Monday, November 5, 2012

Fogo de Chão: A Carnivore's Delight

Fogo de Chão opened in Boston last Friday at the Westin Copley in the space that was formerly occupied by The Palm.  We were lucky enough to get a special preview on Thursday night.  I have never seen a soft opening of this magnitude so flawlessly executed and my dining companion had never experienced a Churrascaria.  So, it was a first for both of us. Fogo de Chão is a chain but it really doesn't have the cookie-cutter feel of a chain.  The space is expansive and the service is impeccable.

The crowd was heavily populated with hundreds of people on the Boston food front.  We were seated near the salad bar which was like a parade of TV and radio hosts and personalities, civic, business and tourism/hospitality leaders, food writers, authors and, of course, all of the most popular food bloggers. Here I am with Bianca Garcia of Confessions Of A Chocoholic.

We began with champagne at the large bar that welcomes you upon entrance.  I was explaining to others that a Churrascaria is basically an endless feast that can last for hours and is heavy on the meats, served in the Brazilian gaucho style.  Boston has nothing like it on this scale.  In fact, we were told that over 600 reservations had been accepted for the following evening.  Over 15 types of meat are served on large skewers, cut off in hunks by the gauchos who roam the restaurant going from table to table.  It's a very different and fun style of dining.

The first thing you notice when you are seated are these disks.  There is one on the table for each diner and they are basically stop and go signs for the gauchos.  One side is red, indicating that you are not looking for more meat, the other side is green, indicating, of course, that you are ready for more.

Your dining adventure begins at the large salad bar.  You can visit as many times as you want.  There are dozens of options ranging from fresh vegetables (steamed and raw), cheeses, cured meats, rice, beans, and smoked salmon.  It just goes on and on.

It can be a bit overwhelming at first.  My strategy was to circle around and see what was available, take a few items and then go back to other items I saw.  The bucket of bacon caught my eye!

We wanted to go light on the cocktails and wine.  A server suggested we try the Brazilian Ginger Ale called Guaraná Antarctica.  I'd never had it so I was game.  Loved it!  It's a less carbonated, more naturally fruity soft drink that I will definitely be looking for again.

Everything I tried at the salad bar was perfectly fresh, which struck me as very impressive given the sheer volume.  The endive was crisp, the apple/raisin slaw tasted like it had been made moments before it hit my plate.

We finished our salads slowly and then flipped our cards to green.  The gauchos began to arrive, explaining exactly what kind of meat they had on the skewer.  Depending on the cut, you can ask for rare, medium, etc.  As the gaucho cuts the slab, you pick the piece off with your fork.  I prefer rare beef cuts.  Dean prefers more well-done.  After a few passes the gauchos seemed to recognize this and when they had select rare cuts they would come to me then offer to send another gaucho over with more well-done cuts.  Amazing service.  After plating a few cuts we'd flip to red and begin tasting the meats.

But it doesn't stop there.  As soon as your salad plates are cleared you are brought clean plates for the meat options and then side dishes are delivered!  I have not always been a fan of team service at restaurants, where one person takes your order, another brings it and then maybe a third brings drinks. In this style of dining, however, it works incredibly well.  The staff-to-diner ratio was such that you never had to look for anyone to do anything.  Water and drinks were replenished without having to ask,  plates were cleared often and sides were replaced constantly.  The photo above is of the garlic mashed potatoes that accompany each meal.  I really loved these as they were not too heavy on the garlic, which is often the case.

These sticks of fried polenta arrived looking like french fries.  The crispy exterior gave way to a totally creamy interior.  Lightly dusted with cheese, I only wished I had the stamina to eat more.  The caramelized bananas also served were great but my appetite could only afford a scant sample.

We flipped the cards to green again.  Sausage, chicken, filet mignon, pork roast, lamb, it was daunting but delicious.  That chicken was one of the best tastes of the night.  Then we rested, chatting with friends passing by and being seated at nearby tables.  Food coma was approaching.  One of the best parts about the evening was that nothing was rushed.  All of the servers realized that this is experience best savored slowly but fully.

We found the idea of dessert a near impossibility to consider.  But we did.  The only thing that intrigued me was this goblet of Mango Cream.  It's basically pureed mango and vanilla ice cream.  Although most of the other desserts looked average, this was like ambrosia.  As stuffed as I was I could not stop dipping my spoon in for more and more.

Considering the immensity of the food, dinner is a bargain at $48.50 per person.  You can also get just the salad bar (a feast in itself) for $24.50 per person.  You won't do it every day but when you really want a feed, this is the place to go.  It is a hearty feast and a very fun experience.

Fogo de Chão
200 Dartmouth St.
Boston, MA 02116
Telephone: 617.585.6300

Fogo de Chão on Urbanspoon

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