By Jacqueline Monahan
Fogo de Chão at Downtown Summerlin: Brazil Would Like To "Meat" You
They’ve been doing it in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for more than 35 years, and they’ve been doing it in the U.S. since 1997. “It” is an interactive way of dining that features variety and allows the diner an opportunity to assist the server. Talk about a help yourself concept.
Fogo de Chão (FdC) the Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse) features gaucho (South American cowboy from the pampas - grasslands) chef-servers in black boots and traditional puffy knee-length trousers who visit tables in a red light/green light dining system that is as charming as it is flavorful.
The name Fogo de Chão is pronounced (fo-go dèe shoun) and means fire on the ground; it refers to the traditional gaucho method of roasting meats over an open fire. Although you certainly can “chow” down at the upscale eatery there is no such sound in the restaurant’s name. There are, however, 29 U.S. locations and nine locations in Brazil to help you with the correct pronunciation.
A Meal in Two Phases
Your server is responsible for drink orders and side dishes and will explain how the dining concept works for first-timers or, for that matter, anyone who needs a refresher course before starting their first course.
The Market Table is an upscale salad and vegetable bar that offers smoked salmon, prosciutto, salami, hearts of palm, asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, steamed broccoli, marinated artichoke bottoms, tabbouleh, a selection of fine cheeses including manchego and buffalo mozzarella, artisan breads, and fresh fruits. Iceberg and romaine lettuce (and a variety of dressings) vie for attention at one end of the large display.
The Market Table
The presentation is as vibrantly colorful as a Brazilian Carnival, and the temptation to dive in and load up is strong, but do try to pace yourself; this is merely phase one.
Phase two begins as soon as you can handle it. Each diner receives a coaster-like disc which has a green side and a red side. When you’re ready to start proving that you’re a carnivore, flip the disc to green. This starts a veritable protein parade to your table as gaucho after gaucho visits, each with a different meat – there are over a dozen different types.
Use the provided tongs to grasp the meat that the gaucho will slice off of his skewer to your plate. Guests control the portions, frequency and variety of the meats that arrive, flipping their disc to red when they want a well deserved time-out to savor a new arrival.
Each gaucho is responsible for a different type or cut of meat, and they also are in charge of its seasoning and roasting as well. Your server provides the sides; seasoned mashed potatoes, caramelized bananas, crispy polenta sticks and warm cheese bread (gluten free) accompany each order. The caramelized bananas serve as palate cleansers between meats, and the cheese bread comes in the form of bite-sized Yorkshire puddings.
The undisputed star of this culinary show is the meat, whether red, white, bone-in, filet, pork, beef, lamb or chicken. Leave your disc flipped to green and you will experience almost non-stop traffic to your table as gauchos carve flank steak, leg of lamb, top sirloin, bottom sirloin (yes, there is such a thing) filet mignon (with or without a bacon-wrapped exterior) lamb chops, bacon-wrapped chicken breast, linguica sausage, pork tenderloin, garlic steak and both beef and pork ribs.
Gauchos patrol the restaurant’s interior searching for circles of green to visit, and carving their delicacies for patrons to savor. The meat is well seasoned and replenished frequently, and you may request a certain type to be brought directly to your table. Sirloin and flank steak seem to be everywhere, all the time, but lamb chops and ribs make the circuit less frequently and are pounced upon more ferociously. Large parties may deplete a gaucho’s skewer right out of the kitchen, but there’s always more where that came from.
It’s dining in a stop-and-go atmosphere that you control, and if you are able to leave enough room for dessert, you may very well be seduced by the Papaya Cream, a blend of fresh papaya and vanilla bean ice cream, which has a chilled pudding consistency and a naturally occurring enzyme to aid digestion. A shot of crème de cassis (black currant flavored liqueur) can be added on request.
FdC’s fully stocked bar features the Caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, made with a sugar cane rum known as cachaca, limes and sugar. The restaurant’s elegant interior contains an all-glass wine cellar which sits on ground level and offers an extensive wine list to complement its extensive menu, whether it be meat or Market Table. There is also a seafood offering, the a la carte Chilean Sea Bass, for those who want lighter fare.
Everyone else may require a shoehorn to get out the door after visiting this delectable “meating” place.
For further Information:
Fogo de Chão at Downtown Summerlin 10975 Oval Park Drive, Suite #D201 (702) 228-7300 Reservations encouraged but not required.