Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: If you don’t eat meat for whatever reason, Fogo de Chão, Scottsdale’s newest eatery, is simply not for you. Sure it has a nice salad bar (more on that later), but Fogo de Chão is a steakhouse — end of story.
Well not quite. Fogo de Chão is a Brazilian steakhouse, so it prepares and serves up its meats in a manner quite different from that found in our own American steakhouses. In fact, showmanship is as much a part of the Fogo de Chão eating experience as the food itself.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself. First an explanation of what Fogo de Chão is; it is a churrascaria, or barbecue, in which the meats are prepared the way cowboys, or gauchos, in Southern Brazil have cooked them for centuries. The meats are prepared over an open grill, mimicking the gauchos’ fogo de chão, Portuguese for “fire on the ground” or “campfire.”
Fogo de Chão has a prix fixe, all-you-can-eat, menu that allows guests to eat as little or as much as they want. And there is a lot to eat. The meal starts off with a gourmet salad bar that bears little resemblance to what you’d find at an average chain restaurant. There’s little by way of fixings for a traditional American-style salad. Instead, the “salad bar” operates more like an antipasto bar with meats, cheeses and breads sitting side-by-side with the vegetables. You’ll find smoked salmon and prosciutto; fresh, whole mozzarella and Manchego cheeses; and artichoke bottoms, olives, hearts of palms, sun dried tomatoes and more. If it’s your first trip to Fogo de Chão, you might load up at the salad bar because you simply don’t know any better. Here’s a word of advice: don’t, because you’ll miss out on the main event.
That main event is made up of the 15 cuts of fire-roasted beef, pork, lamb and chicken that are served via espeto corrido, or continuous service. When you sit down at your table, you’ll notice a little coaster-like disk, with one side green and the other red. When you turn over the disk to the green side, waiters dressed like Brazilian gauchos and carrying skewers of meat, surround your table and offer to carve you a slice of meat. One skewer can hold the same cut of meat, but prepared rare, medium rare and medium well. Just tell your server which one you want.
As for the cuts of meat, almost all the choices are delectable. At our table the favorites were the picanha, the prime part of the sirloin, which is served seasoned with sea salt or garlic; the filet mignon, served with or without bacon and tender beyond belief; the alcatra, which is cut from the top sirloin; the fraldinha, which is cut from the bottom sirloin and is perfectly seasoned; the beef ancho, the prime part of the rib eye; the cordeiro, which is young leg of lamb; lamb chops; and the lombo, tender filets of pork loin encrusted with parmesan cheese. You can also get a variety of cuts of chicken, plus pork sausages.
While you’re eating all that meat, the servers are also constantly replenishing side dishes of cheese bread, mashed potatoes, fried polenta and caramelized bananas. When you’ve had enough, turn your disk over to the red side — and flip it back to green when you see something else you like. Besides the food, the best part of Fogo de Chão is the environment. It’s dinner with a floorshow. If you go, take a large group of people with you, as the communal atmosphere makes dining at Fogo de Chão that much more fun.