Fogo de Chão—Brazilian Portuguese for “pitfire”—is the best American chain at which to experience churrasco, a form of Brazilian barbecue. At long last we have one here, newly opened at the Hughes Center and East Flamingo Road’s Restaurant Row on a site formerly home to the Mexican restaurant Cozymel.
Ours is the 24th location, including seven in Brazil, and it is evident upon entering this 14,000-square-foot palace that the money flowed like caipirinhas when the restaurant was built. There are huge, circular chandeliers of rich amber, nine private dining rooms and lots of wood. Walls sport an abundance of color-splashed murals, and wines are kept in a glass cellar.
The room’s centerpiece is a giant salad bar stocked with everything from homemade chicken salad and fresh mozzarella to asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s hard to resist smoked salmon, fresh hearts of palm and the two-dozen other choices, but try. You won’t have any room for the meats if you go overboard at the bar, a fact that is better for their bottom line than yours.
And meat is what you’re going to get: 15 cuts cooked over a fire and sliced tableside from skewers by a team of gauchos, Fogo’s term for food servers. You pay a set price for your meal and eat all you want, turning a coaster in front of you from green to red when it’s time to say tio (or “uncle”).
While you’re seated, you’ll also be plied with hot cheese rolls, sort of mini-popovers that are insidiously seductive. I ate three, and then realized I was being scammed. Oops! Bring on that meat.
I can’t describe all the meats, so I’ll limit my descriptions to the best ones. Most are well seasoned, some crusted with garlic, pepper, salt and other spices. The first one to arrive is picanha, prime sirloin that is also the house specialty. This is great meat, and chef Marcio Bonfada uses top-quality products. Paradoxically, the one meat I didn’t taste much garlic in was the so-called garlic beef. Stick to picanha or the excellent filet mignon.
Costela de porco means pork ribs, and they are a treat. The pork sausage called linguica is pleasantly bland; it reminds me of sausage you get on pizza in southern Massachusetts or Rhode Island, where a large Portuguese-American population resides.
And I couldn’t stop eating the frango, moist chicken leg meat or bacon-wrapped chicken breasts. There are even two lamb dishes, leg of lamb, or double chops. You’ll have a wide choice of temperatures, and the gauchos are experts at slicing the one you crave.
While you are busy with these meats, side dishes such as black beans, rice and mashed potatoes are proffered, as well as farofa—fried flour of manioc that Brazilians religiously sprinkle on their rice and beans—plus caramelized bananas and fried squares of polenta. Fill ’er up.
Homemade desserts are available, including papaya or strawberry cream served in a large tulip glass, turtle cheesecake, a nice molten chocolate cake, and the inevitable flan, a rubbery version.
If you come for lunch, the feast is $18 less than dinner and exactly the same but without the waking up at 3 a.m., groping for the Prilosec part.