I often joke to myself that if I ever had to become a vegetarian I would do perfectly fine since I eat numerous meals that don’t contain meat. (I’ll eat a burger if I’m out but at home it’s the veggie burger route all the way.) But when you dine at a place like Fogo de Chão (be sure to pronounce the “ch” in chao as “sh” and not as a hard “ch”) you don’t really want to be vegetarian.
We didn’t have the time to try out all of Washington D.C.’s incredible restaurant scene, so we each picked a restaurant when there. I opted for an upscale Mexican place of famed restaurateur Jose Andres (I’ll be blogging about that shortly) but D went for Fogo de Chão after a Brazilian co-worker of his highly touted it. For anyone not in the know, Fogo is an upscale Brazilian churrascaria, a place where meat is cooked in Churrasco style, which translates roughly from the Brazilian word for barbecue. While Fogo is a chain establishment with locations all over the United States and even in Brazil, there are none in Pittsburgh. We’ve tried a churrascaria once before here in Pittsburgh and as it was more than five years ago, my main memories of my dining experience was that I had never felt so full to the point I felt sick. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do that again.
The draw about churrascarias is that the meat is endless. Literally. Fifteen cuts of grilled meats are continuously offered to you at your table. While the system may vary from restaurant to restaurant, at Fogo each diner has a paper cutout heart-on one side it’s the color green, the other the color red. When the green side shows it means you are ready to eat your heart out, as in you want to keep getting every type of meat that is being offered by a passing waiter. If you flip your card to the red side, it means you need a break and waiters won’t stop at your table to offer you a meat selection. Since it is a bottomless dining experience, costs are on the pricier side but depending on your appetite and the size of your stomach it might be a worthy price to pay.
But at Fogo before the meat gorging begins, the meal starts with pao de queijo (warm cheese bread) and the opportunity to visit the gourmet salad bar. The pao was delicious-when I first heard about it I thought it might be rich but the bread was almost weightless. The salad bar offerings were extensive and I could have just eaten from there. (You can eat solely from the salad bar; for adults the cost at dinner is $24.50.)
If you opt for the meat lover’s experience (which most people do when dining at a place like this), dinner is $51.50 and lunch is $34.50. Children six to ten are half off. The website does note to access a specific location for pricing, so the ones I have included here are for Washington D.C.
I’ll admit when meat after meat is being brought your way it’s a bit intimidating. I’m in the minority here but I like my cuts of meat to be more well done than is the culinary norm (I don’t care for the whole blood dripping look/taste) so some I liked more than others. My favorites were the chicken, chicken wrapped in bacon (slight overkill) and the lamb (sublime). Other meats included picanha which is a top sirloin, filet mignon, and a pork loin. We dined there on a Friday night and were slightly disappointed as it seemed that some meats were continually brought around while we never got to try two or three others.
Along with the meat, bread, and salad offerings, unlimited sides included plantains (I prefer the salty variety but these sweet ones were good too), garlic mashed potatoes (these didn’t strike me as very Brazilian) and crispy hot polenta. I’ll admit, I was sad there wasn’t anything with yucca as that IS Latin American cuisine.
Part of my being smart this churrascaria dining experience around was not drinking anything but water so as to keep my stomach as empty as possible. D however went for a caipirinha, the national alcoholic drink of Brazil. I had a sip and to me it tasted like the less worthy cousin of the Cuban mojito. Cocktails were above $10 for a frame of reference.
And alas, although the papaya cream sounded divine, I really couldn’t fathom willingly ordering any dessert. Perhaps next time I will just do the salad bar so I can try out the dessert.
It’s a pricey, it’s loud and not at all intimate (at least the DC location), and it can be a logistical mess due to people continually getting up for the salad bar and waiters passing through with their selections. And yet, it’s a fun and memorable experience too.