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Walking into Fogo de Chao

On the Links Magazine

Walking into Fogo de Chao, it becomes immediately apparent that meat is king here. In the front entryway is a gigantic barbecue silo. Skewered slabs of beef ribs and other cuts of meat surround a glowing fire. Any meat lover will salivate at the mouth-watering site. Fogo de Chao is an "all-you-can-eat" Brazilian-style steakhouse located in Addison, north of Dallas and in Houston. The restaurant opened in 1997 and has become a mecca for those in need of a major protein fix, and if you happen to be on the Atkins diet, this is most definitely the place for you. On a recent Saturday night, my family and I joined friends for what proved to be a memorable meal at the restaurant. After having our car valet-parked, we waited for tardy family members in the lounge area, a cozy room with a fireplace and plenty of dark comfy, leather seating. While the rest of us sipped glasses of wine and martinis, my grandfather, who has spent a great of time in Brazil, ordered a Caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian cocktail made with Cachaca (Brazilian sugarcane liquor), sugar and lime. He proclaimed it tasted as good as those he's had during his travels to the South American country. I had been forewarned that even with reservations, it is normal to wait 20 to 30 minutes before being seated at the popular restaurant, especially on a weekend night. However, even though the place was teeming with people, primarily well-behaved teenagers dressed in fancy prom dresses and tuxes, we were seated as soon as our entire party arrived. Fogo de Chao only offers a prix fixe menu, which is not exactly cheap. After much discusion, we decided generous parents were footing the bill for these prom-goers. Once seated in the main dining room, a pretty room with a laid-back, but decidedly upscale, atmosphere, we were immediately greeted by one of the restaurant's waiters or gauchos. Decked out in traditional gaucho (Brazilian cowboy) attire, the waiters were attentive and personable. The gauchos work in teams, and our table had two personable gauchos fulfilling our needs throughout the course of the meal. Since we were all eating at Fogo de Chao for the first time, one of the gauchos gave us a detailed explanation of the way things worked at the restaurant as well as a little about its history. As we munched on small pieces of addictive cheese bread, we learned that the restaurant is a churrascaria, which refers to the Gaucho way of roasting meats over pits of open fire. We also learned the restaurant utilizes the service concept of espeto corrido, which translates from Portuguese as "continuous service." Gauchos roam the restaurant with towering skewers of succulent cuts of meats. Each of us was given a two-sided disk to signify whether we wanted a gaucho to approach us or not. The green side of the disk indicates to the gauchos that you are hungry for meat. The red side indicates you are stuffed (at least momentarily) and do not want anything at the moment. For vegetarians, leaving the red side up throughout the meal ensures that you will not be offered a steaming, sizzling hunk of meat. Before loading up on a week's worth of protein, we made a trip to the lavish salad buffet, which dominates the main dining room. Knowing that the real reason we were here was to eat meat, we did our best not to heap our plates sky-high. Not an easy thing to do when confronted with plenty of traditional salad fixings, an assortment of cheeses and breads and vegetables such as marinated artichoke hearts, fresh asparagus, grilled red and yellow peppers and marinated mushrooms. It is safe to say, vegetarians will neither go hungry nor be disappointed with their experience at Fogo de Chao. After devouring our salads, it was time to loosen our belts and get ready for the main event. Most of us turned over our cards to green and waited eagerly for a gaucho to approach. Mere seconds passed before we were offered excellent filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Costela, tender, juicy beef ribs and Linguica, slow-roasted pork sausages, soon followed. The restaurant serves over a dozen different cuts of beef, pork, lamb and chicken. My favorite was Frango, chicken drumsticks and breasts wrapped in bacon. All the meat is seasoned simply such that the richness and true flavor of the meat is not masked. Oftentimes, nothing more than sea salt is used as a flavor enhancement. While our attention was riveted on the skewers of meat, we did not entirely ignore the side dishes, which were replenished throughout the meal. Traditional Brazilian side dishes such as warm, fried bananas, and crispy, hot polenta were quite good. Befitting its standing as a house of meats, the wine list is particularly strong on reds. The selection of California cabernets is outstanding, with a wide range of choices at different price points and some cabs of truly superb quality. And given its South American heritage, the stock of South American selections is also excellent. The majority of South American wines are Argentinean and Chilean. There are also plenty of high quality European and Australian wines on the menu. Though red wines dominate the menu, there is a wide selection of white wines as well. And extensive selection of Port wines, white dessert wines and French and California champagnes rounds out the award-winning wine list. No one who enjoys wine should have problems finding something from among the outstanding cellar to please both their palate and their pocketbook. An hour after we had summoned our first meat-carrying gaucho, our table sported no green cards, only red. Satiated, we all declared that dessert was out of the question. However, when offered the dessert menu, we accepted (just to see what they were offering, of course). Huge slabs of creamy, decadent chocolate mousse cake and sweet tres leches cake were soon making their way around the table.


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