Texas de Brazil Reviewed

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Texas de Brazil is a chain of restaurants that many Americans will recognize. While it isn't a nationwide chain, it is pretty well known. For those who don't know about Texas de Brazil, it is your basic Churrascaria, a Brazilian Steakhouse. If you've been to a Brazilian Steakhouse in the United States you know how it works. If you haven't, you can expect an all-you-can-eat bully busting affair. Waiters walk around with large swords of various meats. They'll come to your table and slice you off a piece or two.

I've been to about a dozen different Churrascarias in my time and Texas de Brazil is just ahead of Fogo de Chao as the best. What sets it apart from all the others? Several things including:

  • Quality of Meat - The quality of the meats are second to none. Often the all-you-can-eat places skimp on quality because they deal in quantity... not Texas de Brazil.
  • Quantity of Choices - There are usually around 13 different types of meat at dinner. I find that I don't even have room to try them all. Instead, try 7 or 8 and then go back to the two or three that I loved the most
  • Quality of the Salad Bar - I eat very little from the salad bar because I'm there for the big skewers of meat. However, I do like to partake of the cheese and cold cuts. My wife, on the other hand, has at times had her entire meal at the salad bar. With options like seafood chowder and lobster bisque, she's got more than enough to choose from.

One of the hidden gems about Texas de Brazil is that their website offers buy one, get one free dinners when you sign up for their fan club. This great value, combined with the quality of the restaurant makes it one of the must go to restaurants along with Papiamento and El Gaucho.

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Restaurant Review

Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 29, 2010 in Restaurant Review

Papiamento Reviewed

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When you read a website about Aruba, you'll definitely come across Papiamento. After all it is one of the biggest languages in Aruba. However, today, I'm not going to write about the language. Instead I'm going to write about Papiamento the restaurant.

I was hesitant to go to Papiamento. When I looked at the menu, not a lot jumped off the page. I like a good steak, but the menu only showed tenderloin... not the well-marbled steaks that I like. However, my wife thought it had a very diverse set of options. I didn't have a better suggestion so I lost and gave it a shot.

As usual, my wife was right and I was wrong.

You can't review Papiamento without mentioning the romantic atmosphere. Like a few restaurants in Aruba, it is accurately described as someone's home. The home in this case is a 125 years old mansion. The tables are set up around a well lit swimming pool. Many romantic restaurants will dim the lighting so low that you can't see your date or your food. Papiamento scores major points for not doing that.

As great as the atmosphere is, it doesn't mean much without good food. Papiamento's food isn't good, it turns out that it is great. When I got the menu, I was very happy to find that there was rib eye on it... a pleasant surprise because it wasn't on the online menu. That was just the well-marbled steak that I was looking for. My wife opted for the Champagne Casserole (filets of fish, scallops, and crab poached in a creamy ‘brut’sauce with Dutch cheese au gratin).

Before we got to our main course, they brought out the bread and the salad. The bread was piping hot... some of the best bread I've had. The Caesar salad was just average. As an appetizer, my wife chose the Fisherman’s Bisque (seafood cream soup). It is so good that I broke my anti-seafood stance and ended up eating half of it (they give a pretty big bowl). It goes great with the bread. I can guarantee that we'll be getting it again.

When our meals came we both agreed that they were some of the best meals we've had in Aruba. If we had one week to spend in Aruba, Papiamento will surely be on the list with El Gaucho and Texas de Brazil.

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Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 28, 2010 in Restaurant Review

El Gaucho Reviewed

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Any trip to Aruba is incomplete with a trip to El Gaucho, the best steakhouse on the island. The Argentine steaks are to die for.

When you walk in, you are just treated like a king. I recommend showing up obnoxiously early. Why? The host will recommend that you go to Garufa... a fantastic cigar bar across the street run by the same owners.

El Gaucho, like almost any high-end steakhouse, is an appropriate place to take that special someone in your life. It's not going to compete with Flying Fishbone's beachfront dining, nor is it like a poolside dinner at Papiamento, but you won't embarrass yourself by taking your date here.... unless that person is a vegetarian.

The meal at El Guacho starts off with some bread and three great dipping sauces. I recommend the garlic-based one, but many people mix a couple together to create their own super sauce.

When it comes to the main course, you have to be a little careful. You can't really go wrong with any of the steaks (and you better get the steak), but the waiter will likely mislead you. El Gaucho is famous for its Gaucho steak (surprise!). While that is a fine steak, the T-Bone steak blows it out of the water. Good luck finishing it. Whichever steak you choose, pairing it with a great wine is no problem. Wine Spectator has given El Gaucho their Award of Excellence.

I would like to be able to review the dessert at El Gaucho, but I've never had room for it. There's always next time, but let's just say that I'm not exactly confident it will ever happen.

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Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 23, 2010 in Restaurant Review

Garufa reviewed

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Those of you familiar with El Gaucho may know that in recent years, they have opened up a Cigar & Cocktail Lounge across the street: Garufa. If you show up a little early for your reservation, they will direct you across the street. At first we were a little put-off by this, but after we realized how much fun Garufa is... well, let's just say that we purposely show up early to El Gaucho now. And as soon as we are done with our meal, it is back to Garufa for more.

