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Inconsistent Fun at Carmine’s Brazilian Grill

June 22, 2012

Nearly two years ago, we posted about a strange banner that had appeared on the side of a run-down former restaurant, advertising that a Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria, was coming to our little town. Well, two years later that banner has disappeared and the building remains an eyesore. But recently a churrascaria did open up in downtown Albany – Carmine’s Brazilian Grill. With great anticipation and high expectations, we visited Carmine’s several weeks ago. But unfortunately our expectations were not met. Carmine’s was quite inconsistent with the quality of the food – however, it’s still a fun place to spend an evening. Just temper your expectations.

If nothing else, Carmine’s is a classy place. We were greeted by a large doorman/bouncer who invited us to enjoy our evening – it felt very posh. The atmosphere inside is very pleasant – orange walls and dark wood furniture created a simple, contemporary design that felt warm and inviting. The small bar has large windows looking out on Sheridan Avenue, and there was a small crowd on a Saturday evening. We were seated fairly quickly, and our server explained to us how the Carmine’s experience works. It’s a fixed price per person, and the food is all you can eat. There is a “starter bar” consisting of about 30 appetizers, which we helped ourselves to after ordering a round of drinks, including a few varieties of caipirinhas, a national drink of sorts of Brazil – it’s similar to a mojito, with a rum-like liquor and muddled mint and lime. They also had a pineapple variety and a mandarin orange version. All three were good, but the orange one stood out with great flavor. We also tried their sangria, which was also very tasty.

The starter bar contained both hot and cold items from a variety of nationalities – Italian, Spanish, American, Brazilian, etc. The items are not listed on any menu – there are small signs next to each plate letting you know what they are, and unfortunately at this time (being that we were there a month ago) we can’t recall very many of the items offered. But we do remember this – about half of them were not worth getting. 30 items is quite a lot, and had they focused on maybe just 15 or 20, the lack of quality in the other 15 items may not have been so prevalent. But we were having a good time, and looking forward to what churrascarias are known for, the giant skewers of grilled meats.

Every diner is given a card – one side red, one side green. When you are ready to be served, you flip your card to green and servers begin bringing you the food. Carmine’s list of meats changes, but they usually have 12 to 15 different things to try. We had three different kinds of steak, two different kinds of chicken, turkey wrapped with bacon, sausage, shrimp, two different kinds of pork, lamb, and grilled pineapple. All the items are carved off of large sword-skewers by a myriad of servers – some of the servers seemed to be enjoying their job, while others seemed to be annoyed with the task. But it was entertaining, and certainly a unique dining experience. But just like the appetizers, only about half of the dishes were of good quality. Most disappointing were the steaks, which should have been the star of the show. But there was no seasoning, no flavor to them – it was so disappointing. The pork dishes were ok but nothing to go back for; the lamb was bland like the steaks; and the shrimp was overcooked. The standouts were the chicken offerings, the turkey, and the pineapple. They were juicy, tender, and were seasoned just right, even the pineapple.

The dessert menu looked fantastic, so we indulged. They were offering a sampler trio of desserts, which sounded like a good idea. We tried the chili and chocolate pudding (which was more mousse than pudding), and the two other items escape me; all of them were ok, but again, not really worth coming back for.

Carmine’s charges $32 per person, which in spite of the inconsistent quality of the food is not a bad deal – we were there for over two hours, and had a good time just enjoying the variety of dishes and drinks. But because of the quality issues, we won’t be returning any time soon.

The Mouse House Kitchen gives Carmine’s Brazilian Grill 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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