Ekko de Brasil
Chateau Cartier Hotel, Aylmer
Ekko is a new, Brazilian-style steak house – a large, dark, semi-subterranean room tucked near the golf pro shop at the Château Cartier in Aylmer.
The room is packed this Saturday night, and loud with fiesta music, and with couples, families, bridal parties – long tables of people celebrating this or that. It seats about 250. The chairs are indulgently padded and the tables are all clothed in white. The dominant colours are red and black and, depending on your take on these things, reminiscent of a Senators fan club dinner hall or a bordello. The chandeliers hung from the crimson-silk draped ceiling, and the gyrating dancers rather incline me toward the latter. The long banquet tables with the grannies and the babies and the teenage boys focusing on their meaty plates (and occasionally on the gyrating dancers) make me think of raucously fun weddings.
At one end of the room, the sea of smiling, chewing faces is interrupted by a large oval of salads, cold cuts, crudités, soup, roast potatoes, greying vegetables and reddened rice, roast salmon and a lamb stew, around which diners make painstakingly slow laps in search of the things they will be eating when they are not eating barbecued meats. Which is more the point of this place. Ekko is a Brazilian-style churrascaria – a steak house where barbecued beef rules.
The meats are carried by a parade of passadores – young men in blue shirts who wander this room with sword-length skewers and large, white-handled knives, dispensing marinated, charcoal-roasted meat, leaning over your table so they can hear you over the din of chatter and music. If you want them to keep coming, you leave the round Ekko coaster turned to the green side. Green means Keep It Coming. Red means Stop.
Most of the women who work here are greeters or dancers (or both). The latter show up on weekends when the Latin music gets turned up, in costume, skin-tight and revealing in a parental guidance sort of way. If you want a closer view of them, you need to ask for a table next to the small stage.
This is my second experience at a churrascaria. The first was in Montreal, in the company of my sons and husband. It was a giggle – a smaller space than this Aylmer version, hotter, sweatier. The waiters all wore the yellow jerseys of the Brazilian soccer side and the men and women (both) who scampered out of the back were also extremely loyal to national dress and customs, clapping, hooting, blowing whistles and making sure anyone who was so inclined got up from their chairs to join in Brazil’s other national pastime of dancing while showing off their assets. The food as I recall was very tasty, the sides (big bowls of salad, rice, roast potatoes) were delivered by hand, the meat was beautifully done, and everyone got out alive, happy and reaching for the Tums.
Ekko de Brasil accomplishes much the same. The big difference (and greatest weakness) is the cruise ship-style salad bar. I’d tell you what was on it, but you likely already know – a blend of mayo-based cold dishes, hot steam-table stuff – some of it not bad (I liked the potato salad and the salmon was moist, the lamb stew tasty) but none of it memorable. And the lineup – at least on our night – can be a bit discouraging, as folk wait for the lettuce to be replenished.
The meats are the memorable part – salted and grilled in an authentic (we are told) rotisserie over special charcoal imported from Brazil (we are told). The beef, available rare or well done depending on your penchant, is crisp-skinned and well seasoned. There’s picanha (essentially the rear of the steer, and the most coveted cut in Brazil), rib eye, sirloin, plus leg of lamb, pork sausage, chicken drums and bacon-wrapped breasts. Some of it was a bit stewy-flavoured (the sirloin) and some of it uncomfortably salty (the sausage, say) but mostly it was a delicious and endless meatfest.
For dessert, cinnamon-coated grilled pineapple is a juicy relief.
Go on a Saturday night and you will be guaranteed an evening of people watching, music and dancing. You will spend it speaking over the insistent thrum of Latin rhythms filtered through a Las Vegas-fired amplifier, and the constant eruption of laughter from the meat-littered banquet tables around you. This isn’t serious dining at Ekko. But it is serious eating. Round up some teenage boys – the high-school rugby team, say – to really get your money’s worth.