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Where: 505 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa
When: Tuesdays through Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 to 10 p.m. on Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays. Open until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Full dinner service starts at 5:30 p.m. on all open days. Closed Mondays.
Reservations: Call 623-9382
Price range: Inexpensive to moderate ($-$$), with featured plates from $6 to $14. Rodizio at $40 is a feast for two or more
Website: www.thebrasa.com
Wine and drink list: ★★½
Ambiance: ★★½
Service: ★★½
Food: ★★½
Overall: ★★½

★★★★ Extraordinary
★★★ Very Good
★★ Good
★ Not Very Good
0 Terrible

Down in Brazil, where they really know how to party, the churrasqueiras — Portuguese for barbecue grills — are loaded with top sirloins of beef called picanha, pork, lamb, filet mignon, chicken, duck, ham, sausage, fish, or any other cut of critter they may have on hand.

The meats are turned and roasted over charcoal or wood embers. Wine and the national cocktail called caipirinhas flow freely, and the eating and drinking can last well into the night.

While we can’t get the actual experience here, we can get a taste of it at Brasa Churrascaria, the new Brazilian barbecue joint in Santa Rosa.

Almost everything on the menu is around $10, and much of it under $10, except for the rodizio at $40. Rodizio is a huge sampling of meats from the grill, brought to your table by the cooks and sliced up tableside.

At Brasa, the rodizio consists of top sirloin, garlic marinated picanha, bacon-wrapped chicken breast, garlic marinated chicken thigh, chicken wings, spiced pork sausage, pork loin with Parmesan cheese, New York strip steak, rice, beans, crispy polenta, fried yucca, crispy plantain, grilled pineapple, your choice of vegetable and either soup or salad. Obviously, bring a friend.

The wine list is mostly local, but with a nod to Argentine and Chilean whites and reds. But tropical drinks made from the full bar stand out, especially the caipirinha that is not unlike a margarita, but whose chief ingredient is cachaca, a sort of Brazilian rum, instead of tequila. You can have your caipirinha flavored with mango, passion fruit, or strawberry, but I think the fruit only detracts from the drink’s elegant edge. Besides being a churrascaria, Brasa also calls itself a brew pub, but the brewing facility is not yet up and running. There is a house beer, but it’s made off site.

After two visits and a lot of sampling, it turns out that the best thing on the menu is the Feijoada Completa ($12 ★★★), Brazil’s national dish, nicely rendered here by Chef Cristina Faga. She’s from Brazil, but has been here in the U.S. for 12 years. Her feijoada is the traditional pork and black bean stew made with cilantro and onions, topped with an orange salsa, and accompanied by two sticks of crispy polenta, marinated collard greens rolled and sliced into thin ribbons, a truncated pyramid of rice, and toasted yucca flour.

An order of top sirloin Picanha ($8 ★★½) was a generous portion of tender beef, rolled and tied before grilling, and served medium-well done. I wasn’t asked how I wanted it cooked and would have preferred it medium rare, but its smoky flavor and tenderness won me over. It came with a nice little salad of fresh greens and three sticks of crispy yucca.

A side dish of Pan-Fried Okra ($6 ★★½) featured okra cut into rounds but served soft and seemingly steamed rather than fried crisp in a pan. Mixed with the okra were cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, and onions. It tasted rich and satisfying.

Somehow, the Garlic Marinated Chicken Thigh ($7 ★) escaped the cook’s attention, as the boned thigh meat, cut into four pieces and fried, was woefully overcooked, chewy, and dry. On a second visit, the meat was handled more gingerly and the dish deserved 2-stars. It came with the fresh green salad and yucca sticks, plus slivered almonds.

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One of the better small plates was the Camarao Grelhado ($11 ★★½), five juicy, spicy, grilled prawns in a tasty white wine and garlic reduction sauce flecked with bits of parsley.

Corn and Cheese Croquettes ($7 ★½) lacked flavor and charm. They arrived looking like two large, deep-fried empanadas. Under the lackluster crust were large, doughy, yellow corn kernels and tasteless cheese. Two dipping sauces couldn’t rescue this dish, which needs either re-thinking or elimination.

For dessert, the Brazilian Flan ($8 ★★★) called out. The custard was soft and sweet, with a bottom of dulce de leche. It would be perfect with a cup of Brazilian coffee.

To sum up: Brasa Churrascaria offers a close encounter with real Brazilian cooking.

Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review for the Sonoma Living section. He can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

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