Fogo de Chão
1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Fogo de Chão is a well known Brazilian churrascaria restaurant chain that offers the unique experience of Latin steakhouse plus full table-side service all in a high end environment. It has successfully established a beachhead in the United States over the past decade, including this beautiful location in the US capital, situated just several blocks away from the White House grounds. This was perhaps the only pre-planned dinner I had on this trip (actually organized by another person). The rest were all ad-hoc due to lack of time and I might add, interest.
It actually occupies a good chunk of the first floor of an impressive structure, better known as the Evening Star Building, which is listed in the National Register as a Historic Landmark. When you see if during the height of the day, the building is impressive to even the non-architect with its classic French design and clean lines carved through the marble. Doing some background research after the fact, I’ve learned it was originally constructed in 1898 and was the home to a newspaper (not surprisingly, called the Evening Star).
With both lunch and dinner operating hours (prices for the table-side meat service do get jacked up by $17/person at night), your desire to indulge in a stomach-filling meal of this variety is up to you. On this occasion, the dinner service was chosen, with a reservation made online, and we were one of the earliest tables to arrive but soon the place was buzzing with the sights and sounds that only a full room can do. A centrally located salad bar (there are options to have just that as well) provided the space for an ample and I would say luxurious array of various vegetarian appetizers and some cured meat treats. The massive block of Parmesan cheese was a sight to behold. Alas, with the attention on the meat, personally I did not take a lot from this area just to save room for the pending rush of meat.
After an order of beverages and digging into our salad plates, one of the many waiters came by swiftly and delivered two limitless sides of some delightfully delicious cheese breads that were served nice and warm (called pão de queijo), and these hot and crispy slices of polenta, some garlic-seasoned mashed potatoes and surprising to me something almost dessert-like at the top of our meal in these caramelized bananas. Some other optional side dishes such as beans and rice were also offered, but who needs more filler when the meat hasn’t even arrived yet…
With the “go” signal received from my dining mates, I kicked things off by turning over my own little round coaster-like cardboard disc to the green side. This was the signal for all the metal rod skewered meat delivery boys to ensure they stopped at my seat and offer me some meaty goodness. All fifteen different types of them.
Now I have loads of so-so quality images taken from all of them – as I ensured that I would try them all – but for the sake of brevity have only shown some of them here. Brought to your table, sliced, and served by the accented-English speaking gaucho chefs, the whole experience seemed more authentic than anything I had tried in Calgary (my only other two churrascaria experiences). In fact, one of my dinner partners, an Argentinian, told me the story of how he and some older countrymen of his had gone to Bolero and they had been so shocked at the service that one of them jumped out of his seat and gave a long lecture and demonstration on even basics such as how the meat should be carved and served.
The menu they provide outlining the various meat options and flavors was excellent, I wish I’d taken a shot of it just to share here. But off the top of my head, my favorites were the Picanha (top sirloin), which apparently is Fogo’s signature steak. The one I had was a impactful garlic-infused variety. Juicy, grilled to just the right level of medium-rareness. Seasoned perfectly. Not too salty as the ones I had at Gaucho (again in Calgary).
The Filet Mignon was also amazing, though I would advise against the bacon-wrapped type they had there, as it took away something. I know, bacon being detrimental does sound strange, but on this occasion it did, at least for me. The other popular types I had included the Fraldinha (bottom sirloin) and their house Ancho (rib eye). It has probably been well documented on my posts here on foodosophy, but I’m not a huge lover of lamb. But the Cordeiro here I actually enjoyed. New Zealand-sourced apparently, it lacked the “gameiness” that I have troubles digesting and was perhaps nullified by the balanced seasoning.
Some of the lesser enjoyed ones were the Frango (chicken legs) that were too dried out for my liking, despite being basted. Same went for the table’s thoughts on the Linguica (sausage), which was just too ordinary and didn’t seem to gain any value by being cooked the way it was here.
Also, the Costela (beef ribs) was nothing special. I came to the end conclusion that its best to stick with the pure cuts of meat, and away from the secondary offerings. Too bad, as usually bone-in means better flavors but guess it doesn’t work for churrascaria as well?
With our belts tightening under the strain of too much meat, the towel was thrown in kind of early with the flip of the same disc that got the parade of eats going in the first place. While Fogo de Chão is by no means an inexpensive place to have dinner, the quality of the ingredients and the keen service (I can’t count how many times a white coated man would come up to me as I was taking a rest and ask me if I was enjoying my meal or had anything I still wanted to try or have again) certainly made you feel like value was had. Throw in the fact that its all-you-can-eat, and I don’t know how anyone could complain about overpaying.