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World's Best Barbeque

Smith Mountain Laker

Brazil's Fogo de Chao. This may be the World's Best Barbeque. I went to Brazil recently. Business trip. Washington to Sao Paulo is a very long airplane ride. Thankfully, the travel was uneventful except fo a fogged-in Roanoke morning that delayed the return flight from Dulles for several hours. Typical for that time of year. Sao Paulo is a big city--11.5 million residents, all of them seemingly driving around on roads that desperately need repaving. Cars travel at about 10 kilometers per hour, stop and start. Motorcycles weave through the traffic jams at about 50, whizzing between the lanes and threatening to strip off car side mirrors and flatten vendors who flit between the stopped cars... Anyway, I had the chance to dine at Fogo de Chao, recommended as Brazilian barberque at its best. I quickly decided there may be no better meal for meat-lovers anywhere. On the way to their wide front door, you pass two of Fogo de Chao's trademark fire pits--round and open-hearthed like little fountains bubbling blazing charcoal instead of water. Judging from the size and popularity of the place, there must be several more cooking pits behind the scenes. Men in crisp uniforms monitor large cuts of meat on over-sized kebob skewers that are leaned close to the fire and rotated periodically to toast the meat on all sides. It's open-fire cooking, done indoors and in bulk, with someone else braving the heat. This is a place where you never place an order. Instead, servers in gaucho-like attire hustle about, each carrying the skewered slabs of barbequed meat in one hand and a honed carving knife in the other. Featured are all the "Melhores Partes paro o Churrasco"--Best parts for barbeque--and include tenderloin, three types of sirloin, rump, hump and tip (You get a flyer with a butcher's diagram showing where each cut originated to "steer" you through). There are some ten choices in all, including a couple of lamb cuts. Each is appealingly browned outside and, when sliced, reveals luscious pink on one side of the slab to medium on the other. Take your choice and watch the juices ooze as the carver proffers one slice after another, cutting from top to bottom with just the weight of the blade. You watch with anticipation (drool control is important at this stage) and, as each slice drops free, grab it with the little tongs from your place setting and transfer it to your plate. The supply is endless: This is all-you-can-eat but with style: Gaucho-delivered to each diner's side. One slice? Two? Three? You tell each carver how much you want from the cut he proffers. Often, the servers are traveling in little convoys so you end up with 3-4 meat varieties on your plate vying for next-delicious-bite attention. The meat is hot, sweating juice. It's got great open-fire flavor. The gauchos keep streaming by, offering you more slices. You can slow the pace by opting out at any time; just flip over a coaster-sized token to the "Nao obrigado" side, meaning, " I'm resting for a moment, but check back because I'm still gorging and will be ready for more shortly." Or, ultimately, "Enough is enough-I'm done!" But it's truly hard to quit, and you can re-engage with just a nod to a passing carver or a flip of your coaster to the " Sim, por favor" side. And be sure not to pass when they offer a double-golf-ball-sized wad of flame-scorched cheese. It's to die for. Experienced veterans are careful not ot overindulge from Fogo's huge, square, well-stocked salad bar, 20 feet or so on a side. It's loaded with fresh veggies, several colors of artfully arranged lettuce, assorted salads, dressings, breads, spreads, soups, cheeses, fruit and dressings. You could make a quite substantial meal from just this help-yourself preliminary, but then you'd miss the not-to-be-missed main event. Dessert fans won't be disappointed by the selection but may find this a time to "not leave room."...


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