I love eating red meat. I also love all you can eat joints. So when my friend said that she would treat me to a meal at the recently opened Fogo de Chao downtown in the River Center Mall. Having heard about Fogo de Chao and Brazilian steakhouses for some time now, I have to admit that I was excited to finally get to taste one for myself.
The restaurant is located on Commerce Street just west of the entrance for the Marriott hotel. If the restaurant business is all about location, location, location, then the newly opened Fogo de Chao has it figured out; it is in a position where plenty of tourists walk by en route to the Riverwalk and even some locals occasionally pass by on the weekend. You can’t miss the restaurant as it has some ribs on a skewer spinning in the front window.
When our group all got to the restaurant, we were given an orientation of how everything worked. Initially, we were told to visit the salad bar and get some of the exotic vegetables, cheese, and meats. After we were finished, we could flip our little coaster from red to green to signal the guachos that we were ready for some meat. They would come by and let us know what variety they had and slice as much off as we wanted. I was pleased to find out that our waiter was actually from Brazil (as were probably a 1/4 to 1/3 of the waiters there), and having had a Brazilian exchange student stay at my parents house before, returned the Portuguese phrase of “Obrigado” upon him finishing his explanation.
For my drink, I ordered a caipirinha, which is the nation cocktail of Brazil. It is kind of like a mojito and had a nice refreshing taste to it considering outside was pretty dang hot. The salad bar was comprehensive, and I particularly enjoyed the different cheeses and prosciutto along with the artichoke bottoms. But don’t let me fool you, I was there to eat the meat, so I had to make sure that I had my stomach ready.
As you eat the salad, the waiters begin to bring out four hot sides: the cheese rolls, polenta, garlic mashed potatoes, and the fried bananas. The cheese rolls were exceptional and I would have continued to have eaten basket after basket had it not been for the fact that I was about to get some steak. The polenta and garlic potatoes were also good, and before they had the possibility of getting cold, the waiters would snag them away and bring you a fresh batch! While I like the fried bananas, they were not truly plantains, but rather your normal run of the mill banana you get at HEB and peel; now, I am not up on how the Brazilians do it, but I was thinking that they used plantains.
When it was time to eat the meat, I flipped over my little coaster to green. I was immediately bombarded by a bunch of gauchos ready to slice me off some meat. NOTE: Be prepared for some prompt service when you flip over your coaster to green and as soon as you have your fill, flip it back to red! It was funny watching some of the people at the table, because they were getting flustered by all the waiters stopping by the table with their skewers of meat. It was kind of like landing in Puerto Vallarta and having all the cab drivers vie for your business outside the airport!
The meat was pretty good, and I liked two cuts in particular. First, the alcatra, or the top sirloin, had a nice taste to it. I was able to get it medium rare, and it seemed to melt in my mouth. My other favorite was the picanha, or the prime cut of the top sirloin. The waiter mentioned that this was the most popular cut of meat at the restaurant, and it happened to be mine too! I believe I got the garlic seasoned piece of the meat, and I asked for them to cut a couple of pieces; the first cut had a nice crispiness from being licked by the fire and the other pieces had the good pink color.
I was glad that I got to visit Fogo de Chao, and would say that it is something worth trying. While it is fairly pricy (approximately $40 for the food – I mean, you could go to a nice steak restaurant for that), the experience made it worth it. If you have any guests coming from out of town, it is definitely something that they will enjoy.
Value: 7/10 (I mean, how much steak can you eat??)
Atmosphere: 9/10 (the restaurant was really nice, however, the music was pretty dubious; I think it was some smooth jazz musak that was pretty terrible; I would like to see them either put on real music or maybe traditional Brazilian music)
Service: 10/10 (exceptional service; the waiters were constantly bringing out fresh/hot side dishes and as soon as you turned your card, there was a skewer of meat waiting for you!)
Taste: 8.5/10 (pretty solid taste; the salad bar was really good, and while the meat was good and you were able to get a variety of it, I think that you probably could get a better cut of meat at a steakhouse for the same price)
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