Fogo de Chão
I don’t usually do a lot of food reviews. Partly, because we have a lot of local staple places we go, and it’s only worthy to review places that are “interesting” (unique enough), but also available enough that people can share the experience (in a place they might be able to visit or try). Well, Fogo de Chão is all that: a small, upscale chain, that has enough locations that people can try, but a more unique experience from just your average chop-house.
I thought of them as upscale Brazilian Benihana’s: the food is good, but you’re going for the uniqueness of the experience. It’s definitely not as showy as a Benihana’s: no twirling knives or flying food. A friend asked, what made it Brazilian steak? My first thought was of a cow letting out a shocked moo at getting it’s hindquarters waxed, but it’s the far more benign steak on a stake (or we did a meet for meat).
Great salad and sides
They have a reasonably stocked salad bar for the first course (with a variety of some things you don’t find everywhere, and some upscale ingredients) — most things I tried were good, a few things were curiously strong (but flavorful). And the second course is served with waiters having various meats on a stick, which they cut, carve, or de-skewer your portion to your plate. You have a simple dot-coaster, that you turn over from green (leave me alone) to red (feed the beast), and they will ask and attend to your culinary needs. Besides them getting the whole red-green meaning backwards, and concerning me about driving in Brazil, it worked well. There are lots of the waiters coming around with a wide variety of meats: pork, chicken, and steak — but I never saw any fishes for the pescatarians or lent observers (other than Lox at the salad bar), and while a vegetarian (like my wife) could theoretically fill up on salad bar, it probably wouldn’t be her preferred place. So it felt like Colorado surf and turf: “there’s no coast around here, son".
The food is very good, and being sort of a traveling Smörgåsbord, means you can try small portions of a variety of things: or pig out on the one thing you really like, depending on taste/style. But I think if you’re not doing it as a tasting menu style, then you’re missing out. I got to try small portions of many things, which makes me happy. My steak was a later carving, so we were getting to the tar-tar center, and little too twitching for me, but I ate around the edges and it was quite good, and I could have been more discretionary on which person I had carve (as they had different degrees of done-ness), and solve that problem. The chicken’s I tried, were perfectly prepared and tasted very good (one was bacon wrapped, the other wasn’t). The parmesan crusted pork was a bit on the pork-jerky side, but quite flavorful. Personally, I’m actually OK with overcooked and it leans towards my normal style, so it didn’t bug me at all. Others might prefer their pork with something closer to pink, than ash white, and a little less chew. They laid out a few sides that turned out to be a couple styles of potatoes that were good, and fried banana’s, which in the slightly dimmer light I hadn’t recognized until I tasted it (and was happily surprised with my pseudo-desert course). They did come by and offer deserts, but if you want to try a few different things that they impaled, you’re probably not going to have much room left for the sweets, so we all passed.
This wasn’t a sauced or complexly prepared food, nor exotic tastes: more like a good steak and potatoes kind of fare — fairly simple, well seasoned and well prepared. I enjoyed that. The atmosphere was perfect for what I wanted. Nice enough, while still be casual enough. Loud enough that you could have a comfortable dinner conversation without having to talk in whispered tones — but not so loud that you had to strain to hear or project. It had enough diners to feel popular enough, without being completely full, and or rushed. (Hey it was a Thurs night). And the service was prompt, but we could eat at our own pace: the waitstaff attentive and available, without being intrusive — and willing to take some group photos as required. They asked a few times if this was a special event, and I got the impression they were prepared to do something Brazilian for us, if it was. But alas, it was just a meal amongst friends — and no other diners were called out, so we missed out on the displays of Capoeira.
I learned that I was slow to experimenting with this latest food trend, as lots of others I've talked to have tried Fogo, or other Brazilian places like it. I got a few comments from others that they enjoyed Fogo, but had found a more preferred Brazilian place somewhere else. (We live in a high enough population density area that there’s plenty of competition for trendy foods).
For a price...
While it was a nice experience, it was pricier than I had expected, at about $70/plate with tip — and we were a non-alchohol (but after-meal coffee) table. I imagine wine and desert could easily have topped $100/plate. So while I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and don't balk at the price (nor feel cheated) for a unique experience, and I would gladly return with friends/family if they wanted the experience, it wasn’t what I could call a great value. I’ve eaten at places with a Michelin star or two for less, and those starred restaurants food was definitely better. Heck, if you like only a one dish experience, a Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris could probably exceed the pure food quality. And I lean towards fish, and I’m not a big dinner eater anyways. This place would definitely rank higher for those with larger appetites and lean towards the hoofed forms of protein, and you get a much more varied meal than at traditional steakhouses. So the food was good, without being so good that it was distracting from the conversation and the people you were sharing the meal with… this wasn’t one of those exceptional places where the food overpowers the companionship and you want to say, “shut up and let me enjoy this”. So for me it was just right — good enough that everyone is going be well fed, have a pleasant and un-common experience, and when it stands out in your memories, it’s more likely to be for the companionship or experience than any culinary achievement. And that’s OK.