Full of Chow

After our celebratory dinner at Fogo de Chao in DC (Penn and 11th St NW), a traditional Southern Brazilian barbecue restaurant, our friend Francisco said I could review this restaurant in a single word: “meat.” While I try to save my pithier entries for rare occasions, the more I thought about it the more I agreed that you can't presume to eat at Fogo without eating meat. Lots of meat. Succulent, juicy and high-quality meats carved tableside, on-demand until you cry uncle. Yes, they have a brilliant salad bar filled with cheeses, antipasti and fresh, abundant salad-makings fit for vegetarian royalty. We actually dragged my cute vegetarian along, who surprisingly quite enjoyed herself simply with the salad, drinks and their standard sides of cheesy hushpuppy-like rolls, fried plantains and polenta. I think she enjoyed our company most, which is why she even braved such a non-veggie-oriented locale.

But of course it really comes down to the meat for Fogo. If you're smart, as a meat eater you'll pretty much ignore the salad bar and sides and focus on the filet mignon, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, pork ribs, ribeye and ten other cuts of the finest quality meats, all barbecued and served all upon a spit continuously as long as your personal green light is on.

I've been to Brazilian barbecues – or churrascarias, as they're names – several times before in other cities. It's an occasion you'll remember for a while and probably will only duplicate once every several years. I think I'm now at four times in six years.

Fogo itself definitely embraces its genre and provides excellence at all ends of the meal. But with great service at these restaurants a must, and the excellent salad, sides and Capirihnas just nice afterthoughts, I can't leave Francisco's impression too far aside. The focus really is the meat. The red meat was exquisite with two cuts of lamb, including lamb chops, and at least nine cuts of beef wowing me from bite one to the very end. The key with these places is to pretty much skip everything but the red meat. The chicken and pork are usually okay, but just nowhere near as special as the beefs and lambs. I made an exception here for the highly attractive pork ribs and bacon-wrapped chicken. Both were truly divine and worth the on-the-fly strategy adjustment. Additionally I was impressed with the servers' abilities to cut the exact meat doneness we requested just by choosing the correct area of the roast to cut a slice from. At other churrascarias it has not been nearly as precise and this was a very welcome touch.

So Fogo was definitely up there with even the best churrascaria I've ever visited – Churrascaria Platforma in midtown Manhattan – and in two years when I go Brazilian again, I'll probably go back to one or the other. But what is that lingering feeling that makes me resist going back for two years? I mean it can't be the meat, as Francisco's theory might dictate. The meat was divine. It must be that feeling of fullness, a Thanksgiving level of fullness. I'm still full. I feel like I might be full for two years! That's what keeps this as a special occasion place. That's why I nicknamed it “Full of Chow.” And that's also why “meat” can't be the only word in this column. Perhaps I could be sold on four words to fully sum up my thoughts on Fogo de Chao: “meat, excellent, full, hibernation.” Good night.

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