HOLLY: I can’t believe you’ve never taken anybody here before.
JERRY: Well, I’m not really that much of a meat eater.
HOLLY: . . . You don’t eat meat? Are you one of those. . .
JERRY: Well, no, I’m not one of those.
“One of those!” Around my Chicago born and bred Kim and her family, that term fits me to a tee. As with many Midwestern families, my in-laws are rapacious carnivores. Their dining room table is a pantheon of pork and a bastion of beef. It’s a Bacchanalian feast of multitudinous meats. Similarly, meals at Windy City restaurants are veritable meat-fests where diners unleash their innermost meat-eating-machine. In the city’s chophouses (what every other city calls a steakhouse) heavily marbled flesh is displayed under glass, trophies of edible excess. Is it any wonder the city’s defining foods include humongous Italian beef sandwiches, slabs of Flintstonian-sized ribs and steaks the size of manhole covers.
This obsession with meat isn’t solely a Midwestern phenomena. People throughout the world are eating more meat and fat than ever with worldwide meat consumption expected to double by 2020. In the western world alone, the per capita consumption of meat is a whopping 176 pounds–or about what my in-laws eat in a week. When they decide to lose weight or live more healthily, meat mongers eschew carbs and happily sink their teeth into…even more meat, a much-appreciated dietary byproduct of the most popular meat-centric diets in the world.
Carnivores–and those among us who, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, are “one of those”–can dine together in perfect harmony, eating side-by-side at veritable meatatoriums known as Brazilian Churrascarias. Strictly speaking, calling a Churrascaria a Brazilian “steakhouse” is a misnomer in that you don’t plop yourself down and order a slab of beef (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Instead, you pay a fixed price (preco fixo) for the decadent indulgence of sitting down for bounteous portions of magnificent meats and full access to a sumptuous salad bar. For carnivores, this is basically heaven on Earth. For those among us who are “one of those” there’s still much to enjoy.
The rodizio service is almost as entertaining as it is indulgent. Machete-wielding servers channeling their inner gaucho traverse the room with oversized skewers of freshly prepared meats. They risk life and limb to appease ravenous carnivores, some of whom would just as soon not wait for the meats to be sliced and apportioned. On each table, you’ll find a “signaling” apparatus (not wholly unlike the famous bat signal in the campy Batman series) that apprises your server you want more meat. This carnivorous cavalcade doesn’t end until you turn off the signaling device.
Perhaps someday Santa Fe’s resident carnivores will celebrate the summer of 2013 as the “summer of meat,” a tribute to the launch of the Omira Bar & Grill. While the marquee is subtitled “Brazilian Steakhouse,” Omira is Brazilian only in the spirit and style of the Churrascaria. Its world-cuisine offerings are more than a tad more sophisticated and of significantly higher quality than at other Churrascarias we’ve frequented while holding to a much appreciated price point. Within months of opening, the Santa Fe Reporter named Omira one of Santa Fe’s ten best restaurants for 2013, a tremendous accomplishment considering the quality and diversity of the city’s restaurant scene.
Omira is the brainchild of Ziggy Rzig, a Tunisian-born entrepreneur who also owns the Pyramid Cafe, a popular Mediterranean restaurant on Cordova Road. Ziggy is as hands-on and personable as any restaurant owner we’ve met. He’s a peripatetic presence at the cavernous Omira, flitting from table-to-table while simultaneously acting as host, server, busboy and all-around ambassador. The only job he doesn’t do is chef. That’s the bailiwick of his beauteous bride Sally. Ziggy credits being actively involved in every facet of day-to-day operation as one of the reasons Omira is able to maintain such high quality at a surprisingly low price point.
It’s certainly not the only reason. Ziggy frequents the farmers’ market to find fresh, local produce where the tremendous variety and seasonal diversity allows for frequent menu changes. Meats are also sourced locally. Lamb and pork, both grass-fed, are procured from the Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats in Galisteo. Beef is sourced from 4 Daughters Land & Cattle Company in Los Lunas. While technically an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) restaurant, the quality at Omira is wholly antithetical to your typical AYCE pantheon of the pig-out.
Ziggy jokes that Omira is named for the Spanish expression “¡O, mira!’” which translates from Spanish to “oh, look” as in “oh, look at all the wonderful food.” (Actually, Omira is a portmanteau for the names of Zigg’s children, Omar and Samira.) You won’t just look. You’ll do a double- or triple-take. As you walk past the front dining room into the larger, main dining room, your eyes will instantly train on a glimmering, glinting steely salad bar, one unlike any salad bar you’ll find in New Mexico. It’s a veritable cornucopia of freshness, variety and pulchritude. The burnished salad containers aren’t overfilled with their contents replenished faithfully to ensure freshness and minimize wastage.
If your idea of salad is the anachronistic concept of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and gloppy blue cheese, you’re in for a surprise. The salads, about two dozen in all, are already prepared for you. Clearly marked cards are labeled with the names of artistic composed salads: mushrooms in Balsamic vinaigrette, Greek salad, kale salad, Basmati rice, watermelon and cantaloupe in mint dressing, chopped beets and feta, Asian coleslaw and so much more. If you discern an Asian influence throughout the menu, credit Sally, of Southeast Asian descent.
