Tucanos Brazilian Grill

Tucanos is another one of those places I've wanted to visit for a while now but have never gotten around to (I know, it's the story of my life).  When it comes to meat, I have a girlfriend who basically only eats poultry and a sister who only eats poultry and seafood, so whether at home or spending time with the family, my meat options are kind of limited.  I make due, though, hitting interesting places on my lunch breaks and luckily my girl is something of a cheeseburger freak, but every once in a while I just want to sit down and devour a serious amount of animal protein that didn't used to have feathers or live under water and hasn't been ground up, so the idea of an all-you-can-eat barbecue and grill joint very much appealed to me.  Tucanos has gotten somewhat mixed reviews, but a lot of them are from when the place first opened, and the more recent ones as often as not can be explained away by the fact that the food is somewhat out of the reviewer's comfort zone or that the ethnic theme made them forget they're at an AYCE buffet.  Make no mistake: we ARE discussing a buffet here, but it's one of the most interesting examples of that dining experience that I've seen in this area.

Tucanos gave me a very good incentive to sample their wares.  If you sign up for their birthday club, they will send you a postcard which acts as a coupon and entitles you to a free meal when one of equal or greater value is purchased during the month of your birthday.  They also have an extensive salad bar which they refer to as a "salad festival", and which incorporates many items I'm not used to seeing in the guise of a salad bar, as well as grilled vegetables and pineapple, and that was enough to talk my gal into accompanying me (okay, so I also suggested that it could be a late birthday dinner for me, I confess).

The inside of the dome, which was above our table (courtesy of my gal's camera phone)
Tucanos is across Overland from Edwards Cinemas in Boise, surrounded by a couple of other eateries and a gas station.  When you pull up to the restaurant and step out of your car, you're immediately assaulted by appropriately-themed music which is, thankfully, not quite as loud once you're inside.  And while you get a little of the "it's a chain" vibe that accompanies a visit to any number of other franchise eateries, it's much more subdued.  We were seated and given a short explanation of how the system works before being unleashed on one of the more interesting salad bars I've come across.

Above is what my first trip to the salad bar yielded.  Starting at the top and moving clockwise: Brazilian sushi (I know, go figure...I think it's basically a California roll made with krab salad), cheesy mashed potatoes, tomato salad, steamed vegetables, Parmesan tortellini, and peel-and-eat shrimp.  In the middle are a couple of pieces of fried banana, and on top are a couple of pieces of cheese bread.  Despite the interesting selection (which kept me from actually trying most of the pasta salads, potato salads or any "normal" salad), I was still expecting safe, bland food.  Maybe it was the lowered expectations to some extent, but I thoroughly enjoyed everything but the sushi, which was just too odd for me.

As I was nearing the end of exploring my salad bar plate, our meat service started (or rather mine did, m'lady decided to return to the salad bar after the first selection, which interestingly enough wasn't even meat).  I hate to say it, but I was so wrapped up in the experience and the selections were coming so fast that I decided to just enjoy the ride, hence no more pictures for this write-up.  Besides, when someone is just sliding and slicing bits and pieces and piles of meat onto your plate, the results aren't terribly photogenic.  It's all kind of a blur to me now, but I think the first thing that was brought to us was the grilled vegetables.  They were very good, but before I forget I want to mention our meat server, Derrick.  The guy was, at least until the dinner rush started, the fastest, most attentive and funniest server I've ever had the pleasure of dealing with.  I love it when people find ways to let their personality out and have fun at their jobs, and Derrick is definitely that type.  If you sit in his section, you're in good hands and can expect your experience to be informative and entertaining with zero pressure.

As I said, the grilled vegetables were very good, but they weren't what I was there for.  The next item brought out was top sirloin, and like most of the things I would sample throughout the night it was flavorful, tender, juicy, and brought out to the table still steaming.  The sirloin tasted of butter and garlic, and although I could have eaten more of it, I knew I needed to pace myself.  Chicken thighs came next since I had mentioned my beloved's fondness for poultry, and she took one to be polite but wasn't terribly interested.  She's the type who prefers her meat to be of the all-white skinless and boneless variety.  No great loss as far as I'm concerned, I don't like dark meat much anyway.  Baked salmon was brought out, very well cooked but a little strong on rosemary. 

Then a treat: bacon-wrapped medallions of filet mignon.  These, along with lobster tail and shrimp, are usually a premium item costing above and beyond the price of the standard buffet, but I was lucky enough to show up during a promotion where filet mignon is included at no extra charge.  I think Derrick sensed my delight as he slid four of the medallions onto my plate, each one wonderfully smoky from the bacon, grilled to crispy perfection on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender within.  Pork loin, sliced thin and just a little fatty and salty (in the good way) arrived soon thereafter, and then the grilled pineapple.  A secret about me: I hate pineapple.  That having been said, this was the best I'd ever tried.  The flavors of the grill and the warmth of the fruit brought out the sweet flavor and buried the natural tartness. 

Linguica sausage next?  Why not?  It was grilled possibly a little aggressively and ended up crispy and a tad dry, but the flavor and the heat were still there.  Then another special, pulled pork with a Brazilian-inspired barbecue sauce.  I didn't taste anything particularly Brazilian about it, but it was smoky, barbecued high-quality pork, and the sauce was damn good.  Another cut of beef was brought out, perhaps skirt steak?  It wasn't quite as delicate, indeed the texture was like a very thick-sliced roast beef, but the flavor was amazing.  They had done some kind of rub or marinade that had locked some amazing flavor into the blackened "skin".  Then came turkey medallions wrapped in bacon, which neither of us cared for terribly much, though I think it might have made a more positive impression had I not had that filet mignon to compare it to.  My girlfriend mentioned around this time that quail eggs were available on the salad bar.  I'd never had one, so I dashed over.  I was surprised by how prominent the yolk was, but the flavor was nothing special, or at least didn't stand out against everything else I'd been eating.  I'd like to try them again though, since I don't think hard-boiling them is a common method for serving.

Derrick returned.  Grilled chicken heart?  Why not?  I'd heard of them deep-fried, but this was very interesting, the texture like a very large smoked oyster but the flavor resembling the darkest meat on a Thanksgiving turkey.  More pineapple for my dining companion, more pulled pork for me.  A little more rosemary baked salmon.  My girlfriend, interestingly enough, then gave up on dinner and ordered a slice of raspberry cheesecake.  What a trooper.  God I love that woman.  As for me, there was one more thing I had been wanting to try and I was running out of room quickly when Derrick showed up again as if by providence.  The skewer which held my last bites of the evening consisted of beef crusted in garlic and Parmesan cheese, which even my stuffed-like-a-Christmas-goose-and-doesn't-like-steak-anyway girlfriend said smelled good.  She didn't get to find out, but it tasted just as good as it smelled.

When neither one of us could eat another bite, we pushed away from the table and left.  I already know I'll be returning.  I didn't even get to try a caipirinha, Brazilian lemonade, or the seemingly incongruous Snickers cheesecake.  Tucanos isn't as cheap as some of the other buffets in town, but it's definitely a case where you get what you pay for.

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