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, a massive blue tower holding a churrasco and this copper door with a Brazil-shaped window. A sumptuous dining room features a floor to ceiling gaucho mural and an army of dapper wait staff and meat carvers.
After sitting, we received a basket of pan 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 were accompanied by 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 ploys by the restaurant to distract us from the more expensive (for them) meats.
Thankfully, the salad bar offered a lot more than salad, including smoked salmon, prosciutto, salami and cheese. The smoked salmon wasn’t especially luscious, and one taste was enough for the other three items.
There was only one other section that 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.