Fogo de Chão
I recall some memorable moments from my visits in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I remember wonderful sunsets, Corcovado, Sugar Loaf, a roll of film and a wicked home movie that my Brazilian friends and I burned, the beautiful faces of the people, and the food. I will never forget the food.
Well, my friend and I continued our ethnic feast of restaurants at a Brazilian churrascaria. To say “thank you” to another friend who had taken us to only the best Swedish restaurant in Chicago called Tre Kronor a few months ago — shameless plug — we had her join us. One good restaurant recommendation deserves a proper show of appreciation. So, where do I even begin with how marvellous, glorious, or wonderful the night was? I guess there is no better place to start than at the beginning.
The restaurant we dined at was Fogo de Chão at 661 North La Salle Street in Chicago. Upon taking our seats, a manager gave us a very pleasant description of how the service works at the restaurant. He pointed to the salad bar — a vegetarian’s slice of heaven — and told us not to fill up on it, for good reason. Then he explained the coasters on the table in front of us. The red was to indicate that we were not ready for any main entrées. The green on the other side of the coasters indicated that we were. Fogo de Chão is what I would call a lazy buffet. Waiters in gauchos — brrrrr cha-cha-cha — make continuous rounds with meat entrées and side dishes without you having to do anything but lift your fork to your mouth until you are ultimately defeated. Moreover, if you are not a prude about enjoying good food, you will eat until you are defeated.
First, we visited the salad bar to whet our palates: cheeses, breads, various leafy green vegetables, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms (oh, my God!), huge green and black olives, potato salads, grapes, melons, and strawberries. Even now, my stomach is growling, thinking about such a great spread. While we partook of an appetizer amount of food from the salad bar, we received several baskets of small rolls. Imagine how cotton candy melts in your mouth. Think about a small buttered roll about the size of a doughnut hole. Now imagine biting down into one and making a facial expression of satisfaction that should not be on display in public. Well, it was not that expressive, but it was close enough.
Once we finished our salad bar appetizer, we turned over the coasters that were on the table to let it be known that we were ready to feast. Then the main courses came out — immediately. I will just list all the meats that the waiters brought to us, to give you an idea of what kept us sated.
- Picanha — the noble part of the sirloin, which is seasoned with sea salt or flavoured with garlic.
- Filet Mignon — cut of tenderloin seasoned to perfection and wrapped in bacon
- Aleatra — cut from the top sirloin
- Fraldinha — cut from the bottom sirloin
- Beef Ribs — tender, juicy beef ribs cooked so slow the meat fell off the bones
- Cordeiro — fresh young leg of lamb served as chops
- Lombo — from the pork loin, served flavoured with parmesan
- Costela de Poreo — tender pork ribs slow roasted to perfection
- Frango — a variety of cuts including tender chicken breasts wrapped in bacon, and chicken legs
- Linguica — robust pork sausages seasoned to a mouthwatering perfection
All while the gaucho wearing waiters kept bringing these succulent meats to our table, they also kept bringing out these side dishes as if to stuff us like Thanksgiving turkeys: garlic potatoes, fried polenta with grated cheese, fried banana, and those small buttered rolls. I am now addicted to those rolls. For part of the meal, my friend was silent, adhering to the saying that you should not talk with your mouth full. Our guest kept saying, “Wow!” and in appropriate context. Although I do not speak Portuguese, a voice in my mind kept saying, “Isto e tao bom; meu Deus, isto e tao bom.” Translation: This is so good; my God, this is so good. Yes, it is amazing how you can find yourself speaking other languages that you do not know when you are in certain situations.
One thing to mention is that Fogo de Chão is not for the budget conscious individual. At $60 per person, a miser would not have an appetite. It would be a sin to go to Fogo de Chão and not have an appetite. On the brighter side, the lunch sessions are $25 per person and the food is still delicious enough to make you appreciate the finer things in life — such as eating like ancient Romans.