I love Brazilian steakhouses. The ones I've eaten at in the past are all so fun and all so good. The food is cooked "churrasco" style on skewers over open flames like the Brazilian "gauchos" did years ago. The meat is always so flavorful and I always over-eat. But it's damn good.
Fogo de Chao (fo-go dee shoun) is a small chain of upscale Brazilian steakhouses. As I said, the meat is cooked on a skewer and delivered to the table and either cut off or pushed off the skewer onto your plate. If you're looking for a meat overload, this is the place to go.
Fogo de Chao started in Brazil in the late-70's when two sets of brothers - Jair and Arri Coser; and Jorge and Alexio Ongarotto - pooled their money together from working in restaurants as waiters and opened their first restaurant in Porto Alegre. Soon thereafter, they opened two more in Sao Paulo.
A large amount of Americans traveled to Brazil for business and pleasure during the 80's and came across Fogo de Chao. Jorge Ongarotto said, "And they always (asked), 'You never thought to go to the U.S.A. with this concept?'"
None of the two sets of brothers spoke a word of English. But they met and hired a Dallas-based lawyer who spoke Portuguese to help with the start up of their U.S. operations. They soon decided to base their U.S. office in Texas.
"Texas was similar to our state, Rio Grande do Sul," Jorge Ongaratto said in an interview in 2003. "[Between] the cowboys and the gauchos, there are a lot of similarities. We felt at home."
The first U.S. Fogo de Chao opened in Addison, TX in 1997. It took the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex by storm. Offering 12 to 15 different types of meats from pork, beef, chicken and lamb, Fogo de Chao offered a flat rate "all you can eat" style of eating that also included a massive salad bar.
Today, there are 8 U.S. locations and 4 Brazilian locations. Two more U.S. locations will open later this year and one additional Brazilian restaurant will open later this month.
The Chicago location is right downtown at the corner of Erie and LaSalle Streets (see map). There isn't much parking around the area, but Fogo de Chao has valet parking available for $15.00 bucks. And compared to some of the parking rates at the garages downtown, it's a good deal.
Dominic and I waited in the bar area for our group of 3 guys to show up for dinner. The decor of Fogo de Chao is an elegant mix of contemporary and traditional wood features throughout the place. And because of the wood paneling and floors, it gets pretty loud in the place.
Our guests showed up and we were seated toward the back of the restaurant, next to a large group of 30 or so in for a company dinner. Our waiter, who had to shout the instructions, told us it was a flat fee of $45.00 per person including the salad bar (salad bar on it's own was $20.00).
Before we went to the salad bar, I ordered up a bottle of 2002 Jordan Cabernet from Fogo's vast wine list. They have their wine cellar next to the dining room and it was pretty impressive to look in to see the large selection of wine on hand.
And what a salad bar it was. I was warned by one of our guests to not fill up on the salad bar - they purposely place a lot of items on the bar so you couldn't eat a lot of the main meat courses. The salad bar on its own was something else to see. But along with the salad bar were a number of vegetable and fruit side dishes you can include with your meal.
When I got back to the table, I found a little disc next to my place setting that was green on one side and red on the other. When it's turned to the green side, the waiters descend on you with skewers of all different types of meat.
The first thing I had was Picanha (right) - the house specialty of Fogo de Chao - which are a half moon pieces of center cut top sirloin seasoned with sea salt and garlic. The waiter will ask you how you'd like your meat served to you - rare, medium rare, medium, etc. - and he'll cut a large chunk off the skewer. Or if they're small pieces, he'll just pull one off the skewer and put it on your plate.
If you don't turn the little disc over to the other side, which is red and means, "No! I don't want any food at this time!", another waiter will come up with another skewer of meat. And those guys literally come out of nowhere with more meat.
We had Frango - little chicken drumsticks or small chicken breasts wrapped in bacon. They served us Alcatra - unseasoned top sirloin cut from the skewer. Costela de Porco - succulent seasoned pork tenderloin. Linguica - small pork sausages that were pretty damn good. Fraldinha (left) - seasoned bottom sirloin, or skirt steak, cut off the skewer. Cordeiro - either small individual lamb shanks or a full leg of lamb cut from the skewer. And, of course, Filet Mignon - either small bacon wrapped individual filet's or slices of meat directly from the beef tenderloin.
One of my guests was Jewish and didn't eat beef or pork, so we had them make him a special skewer of Frango chicken breasts without the bacon. The waiters at Fogo were more than happy to oblige.
After a while, I'd had enough. I hadn't been that full from eating in a restaurant since my first night in France last year. I wasn't quite as full as that one night in St. Etienne, but I was damn close.
Other than the fact that it was too loud in the place - and we had too much food - Fogo de Chao was as fun as any Brazilian steak house I've been to. The bill for the food, a couple bottles of wine and the tip came to a shade over $500. But I was happy to pay it. These guys are my up and coming dealer in the Chicago area and they deserved the great meal.
Actually, I'd like to go back sometime just for the salad bar. It was as world class a salad bar I've ever seen. One could get stuffed just on the salad bar alone.
As we were heading back to our hotel Dominic, who just LOVES steak and has eaten at a Fogo de Chao in Brazil, told me, "This was better than the one in Brazil."