Forget March Madness; It’s Meat Madness at Fogo de Chao
Get ready for a parade of meat.
Fire-roasted cuts of beef, chicken, lamb and pork — 16 types in all — brought to your table one by one on massive skewers to be carved off onto your heaping plate.
That’s the carnivore carnival you’ll enjoy at Fogo de Chao, the newest restaurant to open in San Jose’s Santana Row.
All vestiges of the former Chili’s have vanished in this totally redone, 9,000-square-foot, 250-seat restaurant with white tablecloths and contemporary light fixtures.
Founded in Brazil in 1979, Fogo de Chao serves up churrasco-style cuisine based on the centuries-old gaucho tradition of roasting meats over an open fire for festive family gatherings. There are now 22 Fogo de Chao locations worldwide, with the next one set to open in Portland, Ore.
I had a chance to check it out the night before it opened officially to the public at a special invitation-only dinner last week.
The concept is simple: It’s all you can eat. That includes all that meat, plus trips to the salad bar — all for $51.50 per person for dinner or $29.50 for lunch. If you want to enjoy only the salad bar, that will be $26.50 at dinner and $22.50 at lunch.
Start at one end of the salad bar and wind your way around 360 degrees to find everything from cheeses to prosciutto to smoked salmon to tabbouleh to shrimp-mango salad to imported hearts of palm. It’s an extensive selection, though, maybe not quite as impressive as the one at Pampas in Palo Alto, another Brazilian steakhouse.
While you settle in with your salad, a server will come by with a basket of warm Pão de Queijo, the famed Brazilian cheese bread. These are particularly airy with an almost popover-like texture.
Now the fun begins. On your table, you will find a disk. One side is green, signaling to the gaucho chefs to come by your table with the skewers. The other side is red for when you need to take a break or want to signal that you’re done with the meat fest.
The servers are very efficient here. So much so that you may find you barely have time to bite into one piece of meat before another server is bearing down on you with another skewer to tempt you with a different meat. If your plate gets too full at once, you may find it hard to remember which meat is which.
Definitely come on an empty stomach. I can’t remember that last time I’ve tried so much meat in one sitting. Just be aware that you aren’t allowed to doggy-bag any leftovers here, so you’ve either got to clean your plate or most likely, let a lot go to waste, unfortunately.
Enjoy everything from linguica pork sausages to chicken thighs to parmesan-crusted pork loin to fatty pork ribs to bacon-wrapped filet mignon to the specialty Brazilian cut of picanha (prime cut of sirloin with sea salt and garlic). They all come to the table sizzling hot with simple seasonings to let the true taste of the meat shine through.
My favorites? The leg of lamb with its herb-citrus rub; and the beef rib. The latter is the only one that comes out carried on a wooden board by a server, who then carves off a slice for you. Despite being the thinnest cut of meat you get, it boasts the most robust beefy flavor.
While all this is going on, sides are brought to the table. Yes, as if you didn’t have enough food going on already, there are dishes of garlic mashed potatoes topped with shavings of cheese (creamy smooth but not necessarily distinguished); caramelized bananas (a touch of sweetness that refreshes the meat-fatigued palate); and crisp polenta fries showered with parmesan (which I liked, but others around me found too salty). You can have seconds of any of them, too.
If you still have room, about half a dozen desserts are offered at an extra cost. We shared the flan ($9.50), which we were told is made fresh daily. This is a much denser version than others, without any jiggle to it. It’s wonderfully eggy and quite smooth, without any pesky air bubbles to mar the texture.
For a mega meat lover, Fogo de Chao is definitely destined to be nirvana.