Friday, October 12, 2012

My Night As A Brazilian Queen

A wide assortment of vegetables, savory meats, and cheeses, illuminated by a crystal chandelier and adorned with a large colorful bouquet, displayed at a bar you could return to as many times as you pleased. Unlimited warm cheese bread- little bites of air that melted in your mouth. Bottomless sweet caramelized bananas, crunchy hot polenta sticks, and garlic mashed potatoes with the perfect sprinkle of cheddar cheese. 16 types of succulent meats, ranging from bacon-wrapped chicken to Parmesan pork loin. And finally, a choice of cool, refreshing key lime pie, smooth and creamy cheesecake, or for the invincible, rich and decadent chocolate cake.

This was the feast I enjoyed last Friday, at Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian Churrascaria. I was able indulge in such a luxury courtesy of the glorious event (and more glorious prices) known as Philly Restaurant week. Dinner at Fogo de Chão wasn’t just a meal, it was an experience. I felt spoiled, treasured, and extremely satiated- it may as well have been a love affair.

It all started with the bread. I’m a huge cheese person- its probably one of my favorite food groups. My friends and I had entered the restaurant hungry, making a beeline past beautiful high ceilings, ornate wood-paneled walls, and shimmering chandeliers, to our table. Little warm round puffs were immediately bestowed upon us, which upon melting inside your mouth, revealed their cheesy innards. They were dangerous, threatening to occupy room in my stomach that I knew I should save for the meat.

The huge salad bar was no less tempting. I consider the Houston Market salad bar somewhat fancy, so this was heaven. I came away with a huge plate of succulent prosciutto and salami, smooth mozzarella and creamy manchego, roasted potatoes and potato salad, assorted veggies, and a light and refreshing basil dressing. My meal probably could have concluded at this point, but I did not go to a steakhouse to eat lettuce.

As our waiter explained to us, at Fogo de Chão, each person has a circular card with a red side and a green side. You flip it to the red side when you’re satisfied, and green when you want more meat. After the salad course, my friends and I flipped our cards to green, and this is when the experience truly began.

We were first brought piping hot dishes of polenta, mashed potatoes, and caramelized bananas. These were the perfect palate-cleansers throughout the meal, balancing the various meats in our mouths. The soft and sweet bananas were particularly tasty, although as a lifelong potato lover, I was extremely fond of the mashed potatoes as well. We soon learned that there was no need to worry about devouring our sides too quickly, as once one of the dishes was more than half eaten, a waiter magically appeared to replace it with a new one.

There have been few times in my life I’ve been as excited as when huge shiny metal skewers of meat appeared at my table. Waiters dressed as gauchos arrived with skewers and knives, touting everything from rows of individual chicken sausages to giant slabs of succulent meat. On these larger chops, they’d ask my preference (medium rare please!), and slice it from the perfect section. I was provided a tiny pair of silver tongs, as was every other guest, and we used these to help the waiters transfer the slivers of meat from the skewers to our plates.

The meats did not all arrive at once, rather, each new circulating waiter brought a new surprise. Over the course of two hours (serious pacing skills were needed), I enjoyed twelve types of meat. Each type, from the filet mignon to the lamb chop, was super juicy and perfectly seasoned. For me, the clear winner was Fogo de Chão’s Signature steak, the Picanha. I received this top sirloin prepared two ways. First came a thin rounded slice of traditional Picanha, flavored primarily with sea salt. For such a lightly seasoned meat, I was astounded at the amount of flavor the traditional Picanha had. I had never tasted a more flavorful steak; my taste buds were dancing long after the last bite.

My absolute favorite, however, was the garlic Picanha. The garlic sirloin was served in thick pieces, versus the thin slice of the Traditional. Having never enjoyed garlic-flavored meat before, I had no idea what to expect, but the sirloin was possibly the best meat I have ever tasted. This was the dish that kept me sighing happily throughout the entire meal, and raving long after it. The meat itself was perfectly tender, and garlic flavor was intense and rich and addictive. I was lucky enough to be brought the garlic sirloin twice (the waiters probably heard my exclamations), once selecting a medium piece, and the next selecting medium- rare, and I still believed I was dreaming. This may appear to be an overstatement, but I am convinced that this would turn any garlic-loving vegetarian back into a carnivore. It was that good.

After the ode-inspiring garlic sirloin, along with lamb chops, filet mignon, bacon-wrapped chicken, bacon wrapped-filet mignon, parmesan pork loin, chicken sausage, and a variety of other incredible cuts, I thought I would never eat again. That was, until dessert. I tried all three options; the key lime pie was perfectly tart and smooth, the cheesecake rich and creamy, and the chocolate cake deliciously rich. Dessert was wholly unnecessary, but my sweet tooth and I were perfectly happy with it.

Overall, Fogo de Chão was the experience of a lifetime. I was waited on hand and foot, and felt like royalty with the lavish salad bar, constantly refreshed side dishes, and dozens of suitors (waiters) seducing me with their offerings of meat. For only $35 for the salad bar, meats, and dessert, my meal was an incredible deal. I would definitely consider it worth returning to during normal pricing periods, particularly with a big group. I got to dine like a queen for a night, enjoyed endless indulgences, and my taste buds are forever thankful for that garlic sirloin.

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