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Tucanos
** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$$
By Ryan DuVall
The gorgeous centerpiece ''Salad Experience'' at Tucanos Brazilian Grille in Jefferson Pointe.

Offerings aplenty at Tucanos

Its arrival was one of the most eagerly anticipated I have seen in Fort Wayne in some time.

Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Jefferson Pointe introduced many in the area to what has become quite a popular concept across the country. And really, how could a Brazilian steakhouse and its all-the-steak-you-can-eat format not be a hit here?

It has been a hit, evidenced by the fact that walk-in customers were not even accepted until after 9 p.m. when Tucanos first opened. On the Saturday night I visited, I made a reservation three weeks in advance and was still forced to wait more than 30 minutes for a table.

I wish I could say it was worth the wait.

If you are not familiar with the Brazilian steakhouse, let me explain. Customers who choose the "Full Churrasco," which includes the humongous Salad Festival buffet and most of the meats, are given little 3-inch "cues" with one end painted red and the other painted green. You turn the green side up when you want Tucanos' food runners to bring meats to your table and turn it to red when you are done or if you just want a break.

The meats include top sirloin, "beef tender," garlic-Parmesan beef, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, teriyaki beef, Brazilian pork sausage, bacon-wrapped turkey, chicken hearts, chicken wings, brown sugar-glazed ham, pork loin and fish. During my visits the fish was grilled salmon and tilapia glazed with a scrumptious zesty orange-sweet chili sauce. Grilled vegetable skewers and brown sugar-glazed grilled pineapple are also provided, the latter of which may have been the best skewer item of them all.

The filet, teriyaki beef and pork loin are not available for lunch.

The tender was my favorite beef item. It was basically skirt steak, but it was tender, juicy and delicious. The sirloin was hit or miss – some slices were tender and juicy while others were dry and tough. The filet picked up salt from its bacon wrapping, which was nicely charred. It was decent, but the same could not be said for the teriyaki and garlic-Parmesan offerings, which seemed to be low grades of beef that were overcooked and dry. The bacon-wrapped and honey-glazed turkey was really nice – tender, juicy, salty and sweet.

The sausage was dry and mealy. The chicken hearts were decent one time and not good at all the other, but, overall, needed a more aggressive seasoning to help mask the funky mineral flavor of the organ. The ham, salmon, tilapia, brisket, pork loin and wings were OK, but nothing I couldn't find at a Golden Corral.

The only thing that really separated Tucanos from a Golden Corral was its atmosphere and, of course, its prices. It is a gorgeous restaurant with a sleek, modern design.

It was loud and way too crowded during my busy weekend visit. I could hardly converse with anyone at my table without yelling, and I felt I was constantly in someone's way as I made my way around the massive room-dominating salad bar. During a quiet weekday lunch, I could better appreciate its almost Vegas-like feel.

The huge triangular salad bar is its centerpiece, and it is really cool. It is surrounded by palm tree-style canopy pieces projecting from its center that you can't help marvel at its aesthetics. However, the offerings on that bar also screamed Golden Corral.

It had impressive salad fixings, plenty of fresh fruit, sushi rolls (why, I have no idea) and six – count 'em – six prepared pasta and seafood salads. The wasabi-shrimp salad was tasty and I would have it again. I didn't try the other five because who needs six salads when you are getting all the meat you can eat? I skipped the beef stroganoff (another I-have-no-idea-why offering) but did taste the Alfredo and red pasta sauces, and they, too, were of cheap buffet quality.

I also found the lobster bisque to be quite nice, but it was a little spicy, which I was not expecting. There was also plenty of lobster meat scattered throughout.

On the weekend, big plump peel-and-eat shrimp were on the bar and I enjoyed a few of those, but I wondered why they were there when I would have to pay an extra $10.95 for a grilled shrimp skewer. Scallop skewers and lobster also cost extra.

I did try the grilled shrimp during my lunch visit when they were on special for $4.95 and was sorry I even paid that much for them. They had no visible char marks from the grill and lacked grill flavor. They were rubbery and basically tasted like cheap sautéed shrimp.

The other appetizer I tried, the Taste of Brazil, were coxinhas – chicken-stuffed batter balls. They were similar to hush puppies with shredded and seasoned chicken inside. The coxinhas were crisp and clean, but the chicken was rather bland despite having plenty of visible herbs mixed with it. The dipping sauces were the only thing that made them passable.

Three sauces are brought to the table in a divided dish for customers to use to their liking – at least they are supposed to be. During my lunch visit, I was 45 minutes into my meal and basically done before my server brought them. The sauces were a zesty orange-sweet chili – the same used on the tilapia – a spicy aioli and an odd chimichurri that was thick and blended like an aioli instead of loose like traditional chimichurri (parsley, oregano and garlic in vinegar and olive oil). The flavor of the chimichurri was OK, but I did not like the texture because I felt like I was smearing mayonnaise on my steak.

You will want to add on a dessert because the only sweet treats on that massive salad bar were cinnamon- and sugar-coated fried bananas. A play off of fried plantains, which are firmer and not as sweet as bananas, these were just too mushy and too sweet for me.

The best dessert was the mango butter cake. It was perfect with the indulgent, butter and mango puree-infused cake topped with a scoop of tart mango sorbet, sliced fresh mango and a drizzle of raspberry sauce. The passion fruit mousse was the complete opposite. It was too thick and more like a bad buffet pudding than a light, airy mousse and it just tasted odd; so odd even my kids passed on it.

I asked for a cup of coffee with my dessert instead of the delicious, frothy Brazilian lemonade I enjoyed with dinner. But I was a bit shocked when the bill arrived and I had paid $3.75 for the lemonade and a whopping $2.75 for a regular cup of coffee.

That pretty much summed up my visits to Tucanos.

For two adult full churrasco experiences, one appetizer, two Brazilian lemonades, one coffee and two desserts, I was looking at $75 before tax and tip. For lunch, if I dropped the appetizer, coffee and a dessert, I was still looking at $46.

Yes, I did get plenty of food for those prices, but I didn't get enough great food to make me want to rush back.

Restaurant: Tucanos Brazilian Grill

Address: 4130 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 436-4433

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Brazilian steakhouse

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Full churrasco ($22.95 adults; $8.95 kids), lunch churrasco ($15.95 adults, $6.95 kids Monday through Friday), coxhina ($5.95), butter cake ($6.95), mousse ($6.95), lemonade ($3.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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