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Fogo de Chao BH's Fire From The Ground

Fogo de Chao BH's Fire From The Ground A Brazilian newcomer on La Cienega Restaurant Row in Beverly Hills sparks a hot hit with meat-lovers and Atkins followers. Brought to you from the heart of Rio Grande in Southern Brazil, Fogo de Chao (which translates from Portuguese to "fire from the ground") is reforming the way Americans experience steak. This extraordinary steakhouse, which has won numerous awards nationwide, resonates with the tradition of a Churrascaria, a restaurant specializing in seasoned and roasted meats. For centuries, Southern Brazilian cowboys (also known as gauchos) tended to grilling large pieces of meat over open flamed pits. Fogo de Chao continues this family custom of cultivating skilled gaucho chefs to roast a variety of meats over an open fire. At the entryway, you can spot their purple signature tower with a glass-enclosed display of meat roasting over a fire pit. The restaurant paints warm tones of honey wood, soft mandarin orange lighting, and high ceilings with natural oak beams for a classic yet modern feel. The large mural in the background of gauchos in their good ol' days adds ambiance to the floor and reminds you once again that this isn't the normal, everyday steakhouse your parents took you to. You also can't help but notice the towering two-story square glass wine cellar holding over 10,000 bottles. Anyone of their award-winning wines are excellent with most roasts and if you're lucky, you may get to see one of the waiters fetch a bottle out of this temperature controlled fortress of wine. In the center is a majestic salad bar with a fabulous and fresh selection of cold cuts, chilled jumbo asparagus, fresh, exotic garden salads and blends, marinated mushrooms, cheeses and more. I had to restrain myself from returning for seconds in order to save room for the all you can eat main course. Fogo de Chao's prix-fixe price brilliantly allows diners to enjoy a complete menu of fifteen various cuts rather than selectively sticking to one entree. While steakhouses typically offer the usual New York, Porterhouse, and Filet Mignon steaks, this haven not only has five different cuts of differently seasonsed steak, but also dishes out lamb, chicken, pork, and sausage. Life can't get any sweeter than that - the best of all worlds for one fixed price. Authentic Brazilian sides such as fried plantains, hot crispy polenta, curry mashed potatoes, rice, and beans are served with dinner. Their classic warm cheese bread, pao de queijo, was like nothing I have tasted before. These small soft bread puffs made from yucca pulled apart like dough, with melted parmesan mixed in the center. The delightful part of our meal was being able to control the pace and amount of food we wanted. Diners receive a small disk with a green "go" and red "stop" side. The well-trained and keen gaucho chefs are quick to come by and serve generously if the green side is up. If you are a slow eater like me, then you can politely pass on the meat while your carnivorous companion continues to keep the meat coming. Diners need not feel obligated for more servings or to tell the gauchos yes or no, since they control the pace of personal dining. I find this extremely clever because not only do you get tableside carving to guarantee maximum quality, but it also refrains from interrupting the flow of conversation or atmosphere at the table. Starting with their widest selection of meats is beef. The bottom sirloin (fraldinha) and top sirloin (alcatra) are both excellent cuts of steak. They are roasted over an open fire to bring out naturally succulent juices and then sliced thin onto your plate. The picanha garlic beef are thicker cuts but full of robust fresh garlic and one of the most popular. The filet mignon is the most tender and you can have it wrapped with bacon or without - both are superbly smooth. The best part is that each gaucho chef proudly masters his own steak and brings it straight to you for tableside carving. Each bite is a freshly carved slice of meat, which seals in juices and flavors better than an individual large steak in one sitting. Fogo de Chao also offers plenty of fill for non-red meat eaters. The two varieties of chicken (frango) are tender chicken breasts capturing an aftertaste of smokiness and flavor from being wrapped in thin bacon and chicken legs with a hint of white wine and then roasted golden. For a little kick of Brazilian taste, try the linguica, peppery pork sausages that spring back with each bite. If you like lamb, they have a tasty young leg of lamb (cordeiro) which they slice off the bone right at your table. The tender Australian lamb chops are extremely moist and seasoned well. Fogo also offers two kinds of pork: pork loin (lombo) flavored with parmesan producing very lean cuts of pork that are served as mini cutlets, similar in taste to lemon marinated carnitas with pleasantly crisped edges. The delicious pork ribs (costela de proco) aren't for the diet conscious since that loving layer of thin fat is what gives it the full smoky flavor that melts instantly on your tongue. Well worth it if you ask me! Top picks for dessert are the chocolate molten cakes with ice cream and their renown papaya or strawberry cream. The papaya cream was served in a goblet with a side of black currant liquor for mixing. Smooth, yet with the consistency of melted ice cream, it rang with fresh fruit papaya flavor. Besides Brazil, Fogo de Chao has locations in Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Beverly Hills. They are open for lunch ($32 per person) and dinner ($48.50 per person) daily. Accepts all major credit cards. Private rooms are available for parties. Reservations suggested. For more information you can visit them at www.fogodechao.com. Written by Lucy Chan Derby


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