They say the abundance of gastronomic choices in the world today has caused the "omnivore's dilemma." But on any given night at Fogo de Chão, it's a real carnivore's dilemma. As 15 different kinds of spit-roasted meat come at you, your only way of softening the impact is to turn your disc from green to red. This buys you at least some time as you dig into a piece after piece of juicy flesh. When you come up for air, and turn your disc to green, the dance begins again. Yes friends, this is the meat-lover's mecca.
A large group of us gathered at the new Fogo de Chão in the Inner Harbor for a birthday dinner. We arrived, starved and ready for ...well, MEAT. The doors leading in were dauntingly heavy, almost saying to you that this is no place for wimpy vegetarians who probably can't gather the strength to even open our doors mwahaha! Expecting the interior to be murals of Brazilian landscapes and paintings of the noble animals who gave up their lives to be on the menu, I was instead surrounded by chic, minimalist decor, done in natural woods and rippled glass. I sipped on a caipirinha at the sleek bar. Made using Cigana brand cachaça, it was smooth and not overly sweet.
Our server invited us to the salad bar first, a clever ploy designed to make us fill up on anything of the non-meat variety. Unimpressive to say the least, the selection was bountiful, yes, but nonetheless uninspired. Plump asparagus, artichoke hearts, beets, sundried tomato, prosciutto, and smoked salmon. Where was the authenticity in this? Not to mention, the cheese. A large wheel of parmeggiano reggiano layed out as well as a deep bowl of mozzarella balls, and a piece of Idiazabal, I believe. All fresh and good, but bring on the meat!
The meat was juicy and well seasoned. My favorites were the filet mignon wrapped in bacon, the leg of lamb and rack of lamb. Not the slightest bit of gaminess, the lamb was tender and heavenly. The other cuts were not as memorable, and the house specialty, the Picanha (a portion of the sirloin), was actually a bit dried out. One issue I had was when I asked for a medium-rare piece of meat, it usually showed up on my plate medium to well-done. Not the end of the world, I still ate it. After a while though, it all started to taste the same. It's what I call the "conveyor belt" conundrum. This is the problem when there are so many different meats to try- you hardly have the time or tastebud capacity to individually savor and appreciate any which one type. The uniqueness of each cut of meat is lost. Somehow, they all taste just "good" and not spectacular.
The servers place on your table starchy sides for everyone to share, yet another attempt to fill you up on less costly items. Fried bananas (yes this was probably the best part of my meal), fried polenta, mashed potatoes with paprika and cheese, and a basket of cheese rolls.
I sit here, flushed with a meat afterglow, contemplating if my meal was really worth it. At $42.50 a head, it was definitely pricey for someone like me who enjoys meat but not to that extent. For that price, I would much rather have gone next door to the Capital Grille for a nicely marbled dry-aged Porterhouse. I'd say there are two types of people who would consider Fogo a good deal: those who have more than one stomach and can eat their weight in meat, and tourists, who have a tendency to fall into this kind of spectacle trap. Overall what you are paying for is the name and the chain, the show and service, and all-you-can-eat above average cuts of meat. If it's authenticity you are looking for, well, you are most likely not to find that anywhere here in the Inner Harbor (i.e. PF Chang's). I'm glad I went for the experience of it all, and you should try it too. Just give your wallet and your arteries a little pep talk beforehand.
Fogo de Chao
600 East Pratt Street
Baltimore, MD 21202