Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Joint for Meat Lovers

The photo above was taken by my wife at a different version of the
Brazilian steakhouse (Pampas) on a trip she recently made to
California – that’s her son, James, being wowed by one more big
chunk of beef.

This is an unimportant restaurant review – unimportant because the joint is doing so well it could not care less what I have to say.
by Charlie Leck

Fogo de Chao (churrascaria)!
This place has been hanging around in downtown Minneapolis for several years now. I’ve always wanted to go, but the women in my lives [sic] are not big meat eaters and always vetoed my decisions to take them there. Last night I was invited to join a guys’ night out and we went to Fogo de Chao (a Brazilian steakhouse). Oh, my!

I think everyone in our party agreed: This is a good place to get a wonderful fill-up (actually to get over-filled) of meat, but one wouldn’t want to dine here too often (let’s say once a year with the fellas).

One begins with an over-priced beer, drink or glass of wine. The selection is good, but the dosage is quite small (in the case of my glass of a Pino Grigio, about a third less than the amount I get at most restaurants).

Then, there is a very ostentatious and over-stocked salad bar. As one of the guys in the party said, “The best salad bar in town!” I’d agree and pretty much without reservation. Incredible smoke salmon, bacon curls, Italian salami, huge asparagus, mushroom dishes and assorted cheese all accompany the normal salads, fruits and accessories one finds on other salad bars. The sun-dried tomatoes were spectacular and so was the tabbouleh. Fortunately one of my newly made acquaintances warned me not to over-do it on the salad items because I’d need room for the various hot, tender meats that would be brought to our table.

A friendly and well-spoken waiter oriented those of us who were new to the restaurant. We had little circular disks in front of us which were green on one side and red on the other. Green meant we wanted service (generally meaning more meat) and red meant we were momentarily satisfied, if not totally sated. Little platters of garlic mashed potatoes and fried bananas were placed around our long table along with little butter rolls that looked more like bowls of popcorn (and they simply melt in one’s mouth). And then came the meats – and they continued to come and come and come.

Extremely well-trained waiters (called gaucho here), carrying awfully sharp carving knives, generally brought the meat on skewers and began slicing. We had learned how to use our own little sets of tongs to help the waiter transfer the meat cuts to our plates. The meats were all cooked over open-flame fire grills within our view. Waiter after waiter came bringing loin chops of lamb and slices of lamb legs (cordeiro), slices of prime top sirloin (picanha), beef ribs, filet mignon, pork ribs (costela de porco), pork sausages and bacon-wrapped roast chicken breast.

Were the meats good? Sorry that was not meant to be a question, but an exclamation: Were the meats good! Delicious! Tender and beautifully cooked!

Then, even after enormous amounts of beef had been consumed, the guys I dined with had the courage and temerity to order several desserts like rich chocolate mousse cake, key-lime pie and turtle cheesecake. Of course, I was way too full to dabble in any of the desserts; but I did anyway and each and every one was too rich, too sweet and too overwhelming. Oh yes, they were also too delectable.

The claim is that there are actually some of these steakhouses in Brazil and they do very well. There are a dozen and a half of them in the U.S.. (Locations are listed here!) It’s not cheap to dine here, but the smart fella who put our evening together did it during Minneapolis Restaurant Week and dining was half-priced and included our desserts (which usually are not included).

Would I recommend it? If you’re a meat eater, absolutely! And take the advice of my fellow diners last night: Go easy on the salad bar.

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