I'm not sure what makes Garufa so much fun. I would say it is a combination of drinks, karaoke, and the frequent stops from those on the Kukoo Kunuku bar-crawl tours that come in every few hours. I think the later is the biggest reason why it is fun. It's almost like speed dating because you get to people watch a new set of people every half hour or so. I don't want to gloss over the karaoke. A lot of places have karaoke, but the one at Garufa is the best. Perhaps it is the host. However, my wife says the equipment just makes your voice sound good.

Since any visit to Aruba is not complete without a stop at El Gaucho, you might as well walk across the street and experience Garufa.

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Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 23, 2010 in Bar Review

McDonalds in Aruba

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My wife and I were out touring the island looking for the Fontein caves, when we decided to stop at a McDonalds for a bite to eat. Well, it was really just me who was hungry. Plus, I really like the excuse to stop at McDonalds outside of the US. They always seem to offer a different/unique experience compared to the McDonalds you see in the USA. This one was no different.

We stepped inside and served the menu. The McRib which had been a staple in Aruba for years seems to have gone the way of well the McRib in the US. It was nowhere to be found. However, the McDonalds did offer something called Mighty Wings. I was tempted to give them a try, but at a price of over a dollar a wing, they would have to be quite mighty to curb my appetite. Instead I decided to go for the special combo of the day, a McBurger Supreme, drink and fries for 7.50 Afl (Aruba Florins)... roughly around $4. At first we thought that the McBurger Supreme might be a Quarter Pounder with a different name due to the metric system (thanks Pulp Fiction for filling my head with Royale with Cheese thoughts), however, there was a Quarter Pounder on the menu, so this had to be something else. I ordered one out of curiosity. My wife had spied her own treat - a McFlurry with the addition of Twix bar. I'm not an expert on McFlurries, but she said that Twix is not typically one of the available mix-ins.

It turns out that the McBurger Supreme can be summed in one word, "Whopper." Yep it is very much the same thing as Burger King's Whopper. It may have been lacking the sesame bun and the onions, I can't remember that well. I'm not a fan of mayo on burgers or any sandwich for that matter. I personally don't find the taste worth the calories. "Hold the mayo and give me more sandwich" is my motto. Other than the mayo, the burger was just what you'd expect at McDonalds... no surprises there. The fries were also the same fries that you get at almost any McDonalds... but those were served with mayo packets as well (which isn't uncommon outside of the US). The drink was an event though. My previous motto on calories/taste applies to soda as well. I will always take a diet soda vs. a full calorie one. However, they were out of Diet Coke... which means that they were out of all diet drink options. Bad McDonalds, bad!

I was a little grumpy about the soda situation when I asked my wife how her McFlurry was. I expected it to be the best McFlurry of all time as no less than a half dozen people were involved in making it. It seemed to be some kind of training on how to make McFlurries. This couldn't fail, right? Well, my wife showed me the McFlurry. It was a Twix bar chopped up into about 7 pieces and placed on top of the standard white ice cream. There was no attempt to blend the candy and the ice cream together. My wife ate about half of it when she adopted my calorie motto saying, "It isn't worth the calories" as she tossed it in the trash.

Overall, it was a pretty disappointing experience. I couldn't help but think that next time I would do better. I can imagine coming back on a Saturday when the combo of the day is a triple bacon burger, which seems like a great value at the 7.50 Afl price.

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Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 21, 2010 in Restaurant Review

Aruba’s Fontein Caves

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My wife and I decided to take an excursion to Aruba's Fontein Caves. Anytime an attraction merits a collectible stamp, it makes our list. In this case there are three Aruba stamps dedicated to the caves in the area.

Some may say that getting there is half the fun. In Aruba, depending on how you look at it, getting there is either fun or a curse. Most of the natural tourist attractions are not on a paved road. Fortunately, the path to Fontein was on a main road... a fresh new path (at least new to us) through Arikok National Park. It would have been a great ride if there were big dips every 20 yards or so. Our trusty Toyota Yaris had to nearly come to a complete stop at each one to avoid bottoming out. Other than a 100 or so dips the rest of the trip was uneventful.

When we got to the caves, we didn't know what to expect. We were prepared to hike for miles. My wife, who had been championing this journey looked in the Fontein Cave entrance and declared that maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. After going through 100 of the aforementioned dips, I was going to get me some stalactite and stalagmite action! I went in slowly and tentatively. I got a good 10 steps in and realized that the cave was quite small. It was probably only 50 feet deep in total. My wife's fears of nasty critters went away quickly after that.

I wish I could say that the caves were awe inspiring. We found them to be a little disappointing. There are some markings that may have been from native Arubans from thousands of years ago... or they could have been man made recently... it was genuine hard to say. What wasn't hard to say though, is that thousands of people had scratched their name into the caves, defacing the natural beauty. We came away with a feeling of disappointment in the human race instead of the excitement of having seen a natural wonder.

After spending about 5 minutes in the caves, we decided to go on a quick 600 meter nature walk on a path next to the caves. That was pleasant enough, with the only surprise being what seemed to be a freshly dead goat on the path. Let's just say we weren't too sad that we forgot to bring our camera for this trip.

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Posted by Vacation Aruba on September 21, 2010 in Tourist Attraction