Carlos Brazilian International
Family Amaral. Carlos, Maggie and Ricardo Amaral have established consistency as a hallmark of their award-winning restaurant.
Updated Restaurant Review: Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine; January 2011.
A fixture in Roanoke since 1990, Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine offers diners a little something beyond the fare they find elsewhere. Owned by brothers Carlos and Ricardo Amaral, along with Ricardo’s wife Maggie, Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine routinely wins platinum and gold “Best Of Roanoke” awards and top Dining Awards recognitions from readers of The Roanoker for the food, service and personable staff.
The Amarals made the move out of downtown to the renovated Steak N’ Ale building perched high on a hilltop in southwest Roanoke County three years ago, without missing a step. Coming late this summer: a new front dining room that will offer mountain views to around 50 non-smokers. Live jazz music now greets patrons on Monday nights, something Maggie Amaral says they are using to remind people that the restaurant is open on that day.
A recent meal at Carlos proved once again that the Amarals haven’t lost their touch: The house salad with avocado vinaigrette dressing was spicy and easy to love. Diners try to stay away from eating too much of the warm, fresh-baked bread served with butter ahead of the meal, often to no avail. The lobster tail was broiled just right (not dried out), while the sautéed grouper fish was fresh-tasting, meaty and featured a delightful sauce.
The not-overly-sweet homemade dessert (tiramisu, the layered Italian cake) demonstrates that Ricardo Amaral hasn’t forgotten his roots, which include a stint as a pastry chef in Canada. (He and Maggie, by the way, met in Montreal.) Even the chocolate-covered coffee bean on top of the tiramisu wedge was chewable and not too hard after soaking in cream overnight. A nice touch. The meat, poultry and pasta dishes served by the efficient staff to other nearby tables looked just as good.
We like to do everything fresh and homemade – like it used to be,” says Ricardo. “Nothing frozen or precooked.” He is grateful for loyal customers who have stayed with Carlos, even through the move from downtown. “Thanks to them we try to be the best.”
Carlos Amaral remembers spending time early on educating people about how the staff prepared vegetables and other items in their own special way. Collard greens was one topic of conversation: Instead of cooking them for hours on end in the Southern tradition, two minutes in oil and garlic made it a whole new experience for some. Once people got used to it, of course. “There were a lot of questions [about Brazilian food],” says Amaral in heavily accented English.
He wasn’t too worried about losing patrons after they made the move from the downtown location on Market Street:
“If you take care of the customers they follow you.” That even means specially prepared dishes for patrons in line with tastes or dietetic needs. Olive oil has replaced butter in many cases according to both brothers, who oversee the kitchen while Maggie works the front. About 30 people are employed by the Amarals, including a college-trained pastry chef.
“One person cannot do the whole thing,” she notes. “It’s a team effort. We’ve got great servers and a great staff in the kitchen.”
Ricardo and Carlos Amaral became co-owners after their sister Ilma left the business and Roanoke for Greensboro. She and husband Walter Vanucci, who ran Vanuccis in Roanoke, now run Leblon, a Brazilian-style steakhouse with a heavy focus on meat dishes. That won’t happen with Carlos, says Maggie, which will remain an international restaurant with a widely varied menu.
“You can go around the world without leaving Roanoke,” she smiles. A chef’s background in cities including Boston, New York (at the famed Copacabana), Montreal and Toronto (with an Italian restaurant) helped give Carlos Amaral that world view in the kitchen.
An Italian by birth (born near Naples), Maggie Amaral says the move to southwest Roanoke County has been “great” for business. Speaking of the new addition coming soon she notes that it doesn’t include outdoor dining. That’s because the exposed location of Carlos on the hilltop off Electric Road lends itself to what she terms “incredible [wind]. You would have to hold your food down.” Many now come because of that view for lunch or early dinner, she says.
More timid or traditional diners who do come for the view and excellent service might stick with meat and potatoes at first – the New York strip steak for instance – but Maggie Amaral says a colorful, aromatic dish that passes by on its way to another table often wins converts.
“They might stay away from the meat and potatoes next time,” she says. “But we still have it on the menu.”
Her theory as to why Carlos, which features a smattering of other cuisines as well, keeps scoring so highly with readers of The Roanoker: “We take great care in whatever we are doing. We try to do the best that we can. If you go to dinner at a restaurant you expect to have really great food.”
That philosophy has worked for Carlos Brazilian International Cuisine wherever it’s been located. “Every single day we are grateful [for loyal patrons].”