First Taste: Fogo de Chão
In Tysons, a meat lover’s paradise with a respectable salad bar.
When the first local Fogo de Chão opened in downtown D.C. more than a decade ago, Brazilian steakhouses were fairly unknown in these parts. Nowadays, most folks recognize the brand—along with words like churrasco—but for the uninitiated, what you’ll find here is a parade of men dressed as gauchos carrying grilled meats on swords. You flip the paper disk on your table to signal whether you’d like more meat or to take a break, with the green side meaning “go time” and the red side meaning “hold your horses there, cowboy.”
Aside from the all-you-can-eat meats, the fixed-price menu ($36.95 for lunch; $48.95 for dinner) includes sides that magically appear at your table, plus unlimited access to the pimped-out salad bar. Vegetarians and light eaters can opt for the salad bar ($15 for lunch; $26.95 for dinner), with the option to add a single cut of meat at lunchtime for $10 more. For those toting kids, children ages 6 and younger dine for free, while those between 7 and 12 eat for half-price. Brunch ($39.95) brings similar offerings along with such dishes as braised beef rib hash and a special brunch cocktail bar.
You’d think some jaded corporate chef would helm a kitchen of this size, but head gaucho/chef Marinho Detumin reportedly learned the cuisine while cooking on his family’s farm in Santa Catarina, Brazil. The 16 or so varieties of meats that were marched through the dining room during my visit were mostly moist, well seasoned and flavorful. My table particularly loved the buttery and—how else to put this?—deliciously fatty Picanha sirloin, a house specialty that goes by several names in the States, including top sirloin, rump cap or coulotte. Other favorites included the bacon-wrapped steak, the Parmesan-crusted pork and the garlic filet mignon. The weakest link was the bacon-wrapped chicken, which was dry as bone.
But before you commit to this carnivore’s carnival, know thy side dishes. The prix-fixe meal includes buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, cheesy bread puffs called pão de queijo, fried polenta and fried plantains. What do these things have in common? Well, for one thing, they fill you up. If your goal is to get the most for your money, go easy on these tasty yet filling starches. The price also includes unfettered access to the massive salad bar, which features everything from salamis to marinated veggies to a pear-and-blue-cheese salad. The marinated mushrooms and candied bacon were the standouts, while the caprese salad confirmed what we already knew: never eat a tomato salad in February.
As for dessert, we were honestly too full to consider it, although we did solicit recommendations from our server. When he said his favorite was the fresh papaya with ice cream, I figured his choosing the most basic dessert didn’t bode well and opted to skip it.
The cavernous space includes an attention-grabbing bar near the entrance, and given its proximity to several offices, we’re guessing happy hour—which runs weekdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m.—brings good business. It’s also the best time to order a cocktail. I ordered a cucumber-mint cooler that came with so much crushed ice that I got only a few sips from it, making the $14 price tag sting a bit. Next time, I’ll stick with wine. The bar area serves share plates in case you’re not comfortable with the churrasco experience offered in the dining room.
It’s amusing when the woman in front of you stops to take a photo of the gigantic golden frieze of some ancient god or hero, as if it’s a real artifact. But soon enough, you give in to the fun of it all and think, “Well, it is a pretty impressive statue.” And despite it being a chain, there’s plenty to be impressed with here. The service is friendly and capable, the meats come fast and furious, the space is modern, bright and bustling and the food is tasty. It feels celebratory, perhaps because of the decadence, but also because of the white tablecloths and the luxurious experience of being pampered—never mind that the pampering comes with costumed gentlemen with skewered meats. Patio seating will also be available come spring.
Go, Wait or Skip?
Go. If you’re a fan of the brand, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. And if you’ve never been, know that this company’s team has the formula down pat. Will the food win any Michelin stars? No. But I’ve got to give it to them—for a chain restaurant where you might leave with the meat sweats and stretchy pants are a good idea, it still somehow manages to feel special. We recommend making a reservation, even for lunch.
Fogo de Chão Tysons is open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m.; Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. 1775 Tysons Blvd., Tysons; 703-556-0200; Fogo.com.