With an uptick in Brazilian-inspired Rodízio restaurants popping up in major tourism cities, we decided to check out Copacabana in Uptown Toronto. This particular location is one of four restaurants in the small Copacabana chain, with its counterparts located in Downtown Toronto, Vaughn, and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Rodízio refers to an ‘all-you-can-eat’ style of Brazilian Steakhouse, where the salad bar, bread and rolls, cheeses, and all side dishes including vegetables, rice, and potatoes, exist on a buffet where guests can help themselves to as much as they want, as often as they wish. However, the main draw of such a restaurant is a vast selection of grilled meats. They are brought individually to your table via carvers who slice it directly onto your plate from the skewers on which it was grilled. This allows guests to taste a little of everything and perhaps develop favorites. Then carvers return to your table periodically throughout your meal to offer more of whatever meat you wish.
As with most buffet-style restaurants, meals are prix fixe, which is simply restaurant talk meaning a fixed price regardless of how much you eat. At Copacabana Uptown Toronto the fixed price is $45 (Can) Sunday through Thursday. $50 (Can) on Fridays and Saturdays. Prices fluctuate a few dollars from location to location in the Copa chain, with Downtown Toronto charging the most at $57 on Fridays and Saturdays.
On weekends, the meal also comes with a short but sweet floor show featuring 2 energetic drummers and 2 flashy dancers dressed in feathers and beaded attire inspired by Brazil’s Carnival. An early show at 7:30p and one at 9:00p on Friday and Saturday nights allows most diners to catch the action before finishing their meal.
Afterward, patrons can have their photo taken with the entertainers if they desire. For sure, the performance is interesting and a nice touch, but perhaps calling it a ‘floor show’ is a bit of stretch. It’s no more than 10 minutes in length and nothing is choreographed; rather all 4 performers more or less do their own thing to 2 or 3 fast-paced Latin beats.
Now that you have the concept of Copacabana, how does it rate as a restaurant?
Well, for starters, it’s noisy! Incredibly noisy, even without the music from the floor show; in fact, its difficult to hear what the drink waitresses and carvers are saying when they approach your table.
As for the interior of the restaurant, it’s much smaller than you might imagine, with tables butted close together for maximum use of the smallish space. It’s also fairly plain. We envisioned a Brazil-themed restaurant would look the part, with some greenery such as a palm tree or two, or rattan tables and chairs, and perhaps some South American art on the wall or unique centerpieces on the tables. No, none of the above… or anything else for that matter (see interior photo below). Even the tables are lackluster and bare with the exception of napkins and cutlery.
The one and only thing of distinction is a laminated coaster-like sign, blue on one side with the word Sim, red on the other with the word Não (Sim meaning yes and Não meaning no in Portuguese, the official language of Brazil).
Flipping the coaster to one side or the other signals to the carvers to continue serving your table or to stop. There’s also the option of temporarily displaying the red Não if diners wish to pause for a while. However, our experience revealed that it didn’t matter which side of the coaster was facing up because carvers kept coming regardless of our request to pause, at one point even placing the skewer of meat directly on top of the Não sign.
The lifelessness extends to the outdoor patio where there are only a few tables and chairs and a lone blue couch. There’s nothing to make the area inviting, not even a floral basket or a potted plant. The only greenery is at the hostess desk at the door entrance (as seen in the lead photo).
As for the food, we have a mixed bag of opinions. Most of the vegetables and salads were fresh and flavorful. We were particularly fond of the red beets in parsley. However, the Caesar Salad was very dry; it lacked Caesar dressing and the optional mozzarella shreds in the adjacent bowl were utterly tasteless. The steamed broccoli was crisp and savory, and the mashed potatoes were creamy and delicious. But the other potato options of french fries or sweet potato fries were extremely brittle. They were tasty, no doubt, but very hard to the point where biting down on them for the first time was not only a shock but also slightly painful. One of our reviewers actually chipped a tooth.
The bread selection was very interesting as well as tasteful, particularly one stuffed with cranberries and coconut. And the pita chips were quite good. Strangely, though, the buffet also included Macaroni & Cheese and Lasagna, neither of which felt like they belonged. However, if pressed to pick one over the other, we’d have to say the Lasagna was a better choice seeing as the mac and cheese was bland.
As for the meat, the Copacabana website boasts 17 types; though our carver contradicted that number by telling us there were 12.
Of that 12, we were offered to sample 8, including Grilled Chicken Drumsticks, Parmesan Crusted Filet Mignon, Cheddar Cheese-infused Prime Rib, House Sirloin, Flank Steak, Filet Mignon Wrapped in Bacon, Leg of Lamb, and Garlic Sirloin.
We were partial to the Filet Mignon in Bacon, House Sirloin, and Grilled Drumsticks, in part because they were quite tender and tasty and, in part, because they were well done. The majority of the meat; however, leaned toward RARE. To be fair, a lot of diners prefer their meat rare and are quite happy with the Copacabana selection. Unfortunately, our reviewers do not fall into the same category. As such, we found the abundance of red flesh and blood to be somewhat of a turn-off.
We were also offered Grilled Pineapple off the skewer, which was sweet and delicious, as well as Panko Crusted Deep Fried Banana, which was an unexpected taste sensation with an odd but pleasant texture combination of spongey and crispy.
The dessert list is somewhat limited with 6 items on the menu, including typical selections like ice cream and cheesecake. Specialties include Brigadeiro, a Brazilian favorite of dense cocoa powder, butter, and milk and coated with chocolate sprinkles. Then there is the coconut version of the above, called Beijinho. Both of these are small round balls, almost like donut holes, and are sweet and delicious. And finally, there is our favorite, the Tropical Fruit Mousse, which is custard-like in texture and color and is loaded with savory fresh fruit flavor. Although the dessert is light, the taste is abundant like an explosion on your tongue.
As for customer service, the carvers and drink servers were extremely fast, attentive and friendly.
Our research leads us to believe that issues of the nature we have described tend to exist mainly in the Uptown Toronto location. More favorable reviews are given to the Downtown Toronto and Niagara Falls locations.
Lead Photo Courtesy of TheCopa.ca Toronto Eglinton Page