When Mojitos, the Brazilian Churrascaria in the Excelsior and Grand neighborhood closed down, we were really disappointed. So you can imagine our excitement when we heard that Fogo de Chão was opening in Minneapolis! Fogo de Chão is a Brazilian Churrascaria (steakhouse). They serve a wide selection of grilled meats on skewers that are carved tableside by Gaucho chefs. The format is an all you can eat fixed price setting that includes a fabulous salad bar as well as a wide selection of meats. Our initial thought was to skip the salad bar (it just didn't seem right to fill your stomach with veggies in an all you can eat steakhouse!). But after surveying the salad bar, it was hard to resist. The spread contained a variety of cheeses, cold cut meats, prepared salads, and a nice selection of vegetables. The display was beautiful, but proceed with caution - a little bit here, a little bit there, and you'll end up with a filled plate of the green stuff.
You've got to try their Caipirinhas (national drink of Brazil made with Cachaca, a sugarcane distilled liquor). These were excellent (coming from a self proclaimed aficionado) - these go down quickly and are stronger than you think so be careful if you're driving home (disclaimer). While the salads were good, the main attraction is definitely the meats, which included a wide selection of pork, beef, lamb, and chicken. Our favorites were the Filet Mignon (also available wrapped in bacon), Picanha (seasoned sirloin), and Pork Sausages (which were moist and flavorful). We didn't care much for the Ribs, and the Chicken which was dry and tasteless. Although most of the meats are served medium rare to medium, you can always request them to be done your way, but be prepared to wait as the gauchos have to take the meat back and cook it to order. Along with the meats, you're served side dishes such as warm cheese bread, fried bananas (very good), crispy polenta and mashed potatoes (very good). Each guest uses a two-sided coaster-type disk to control the pace of their meal (green side - keep the meat coming; red side - please stop). Make use of the disk or your plate will fill up with meat real quickly, and much of it will cool down before you get to it. For dessert, we tried the Crème Brulee, Molten Chocolate Cake, Tres Leches, and the Papaya Cream. The Chocolate Cake was good but not molten. The other desserts were ok...we would recommend skipping dessert.
Update (March 22, 2008) - From the looks of it, Fogo hasn't lost its stride; on this Saturday evening, the dining room was as busy as we've ever seen in a restaurant. I'll spare a recount of the novelty, only to say that big hunks of meat being paraded around a restaurant is still a pretty sight. I did the obligatory walk around the salad bar grabbing a thing or two, but by the end most of the plate's surface was still visible (I'm proud I didn't succumb to temptation). As for the meats, the Ribeye was a cut above everything else and we devoured lots of it. The Picanha was very good as was the Bottom Sirloin and the Garlic Beef (flavor was good, but the cut of meat, with large fat sections, was questionable). Surprisingly, and much to our disappointment, the Filet was either overly salty or overcooked. As with our previous visit, the Chicken and Ribs were unimpressive. Of the desserts, the Crème Brulee stuck out; we liked the "high surface area of caramelized sugar to volume of custard" ratio.
Service was impeccable - attentive, not overbearing, and genuinely friendly. And although we tried to do justice to the slow food movement, the meal was over in two hours, especially because you tend to gravitate to the salad bar within minutes of sitting down at your table. The meal isn't cheap ($160 for two people including a couple of drinks each) - you can eat at the best restaurants in the Cities for this kind of dough and its up to Fogo to maintain a high standard because its priced in the Top Tier of eating establishments.