There are a number of very pleasant surprises in the salad bar experience though because of the rotating menu, it’s likely some of those we enjoyed most won’t be available in future visits. Among our early favorites were a butternut squash soup, as warm and comforting as any soup. It’s a soup with personality, seasoned assertively but not so much that it takes anything away from the flavor of the squash. The Thai chicken curry is as good as we’ve had at some Thai restaurants. Bread rolls are yeasty and delicious, perfect for sopping up the curry and soup.
The fried bananas, a popular dish in Malaysia where they’re known as pisang goring, bring together sweet, ripe bananas sheathed in a light batter. Traditionally a street food favorite, they’re wonderful even without coconut sprinkles or ice cream (hint here). The mushrooms in Balsamic vinegar are only lightly dresses so as to allow the fleshy fungi to sing with delicious earthiness. Surprisingly, the freshly-made Caesar salad is as good as you’ll have at fine dining restaurants. It’s a daily salad bar standard.
If you’re not carnivorously inclined (or you’re “one of those”) you can opt out of the cavalcade of carne altogether and you’ll be perfectly happy (understatement) with the salad bar. Better still, focus on the salad bar one visit and the meat next time. Only certified gurgitators will have the caloric overachieving capacity to eat everything they want on both during one visit. My friend Ryan “Break the Chain” Scott and I certainly tried, but were woefully inadequate for the task.
Though the meats are slow-cooked to bring out the optimum smokiness and delicate flavors of the nicely marbled grass-fed stock, you may quickly find yourself falling behind if you’re still attacking your salad when the parade of meats begins. Depending on where in the meaty rotation your server (likely Izzy himself) is, you might start with German sausage, a nicely seasoned, not too assertive sausage with a smoky flavor. Maybe it will be with the crispy egg rolls stuffed with ground beef. The egg roll plating isn’t only decorative, it’s deliciously functional with swirls of a Sriracha and a soy-Hoisin sauce for your dipping pleasure.
The meat-fest features both bottom sirloin and top sirloin, two distinctly different cuts of beef from a one to two foot section of the cow. Top sirloin, along with tenderloin, is considered one of the “better” cuts. From the bottom sirloin comes a personal favorite, the tri-tip. Both the top and bottom sirloin are flavor-rich though not necessarily as tender as one might think. The meat with which I fell most in love is the panko-encrusted pork sirloin wrapped in bacon. Panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, imbue the sweet, tender pork with a delightful crispiness while bacon imbues everything it touches with deliciousness. For my friend Ryan, it was the Picanha, the most prized cut of meat in Brazil. Picanha is the cap that sits on top of the top sirloin butt roast. It’s a wonderfully beefy, magnificently marbled and superbly flavored cut of beef.
For the intrepid among you (Franzi, I have you in mind here), chicken hearts are not to be missed. Probably closer in flavor to dark meat chicken than to white meat, chicken hearts have a musky offal flavor and impart a slightly metallic aftertaste. More to the liking of most diners is Tokyo style beef, folded flank steak with the complementary contrasting flavors of soy and teriyaki for savory and sweet notes. Among carnivores filet mignon is a universal favorite. Often referred to as “beef tenderloin,” filet mignon is a tender cut resplendent with superb beefy flavor. The leg of lamb is a moist, tender dark meat with a wonderful flavor and very little of the gaminess for which lamb is renowned. One commonality among all meats is absolutely impeccable seasoning. Every dish is served as well as it can possibly be made–an optimum in deliciousness. You could happily make a meal of any one of the cavalcade of meats, but you’re treated to all of them. It’s truly a carnivore’s paradise.
There are about a dozen meat offerings on the lunch buffet with filet mignon and leg of lamb added for dinner. As an intermediary in between meats, Omira serves grilled pineapple sliced tableside. It’s a good palate cleanser that prevents a meaty overload. Moreover, it’s the very best grilled pineapple I’ve ever had. Glazed with a combination of butter, brown sugar and Amaretto, it may remind you of the best pineapple upside down cake you’ve ever had without the cake part. Seriously, this is one addictive pineapple. Great fortune smiled upon us during our inaugural visit as the talented Sally had just prepared a loaf of pecan bread, a moist, tender and delicious post-prandial treat. Other desserts may be offered when you visit.
For sheer quality and value Omira Bar & Grill may be unmatched in Santa Fe, but it’s certainly no slouch in the department of deliciousness with something for everyone to love–even if you’re “one of those.”
Omira Bar & Grill
1005 South St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 January 2014
1st VISIT: 15 December 2013
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Panko Encrusted Pork Loin Wrapped in Bacon, German Sausage, Fusion Dolmas, Egg Rolls, Grilled Pineapple, Top Sirloin, Bottom Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Tokyo Style Beef, Mediterranean Chicken Wrapped in Bacon, Picanha, Lamb Kefta