Festive dining at Novilhos

A college student’s budget is rarely, if ever, something that can be described as “generous.” Fine dining is not a luxury indulged in, but a rare treat for a student scrimping and saving.
Situated by the intersection of Southeast 38th Street and 124th Avenue Southeast, in the northwest corner of the Factoria Mall, is a Brazilian steakhouse called Novilhos. An “espeto corrido” style of serving makes this restaurant a unique dining experience. The first thing that is apparent upon entering the restaurant is the scent of real, high-quality wood charcoal used to grill countless skewers of meat in the back. The interior is classy to the extreme; dark and muted décor make the atmosphere understated yet luxurious. The  staff is highly professional  and courteous. Diners are offered a wine list and a choice between tap, still and sparkling water. For  first-timers, the staff is extremely helpful in explaining the process to those who have never dined in this style before.
Novilhos operates around an “all you can eat” format of dining. The buffet carries general salad bar items as well as appetizers and hot side dishes. Sides include mushroom risotto, bruschetta, cured sliced meats, cheeses and olives, to name a few.
The most unusual aspect of dining at Novilhos are the waiters called gauchos wandering around with skewers of meat, circulating from table to table. Diners are given  the usual utensils plus a small set of tongs and a two-sided plastic button. On one side of the button are the words “Yes, please” in English and Brazilian and on the other side the words “No, thank you.” The gauchos circulate through the restaurant, and if the “Yes, please” side is up, they will walk up to the table and offer diners bits of meat. Smaller bits of meat are served whole, while large cuts of meat are carved by the gaucho with the diner using their tongs to hold on to the slice.
16 different types of meat are served by the gauchos with staples like beef, pork, chicken and lamb. They range from simply roasted, such as the leg of lamb or top sirloin, to seasoned dishes like pork with cheese, chicken wrapped in bacon and steak grilled and seasoned with garlic.
Without the capacity to put away tons of food, Novilhos gets extremely expensive for a quick bite or casual, classy meal. I highly encourage all diners to show up famished and take any and all steps to eat as much as possible. Like a Thanksgiving meal, dinner at Novilhos is a big deal, one that requires a day of preparation, at least.
The buffet dishes were absolutely exquisite. Feijoada, a mainstay of Brazilian cuisine and a personal favorite, is a mix of black bean paste, black beans and assorted meats served over white rice. The mushroom risotto was likewise amazing, creamy and flavorful, the sort of good that sticks in  memory for months to come. The meat, however, was slightly on the disappointing side. While the meats covered in cheese or bacon were adequately flavorful, the plain cuts lacked real flavor. It’s all personal preference, of course. There are those who prefer the pure meaty flavor of slow-grilled beef, but I prefer strong seasoning and flavors on top of the meat. So while the base texture and flavor of the meat were sublime, something was missing.
At $50 a person, Novilhos is an expensive meal. Showing up without extreme hunger is a serious mistake. While the dining experience will be amazing regardless, getting one’s money’s worth is a major goal, especially for those with tighter budgets. A restaurant perfect for a special occasion, fancy date or just to satisfy an urge for luxury and fine dining, Novilhos is definitely the sort of place to keep coming back to. Vegetarians need not even consider showing up.