- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chima, a new Brazilian steakhouse in Vienna, has a great look.

It is in a hotel and office park, but it is sleek and modern in browns and oranges, sprinkled with fun elements like six-foot tall vases. There’s a swank bar and several flat-screen TVs, one of which is on a large transparent panel in the middle of the ballroom-size restaurant and can be viewed from two sides.

The dining room was rather animated on a Tuesday night, populated mostly with a young crowd. It was far from full, but we had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated. As we waited at the bar our hopes were sinking, despite an expertly made caipirinha. What was the holdup?

We were seated at a table not far from the vast salad, soup and rice-and-beans bar by a very cordial maitre d’. The waiter who took over from there was also very nice and cheerful, but at a place where much is self-service (the salad bar) and the rest — the crown jewel, the meat — is served by costumed gauchos, there is really not much for a waiter to do other than take drink orders, clear plates and make a lot of small talk.

We started with a quick sweep of the salad, soup and rice-and-beans bar. It looked fresh and well-balanced with simple salads, cheese mousses and several varieties of cold cuts. Appearance can deceive, and these dishes were bland. Whatever we selected had little flavor, from the asparagus to the large slices of no-flavor tomatoes.

The soups were better. A creamy vegetable soup was smooth and flavorful and hit the spot on a particularly cold night. The rice and beans were nicely seasoned and prepared.

The restaurant uses trendy, but irritating white plates. They are oval-shaped and are rimmed, but the height of the rim is uneven, so that forks placed on the tall sides have a tendency to fall off the plate and onto the floor. This happened to us a half-a-dozen times and a glance across the room showed we were not alone. Trendy is fun — when it is functional.

These slight disappointments would not have meant much though, if the dozen or so different meats had been succulent and delicious. Some were, but the overall preparation and seasoning were uneven.

The concept is that the gauchos, who walk around with long skewers of meat fresh off the grill, will be able to present guests with a slice or two of meat, prepared to their liking. If guests want a rare piece of New York strip, it will be served. That did not happen. The New York strip, in particular, was tough and overdone. The chicken was wrapped in bacon and had a pleasant flavor, but was on the dry side. The lamb chops, too, were dry. The filet mignon was so-so. Rare was not available.

The highlights were the leg of lamb, tender and perfectly seasoned. The flank steak also was wonderful; the cut was tender and available from rare to well-done. The Brazilian sausage was also very tasty and had a kick to it, something missing in most meats and salad offerings.

There were also a few seafood dishes, including a grilled swordfish, which was good, if a tad fishy.

While we had to wait to be seated, at our surprisingly small two-top, we were never unattended. The gauchos know exactly when to approach as each guest is given a two-colored, round coaster-like ticket. The orange side means, “Yes, I’d like some more”; and the black side means, “No thanks, I’m fine for now.”

Our waiter and others promptly cleared our plates and filled our water glasses. Chima has a respectable wine list and, true to its trendy look, displays the bottles from floor to ceiling along several walls. The drinks are another strong point, as were the desserts.

We tried the passion fruit mousse with hot chocolate, which was delicious. It was delightfully smooth and creamy and had a hint of tart and sweet. But the real treat is the texture. The mousse is served with a small cup of very thick, rich hot chocolate. Either could stand on its own. The cream caramel was also nicely done. Most Brazilian desserts on the menu rely on fresh fruit like papaya and mango. There are familiar desserts such as tiramisu and cheesecake.

Our experience at Chima wasn’t bad, but not great. The young crowd seemed to enjoy the food and setting wholeheartedly, and the chain, which began in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has received a high rating from Zagat. However, a place like this should achieve steak perfection — isn’t that the idea?

RESTAURANT: Chima Steakhouse, 8010 Towers Crescent Drive, Suite 100, Vienna; 202/595-7755

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12:30 to 3 p.m. Sunday; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Lunch, $24.90 for rodizio (all meats) and the salad bar, $16.90 for the salad bar only; dinner, $43.90 for the rodizio and salad bar, $21.90 for the salad bar only; desserts $6.90 to $8.90; meals free for children 6 and younger, while those 7 to 11 pay $16.90 for lunch and $21.90 for dinner

CREDIT CARDS: Major cards accepted

PARKING: Free valet parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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