It's no Fogo. When a restaurant with an identical concept opens seven blocks away from the first, comparisons are inevitable. When Chima (pronounced SHEE-ma), another Brazilian steakhouse chain, opened in late May, those of us who enjoy Fogo de Chao (admittedly, another chain), were intrigued -- was the town big enough for both of them? I think the black button sums up my answer.
Having made reservations, printed out two-for-one coupons (something you can do by registering as a preferred customer on Chima's website), we presented ourselves at the front door. On the way to being seated, we noticed the din and, as my one friend put it, the "mess hall" feel. Carpets were vacuumed immediately as diners vacated, something I remember seeing last at ... Denny's.
Then came the service. Or the realization that there may never be service. After ten or so minutes of waiting without anyone presenting themselves, including just to give us water, I asked a man in a suit (who, luckily, worked there) for help. He took our drink orders, promised us water, and told us we could go to the salad bar if we wanted. He also explained the Brazilian steakhouse system, where diners put the orange side of the coaster/button up to have "gauchos" bring you meat on long skewers, and black side up to stop the gauchos from serving.
After we had made it to the salad bar, and ate most of what we got, we had still not received drinks or water or, most interestingly of all, seen our waiter. We began to think that maybe people don't get waiters here. After our drinks were delivered, we asked once again for water and got that. The salad bar itself was okay, with several unusual options like blue cheese mousse and corn mousse, neither of which were particularly good, tending to be less rich but bland. The carpaccio tasted more like a rare cut of roast beef, but wasn't too bad.
Onto the skewered meat. The meat was good, but what I would expect. There was one garlic sirloin offering that was unexpectedly flavorful. No filet mignon was ever offered. The prime rib though, was delicious. Lamb chops, sirloin, ribeye, marinated chicken, and chicken wrapped in bacon all made their way onto our plates. The side dishes -- mashed potatoes, polenta fries, and fried bananas -- left a lot to be desired. The mashed potatoes had been pureed to a thick, gluey consistency and the fries, although once very hot, I'm sure, were no longer resembling anything warm.
At several points, a man who looked like he was a waiter nodded approvingly toward our table. Later, this same man surfaced to ask us if we wanted more food or desserts. Our waiter! At long last! He kindly brought more fried bananas, one of the complimentary side dishes, as a dessert. I should have stuck with that, but ordered the cream caramel, which was oddly firm and not very tasty. I should have known better.
Even with two-for-one coupons, Chima failed to deliver value for the experience. Thanks to the service, the meal amounted to a two and a half hour experience, which was about two hours and ten minutes too long for my tastes.
Chima is located at 20th and JFK Streets, Philadelphia.