It's a universal truth that meat tastes better when served table side by puffy pants-wearing, sword-wielding waiters who may or may not boast sexy Brazilian accents. That's exactly what to expect when dining at the city's newest meat mecca Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian-style steakhouse bringing you as much fire roasted meat as you can handle, plus an abundance of accompanying dishes guaranteed to snap the button on your Dockers. What began as a single enterprise out of Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1979, now boasts outposts all over the country, including the brand spanking new 16,000 square foot behemoth on West 53rd Street, the largest of the chain's outlets in the world.
Beckoned by the hypnotizing flicker of the fire and the promise of eating my fill of spit-roasted meats, I ventured to midtown on opening night to test the limits of my stomach and engage in the God-given right of every American to eat way, way, way too much food. We arrived just before our 8 p.m. reservation—a must, especially if you are coming with a larger group—after a few overpriced whiskies at a nearby bar; something something increasing appetite something something. Our table not quite ready, we had time to explore the swanky balcony bar, where a few tables of suits were enjoying a caipirinha with their dates.
The vibrating restaurant buzzer signaled the beginning of our marathon; we were ushered down to the dining room area, where waiters, gauchos and hostesses danced between tables, dodging meat sabers loaded with dripping platters of beef, pork and chicken. Meals begin with an explanation of how the restaurant works: everything is up for grabs, essentially, when you opt for the full service: $59.50 at dinner, $39.50 at lunch. Those who've visited other churrascarias know the deal: each guest receives a circular card with one green side, one red side. Once the card is flipped the green, the insanity begins, and you'll be approached by men bearing enormous hunks of meat from top sirloin to filet mignon to chicken thighs, 16 varieties in all. They'll keep coming, and coming, and coming until you flip the card to red. Prepare for the onslaught.
Having eaten at a similar restaurant last year, I knew that not all meats are created equal. But I tried them all (for journalism!) and loved the super tender and flavorful fraldinha (bottom sirloin) and picanha (top sirloin), which had an excellent crunchy char, great beefy flavor and was very well-seasoned. The moist and well-spiced linguica (sausage) was promising but derailed by chewy, almost inedible casing; the costela de porch (pork ribs) were similarly promising but lacked that fall-off-the-bone tenderness I was hoping for. The only truly disappointing cut of the evening was the lombo (pork loin), which I'd been on the lookout for the entire meal; the meat was dry, chewy and lacked flavored despite a salty Parmesan crust.
In addition to the meat, each diner can visit the restaurant's salad bar, which was stocked with a variety of lettuces, cheese, salads, vegetables and other nibblies to supplement the meat-heavy meal. Each table also receives a basket of ridiculously addictive I need an intervention pão de queijo (warm cheese bread), a buttery kind of roll made with yuca that reminded me of a dense, cheesy popover, plus crispy fried mashed potatoes and dense, oily fried plantains.
Despite a few minor missteps, which one might attribute to opening night confusion, it was a wonderful, lively and filling meal. It's a fun environment for a group, especially if celebrating a special occasion, which fits the hefty price tag. Dinner for two including a bottle of wine, tax and tip clocked in just over $215, a worthwhile sum considering volume alone. If you're someone who values the quality of a really excellently prepared steak, you might fare better at one of the city's many steakhouses; but if you're a glutton for meat and next-day punishment, you'll find myriad things to enjoy and plenty of them here.
40 West 53rd Street, (212) 969-9980; fogodechao