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Fantasizing About a Vacation in Brazil

Having visited Argentina on many occasions, I have always thought of gauchos as those legendary Latin cowboys who herd catle across vast expanse of the western part of the nation known as pampas. What is not well-known is that Brazil also has gauchos who tend cattle in the southernmost arm of Uruguay and Argentina. For hundreds of years, these gauchos developed the "churrascaria" concept of grilling skewers of beef over wood fires, and in the last decade have been opening in major American cities. Part of a chain of restaurants which is wildly successful in Brazil and now is expanding in the US, Fogo de Chão (which means "fire on the ground" in Portuguese) opened over a year ago in Beverly Hills. It is definitely a place to choose if you're overcome by a carnivorous dining desire, and, by all means, come with a gigantic appetite.

The place is enormous with a series of dining rooms, containing comfortable seating, wall murals of gauchos in southern Brazil and bright chandeliers that cast an orange "fireside" glow over the premises. Congenial waiters, dressed as gauchos and who work as a team, explain the all-you-can-eat concept and how you can pace your meal with table discs...if you show the green side, the skewers of meats keep coming...when red is displayed, you can take a breather. The wine list is extensive and relatively pricey. Besides European and American wines, there's a large variety of Argentine and Chilean vintages. As I'm enjoying a caipirinha (Brazil's delectable cocktail of sugar cane spirits and lime) and hot cheese rolls, I'm urged to get some salads at the buffet. This is a gargantuan array of artichoke hearts, ripe tomatoes, assorted greens, chilled asparagus, roasted peppers, cheeses, hearts of palm, marinated mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, tabbouleh, prosciutto, house-cured salmon, and the list goes on. Next, I cautiously display my green disc, and a parade of skewered meats starts to arrive in sequence at my table. There are about fifteen different grilled meats to sample--all of which have been seasoned simply with rock salt and beautifully grilled over mesquite charcoal. I was impressed by the high quality and tenderness of all the entrees. Certain red meats come on separate skewers to enhance the diner's preference for rare or medium. I started with delicious lamb chops and proceeded to cuts of filet mignon, beef ribs, chicken breasts wrapped in bacoon, bottom sirloin, pork loin, garlicky sausages, top sirloin, baby back pork ribs, until finally, I displayed my red "stop sign." Meanwhile, my servers kept changing plates and silverware...and to make sure that I wouldn't go hungry, brought bowns of crisp polenta slices, zesty black Brazilian beans, creamy mashed potatoes, and delightful fried bananas. Also added to this crowded table were some homemade sauces for the meats, but I preferred the smoky flavor of the meat without any condiments.

When I found that my satisfaction level was reached, I ordered another caipirinha which revived my appetite for yet one more slice of filet mignon and even another small lamb chop. Mercifully, desserts are not included in the fixed price, but if you have to end your meal with something sweet, I suggest the very smooth papaya cream dazzled with cassis liqueur...it's light, tropical and like everything else in this fine restaurant, will have you fantasizing about a vacation in Brazil.


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