Generally speaking, I don't eat at national chain restaurants, so therefore my postings on them are limited. An exception to the rule was this past Wednesday night, when I was invited to a food bloggers dinner at Fogo de Chao, the Brazilian churrascaria.
We were treated to complimentary drinks at the bar before the dinner started. I had a glass of Malbec, which I never got the actual name of, but highly drinkable!
We were seated in their private dining/meeting room, which was set for about 100. The managers spoke briefly, explaining the Fogo experience; it seemed that only a handful of us were novices of the Fogo concept.
Starting first with the salad bar, that alone can be an experience of itself (my mother would be beside herself!), and Fogo recognizes that, as they have pricing levels for "salad bar" only diners ($22.50) and literally, "whole hog" ones ($45.50). A good 15 - 20 feet in diameter, the salad bar includes prosciutto & salami, genuine parmigiano reggiano cheese (complete in a hollowed-out wheel), assorted pickled/brined veggies like beets & artichoke hearts, mixed salads, smoked salmon.... I didn't see any fresh fruit like melon, which would have been nice with the prosciutto. Loved having the various olive oils & vinegars atop the bar, not to mention the gorgeous tropical flower arrangements.
Back at the table, our ever-circling gaucho waiters made sure we always had plenty of pao de queijo (warm, delicious, golf ball-sized addictive cheese breads), and a trio of sides: crispy polenta, garlic mashed potatoes, and caramelized bananas, all of which were constantly refreshed.
And then the meat parade started. And it went on. And on. And on! They have 15 different meats on their skewered menu, and I sampled half of them, though I think all of them paraded past at one point or another. I tried: linguica (pork sausage), costela de porco (pork ribs), alcatra (beef sirloin), ancho (ribeye), cordiero (both lamb chops & leg of lamb), picanha (top sirloin rubbed with sea salt), & filet mignon. The gauchos always made sure you received the meat that was to your way of cooking. The lamb chops were overdone, but everything was much to my satisfaction at medium rare. Favorites? The picanha and leg of lamb, just outstanding flavor on them.
I would certainly like to think that every other diner in the main part of the restaurant was getting as much personal attention as we were, because throughout the evening, the service was outstanding. The gauchos were friendly, highly knowledgeable about the meats, would rush to get anything you requested, like a meat cooked in a particular way, and yet remained relatively unobtrusive.
The manager was present in the room throughout a good portion of the meal, and I had a chance to ask him about his meats. They source them from Texas -- the beef, pork & chicken, and the lamb is from New Zealand. He added that depending on the location of the restaurant, they will source their meats usually from that region. But nice to know we were eating Texas beef. I also asked how much meat they go through in an evening, to which he understandably said it's too hard to gauge, depending on the evening. He did say that the average diner eats two pounds of meat at a meal at Fogo!
So I wasn't stuffed to the gills, but I certainly didn't need to eat any more food, so I skipped dessert, though the signature papaya cream sounded good (also billed as a digestive aid!). It was a very lovely evening. Was I totally blown away? No. Was it some good food (and outstanding service)? Yes. Will I frequent national chains more? No. But I am appreciative to now have experienced Fogo de Chao, as I do think they are probably one of the finer chains out there. Even though I am sure they just raised my cholesterol by a few points.