's receipt on our recent visits.)
The goal of owner Louie Vushaj is to create an affordable yet high-quality steakhouse. Vushaj gave the place a much-needed facelift, pulling up the worn and stained carpet and installing hardwood floors. There are now a variety of roomy booths in the main room, where a welcoming fire burning in the fireplace provided a warm glow. More booths are located in the room housing the expansive bar. The bar is perched below several flat-screen televisions.
4855 Washtenaw Ave.
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (bar open until midnight); Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-10 p.m. Closed Mondays.
- Plastic: Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express; no personal checks.
- Prices: Moderate.
- Liquor: Yes.
- Noise level: Medium.
- Wheelchair access: Yes.
Brahma offers seven different cuts of meat. Diners are given five choices in the way the steak should be prepared, along with five possible sauces that are served on the side. Personally, when it comes to what type of ingredients go best with different kinds of meat, I prefer to leave that to the chef.
Also, I learned that when the meat is served without the sauce, it's not nearly as savory as when the sauce is incorporated into the cooking. My son opted for the 8-ounce filet, but the server didn't ask which preparation or sauces he preferred, so the default was to serve it entirely plain. Not surprisingly, the filet was bland.
On our second visit, I ordered another cut, the veal chop, with the caramelized onion and wild mushroom preparation, along with a cabernet demi-glaze sauce. It was nicely seasoned with those additions, though the meat was a bit dry. With the meat entrees in the $20 range, a price that includes soup or salad and choice of potato and vegetable, the owner has made these dishes more affordable than that at a high-priced steakhouse, but the quality on our visits didn't match those higher-end steakhouses either.
Though steak is the focus here, Brahma's menu also includes chicken, salads, pasta and seafood. Our first visit provided mixed results. I thoroughly enjoyed the Caesar salad, tossed with fresh slivers of asiago cheese, wonderful homemade croutons and a tasty dressing that didn't saturate the lettuce. Macaroni was also tasty, with a four-cheese sauce that was a nice complement to the capatavi pasta.
The best dish, hands-down, was the shrimp and scallop risotto. The scallops, in particular, were fresh and perfectly seared, and the lemon butter thyme sauce was an ideal accent. The large, hearty house-smoked jumbo wings were served in a delicious barbeque sauce and were a great prelude to our meal.
The best dessert we tried was the turtle cheesecake. A thick graham cracker crust formed the foundation for the creamy, yet light sweet treat, nestled beneath layers of both fudge and caramel.
Among the shortcomings: slightly overcooked pan-seared salmon, overly salty potato leek soup, and shrimp in the jumbo shrimp cocktail that tasted like they were recently defrosted, almost inedible. The apple blossom dessert also wasn't freshly prepared; it was half frozen when I bit into it.
Service on our first visit was painfully slow, and I returned with much trepidation. But the second time around, on an equally busy weekend night just a week later, we were attended to by a delightful, pleasant server who routinely checked in on us and brought our food promptly.
Even the bread was better the second time around. Instead of the processed-tasting pieces we received on our first visit, we enjoyed a hearty, crusty, piping hot homemade loaf. We opted for the spinach and artichoke dip, which, though a bit heavy on the cheese, had a moist consistency which was nicely paired with crispy fried pita chips.
The wild mushroom ravioli was rich, yet delicious, served with roasted red peppers, leeks and shallots in a goat cheese cream sauce. The garlic mashed potatoes were wonderful.
If it can consistently provide the high-quality dishes and service it's capable of, Brahma has enough going for it to show true potential.
Julie Halpert reviews restaurants for AnnArbor.com.