Fogo de Chao is a “Churrascaria”, or Brazilian steak house, which began as a successful Brazilian chain and expanded to the U.S. Churrasco is "the Gaucho way of preparing meat”, a style that originated with cowboys in southern Brazil. The method slow roasts various cuts of meat on a spit over open flame, and has been perfected here to the extent that servers can offer diners rare, medium, or well-done slices, cut from the same skewer.
Jackie and Steve were recently guests at Fogo de Chao, and found it an indulgent, celebratory entertainment experience, and a great fixed-price value with something for everyone.
We walked inside from a cool fall evening, into rooms that are expansive with high, exposed beam ceilings, soft lightiing and a mural of gauchos sitting around a fire. We were seated next to a waterfall made of tile and stone, which was extremely relaxing. This is a great place for a romantic dinner, and serves equally well for a business group or pre-event meal.
Shortly after we sat down, Paul Ritchie, a Customer Service Representative, explained the concept to us.
Unlimited salad bar and meat cuts, all for a fixed price. The fixed-price menu provides a great value, with attentive, nearly continuous tableside service, including a stunning variety of roasted meats. But it’s not just for the carnivores – there’s also an unlimited salad bar large and bountiful enough to serve as a meal in itself. The salad-bar-only option is, in fact, available as a discounted fixed-price meal all by itself, for lunch or dinner.
The enormous salad buffet includes everything from roasted eggplant slices to a vinegar green bean salad, to fresh salmon, to marinated mushrooms, with a wide variety of cheeses, including Pecorino and shaved Parmesan, as well as cured meats like prosciutto. There is no doubt that anyone could find enough items to please their taste and eat their fill. One of the standouts was a basil cream sauce, intended as a salad dressing for baby spinach, but Steve found that it actually was so bright and delicious on its own that it complemented most everything on the buffet, from cucumbers to charcuterie. The Salad Bar is a sumptuous variety of fresh vegetables and cured meats, which wakes up every part of the palate.
Unless you’re strictly vegetarian, however, you’ll want to partake of the meat service. In fact, you’ll want to prepare for it. Steve didn’t eat all day, but still had a hard time finishing the meal– it would be a good idea to fast before visiting Fogo for dinner. The experience is kind of like endless tapas, especially if you keep a full plate from the salad buffet handy on the side.
This is the kind of sumptuous meal you’ll want to linger over, so it’s best to allow yourself 2 ½ hours if you don’t have anywhere to go – we figured 2 hours, and had to go feed the parking meter. But if you want to get in and out quickly to make a play or performance, the continual service means there is no prep time and no waiting to start the meal. The restaurant also has an auto valet service.
Three house appetizers – grilled polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and deep-fried carmelized bananas – are served immediately upon seating. The house appetizers provide sweet and savory counterpoints to the meat service. The light and flavorful crispy polenta is a perfect palate cleanser between meat courses, while the deep-fried carmelized bananas had a citrusy quality, and paired well with the richer meat offerings. Jackie loved the garlic mashed potatoes which had a rough chunky texture, as if they were hand mashed.
Fogo de Chao also features full cocktail service, and an excellent choice is the Capirinha, the national drink of Brazil. It was a great pairing with the appetizers – a lime and rum-based cocktail that includes sugar cane, reminiscent of another of our favorite tropical drinks, the Mojito, but sans mint. Jackie got the traditional formulation, and Steve ordered the passion-fruit version. These were both excellent and a great way to unwind.
While the ‘team’ meat service is extremely attentive, a fun feature of the restaurant is the medallion (green on one side, red on the other), which allows you to indicate whether you would like meat service.
It takes a while to get the hang of it – if you forget to flip to red, you’ll get nearly continual table service offering meats ranging from savory treats like bacon-wrapped chicken and tender lamb chops, to the Brazilian specialties Lombo and Linquica, which, respectively, are paremesan-encrusted pork loin filets and hearty roasted sausages similar to a thuringer – not the spicy longaniza type sausage we would have expected.
The highlight of the meal, however, is the succulent variety of beef cuts, which in effect is a variety sampler of all the beef cuts available, from top and bottom sirloin to rib eye and filet mignon.
Once we had sampled the salad bar, we flipped our medallions, and promptly a parade of roasted meats began. We chose to enjoy all of the meats cooked medium, except for the house special Prime Sirloin (Picanha), which we chose medium rare. All the meats are lightly rubbed with sea salt prior to roasting, which has the benefit of retaining moisture in addition to providing appropriate seasoning, and also making all the meat taste very, very good.
The non-beef offerings, which also include Cordeiro (leg of lamb) Costela de Puerco (pork ribs), Frango (chicken breast wrapped in bacon), and fresh grilled Mozzarella cheese, provided a palate buffer between the beef cuts, enhancing the experience of each – the tapas comparison again crossed our minds. In general, these were very rich in flavor, and we savored the tasting experience.
Fogo’s 200-plus label wine list has received the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for the past nine years. Paul recommended a bottle of Argentinian Malbec which is bottled exclusively for Fogo de Chao. It’s a dry, full-bodied wine, with a terrific nose, strong berry and currant flavors and a gentle mineral finish, an ideal, balanced companion for the meat.
The wine well complemented the sumptuous chocolate dessert and Key Lime Cheesecake we ordered as well. This is a wonderful bottle to share with dinner companions who appreciate wine pairings.
Even if you are not a meat connoisseur, the cuts are so well prepared that they highlight the flavors of the meats, and you’ll enjoy the savory variety. The sea-salt preparation ensures the moistness of the meat but also extrudes flavor. The sides also provide a sweet and savory complement.
If it weren’t for the exquisite meat preparation, the sides and the salad buffet alone would earn this meal a high rating. It would also be easy to emphasize the quantity of food at Fogo, since it’s an unlimited fixed price concept, but the quality of both the meats and the service is superb, and meets expectations for any celebration.
We also had the opportunity to view the recently re-designed private rooms that can easily accommodate groups from 20 to 200 people, with an innovative partition design that ensures that the room size will remain cozy with any size group. This would be a wonderful place to have any kind of a small or large party, from business to private. There is no extra room charge.
Fogo de Chao opens for lunch at 11 a.m., and for dinner at 5 p.m. so it’s a great stop for a business lunch or before an evening show downtown. The serving concept ensures minimal wait times and a sumptuous meal in a short time if you have an appointment to keep – reserving a table in advance is recommended.
Fogo de Chao
T: (312) 932.9330 | 661 N. LaSalle Blvd, Chicago, Illinois 60654
Prix Fixe and Hours:
Lunch: $32.50 | (Salad Bar Only - $22.50)
| Mon-Fri 11:00-2:00
Dinner: $49.50 | (Salad Bar Only - $24.50) | Mon-Thur 5:00-10:00 ~ Fri 5:00-10:30 ~ Sat 4:00-10:30 ~ Sun 4:00-9:30
Christmas Eve Lunch: 11:00am – 2:00pm | Dinner: 5:00pm – 10:00pm
New Year's Eve Lunch: 11:00am – 2:00pm | Dinner: 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Photos: J. Bookman, S. Pasek and Courtesy of Fogo de Chao,