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Review: Fogo de Chao

30,000 BC – Hungry caveman hunts for food.

1955 – Hungry man shops at supermarket for food.

Present Day – Hungry man sits while a never ending supply of delicious meats are brought to table, carved and served right onto his plate.

Fogo de Chao is a Brazilian Steak House conveniently located on International Drive just a short hop off I-4 in Orlando. The idea of this restaurant is to deliver an authentic dining experience in an atmosphere that immerse the guest in the smells, sights and sounds of Brazil.

While the food is certainly the highlight, fine dining strives for something more. At Fogo de Chao, just about the only thing they don’t do is chew your food for you. The service is impeccable. Walk up to the door and you are greeted by an open door and a friendly smile. The interior instantly feels welcoming. And as the smells of the cooking wafting through the room hit your nose, your mouth will begin to water before you arrive at your seat.

I’ll admit, I was a little unnerved that there was always a hostess ready to pull my chair out for me whenever I returned from the salad bar. At many restaurants you’re lucky if the server remembers to come back to your table after the drink order. It’s this attention to detail that separates Fogo de Chao from the rest.

We started our meal at the salad bar. I know, believe me, it was hard to hold off on the meats. But the salad bar is more than worth forsaking an extra lamb chop. Stocked full of crisp lettuce and fresh veggies including artichokes, shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and more. One of the favorites for us was the combination of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and creamy basil dressing. I added a little spinach into the mix as well.

The salad bar options also include potato, apple and chicken salads. I tried a taste of each… all a perfect mix, but I wasn’t about to fill up too much here.

When you are ready for your first meats, just turn the red card on your table over to green, and the servers that have been wandering around the room the whole time will begin to stop by your table offering a warm hello a cut of some of the best meats that will ever pass by your lips. Just a tip, after grabbing a few pieces, flip your card back to red until ready for more, or else they really do keep on coming.

An important element of this culture is churrasco, the Gaucho way of roasting meats over pits of open fire for delicious barbecues. We were invited back in the kitchen for a look. The pork, beef, chicken and lamb all turn slowly over and open fire. Covered with spices and just dripping with juicy goodness.

My highlight was the Lunguica (seasoned pork sausage) and Lombo (Parmesan encrusted tender pork fillets). The Fillet Mignon was of course a melt in your mouth beef, but may taste buds preferred the Pichanha.

One of Fogo’s most popular cuts of beef, it is cut from the prime part of the sirloin and has a light garlic flavor to it. Also, to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the leg of lamb. I have tried lamb a few times in the past and never liked it too much, but these cuts, coupled with the exciting flavors, had me keep requesting more.

To be honest, the only part I had even slight disappointment in were the pork ribs. I am a huge rib fan, but the meat just didn’t have the flavor I am personally used to.

Oh, and they even toss a few side dishes on your table… do NOT pass these up. The fried polenta is perfectly crispy on the outside and at the same time smooth and creamy on the inside. The garlic mashed potatoes are not too strong and compliment the rest of the meal. The third side was caramelized bananas. Although delicious in their own right, the extra sweet flavor didn’t appeal to me as a side by side to the entree. They also kept coming with the warm cheesy bread. I’ve never had a cheese break quite like this. Incredibly warm and flavorful, it was also light and fluffy on the inside.

To top it all off, we ordered the Papaya Creme. We actually expected scoops of vanilla ice cream with chunks of papaya in it. Instead, it was a creamy blend, almost milk shake like, of vanilla bean ice cream and juicy papaya. It was wonderfully creamy and light and was topped off with Creme de Cassis Liqueur. Wow, I didn’t exactly save room for dessert, but I’m glad I had the chance to try this.

Michelle said we would be doing a disservice to the country of Brazil and our readers if we didn’t also try the Caipirinha, a classic Brazilian cocktail. It is made from a blend of fresh limes, sugar and cachaca (a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane). Its refreshing taste is somewhere between a mojito and margarita.

There is also a large selection of wines available. The wine cellar is in beautiful display in full view of the dining area behind a large glass window. The display is impressive and so is the wine list.

I did not want to be this close to a $4,000 bottle of wine. I watched my every step and existed very quickly and safely.

Stop by for lunch, and the price is extremely reasonable for a treat out about town. $26.50 per person. Lunch on Sundays goes up $9 and dinner at Fogo de Chao is $42.50. Salad bar stays steady at only $19.50 anytime. But not even the new vegetarian Michelle could accomplish her salad-only mission. It is easy to drop $100 or more at a fine steakhouse. So for the variety of tastes you get to experience here, the price is more than on the spot. The location is easy to find for tourists and close enough to Sand Lake Road for locals who do not wish to venture too deep into I-Drive.

There are also a few rooms available for large parties. One has outdoor patio access. The rooms are wired with complete audio and visual hook ups to pump the house or your own music mix into the room. There is also a video screen than can be pulled down for guest’s use. All A/V use is included with the room rental price.

We thank Fogo de Chao for welcoming us and believe they help add to the variety of options on I-Drive. Choose Fogo de Chao for a warm, welcoming environment and authentic food and you will leave happy every time. Visit Fogo de Chao’s Orlando location website and tune into the next Eye on Orlando for an interview with Opening Manager Adam Schroeder.

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