A copper door with a Brazil-shaped window leads to unlimited skewered meats.
Fogo de Chão originated in Rio Grande do Sul, a mountainous region in Southern Brazil, dedicated to “the gaucho way of preparing meat.” Gauchos are South Brazilian cowboys who grill meats over open campfires. Two pairs of brothers – Jair and Arri Coser and Jorge and Aleixo Ongaratto – opened the first Fogo de Chão in Porto Alegre after apprenticing in the region’s churrascarias, naming their restaurant for the Portuguese term for “fire on the ground.” In 1985, the brothers expanded their all-you-can-eat concept to São Paulo, and in August 1997, after steady growth, the brothers exported their concept to American soil. They chose Dallas because of a similar cowboy culture and because that’s where their English speaking lawyer/liaison lived. There are now 15 locations, five in Brazil and ten Stateside.
Fogo de Chao’s Beverly Hills doors opened in March 2005, featuring a gaucho mural and a massive blue tower where they cook meat. A sumptuous dining room features a floor to ceiling gaucho mural and an army of dapper wait staff and meat carvers.
Fogo’s churrasco showcases meat in a glass enclosure that’s visible from the dining room and street.
After sitting, we received a basket of pão de queijo, warm cheese rolls made with shredded Parmesan cheese and both sour (azedo) and sweet (doce) tapioca flour. They were warm, pull apart and fairly flavorful, but also filling. The rolls came with a pitcher of the orange Brazilian take on chimichurri sauce, which was too similar to Russian dressing for my taste. This was the first of several Fogo ploys to distract us from the more expensive (for them) meats.
As soon as we sat down, we were able to start continuous tableside meat service. All we had to do was flip our double-sided disc to green – Sim Por Favor (Yes Please!)
Before starting on meats, we investigated the central island featuring a wraparound salad bar. While we were away from our table, we set our discs to red – Não Obrigado (No Thanks!)
Thankfully, the salad bar offered a lot more than salad, including smoked salmon, prosciutto, salami and cheese. Smoked salmon wasn’t especially luscious, and one taste was enough for the other three items.
Only one other section interested me, containing platters of pasta salad, marinated mushroom caps, marinated artichoke hearts and tomato slices. The ingredients were clearly high-grade, but I didn’t come to Fogo de Chão to eat vegetables. Actually, I came to Fogo de Chão because I won a bet, but that’s another story.
One final salad bar swath included asparagus spears, jumbo mozzarella balls and sun-dried tomatoes tossed with olive oil and spicy garlic cloves.
Dishes of polenta fries and cheddar-sprinkled mashed potatoes were constantly refreshed to keep them enticing. Polenta fries were crisp outside and supple inside, perfectly cooked. Mashed potatoes were rich and smooth, textbook.
Whole roasted plantains were cooked with butter and dusted with cinnamon, forming a somewhat caramelized exterior and spoon-soft interior. They were a welcome distraction.
I’ve dedicated enough words to items that are grown in the soil and baked in an oven. It’s time to discuss Fogo de Chão’s continuous tableside service of 15 different meats (a set price of $52.50 per person). After setting my disc to green, the “gauchos” began flooding our table with sword-shaped skewers of meat. They either slid pieces of meat on to our plates or shaved meat from large chunks, which we grabbed with handy metal tongs. Certain skewers are cooked rare or medium. You can request a particular temperature.
Clockwise from top: Cordeira (lamb chop), Frango (chicken leg), Linguica (slow-roasted pork sausages) and Lombo (pork loin), which also comes crusted with Parmesan. The lamb chop was salty and had just enough fat to ignite flavor. The chicken leg was surprisingly stupendous, with crisp herb-brushed skin and juicy meat. Pork sausages had taut skin but could have used a little more kick. Sliced pork loin had caramelized skin and juicy meat.
These skewers held both varieties of Frango: bacon-wrapped chicken breast & chicken legs. Chicken breast was herb-brushed and moist, and crispy bacon elevated it further.
A “gaucho” shaved Aleatra (top sirloin). The salty meat was completely luscious.
Picanha was seasoned with sea salt. Fogo de Chão also has picanha flavored with garlic. Either way, it’s considered the prized cut of Brazilian beef, and after tasting a slice, it was easy to see why, with its extra burst of salt and grease (the good kind).
Costela de Poreao (slow-roasted pork ribs) were the night’s only meat disappointment, a little too chewy and overcooked.
I didn’t care to get a photo of every meat, since that would be redundant, but the other options were Filet Mignon (cut from the tenderloin and wrapped in bacon), Fraldinha (bottom sirloin), Costela (beef ribs), Cordeiro (fresh young leg of lamb) and Beef Ancho (prime rib eye).
Incredibly, after our cascade of meat, we all had room for dessert. Two people ordered Strawberry Cream (Crème de Morango) ($9) – fresh strawberries blended with vanilla ice cream and black currant liqueur, basically an impressive milkshake. For some reason, every dessert was accented with a purple flower.
I ordered the tropical Papaya Cream (Crème de Papaya) ($9.50) – fresh papaya blended with vanilla ice cream, topped with a waiter’s pour of crème de cassis liqueur.
Chocolate Molten Cake (Petit Gateau) ($9.50) was plated with strawberries, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and black-and-white heart-shaped pours of chocolate sauce. It was a serviceable molten chocolate cake.
Fogo de Chão was clearly the best churrascaria I’ve ever eaten, with higher-grade cuts of meat, more attentive service and more elaborate atmosphere. My only complaint: We never received Fraldinha (bottom sirloin), Costela (beef ribs) or Cordeiro (fresh young leg of lamb).