Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fogo de Chao: The Best Churrascaria Rodízio has Finally Come to NYC! (food)

The first time I ate at a churrascaria rodizio, the Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse concept, in the U.S. was at a Fogo de Chao in Houston about ten years ago. It was extraordinary. Since then, I've gone to a couple of these types of places in NYC, but none have lived up to that experience. I found the food at Churrascaria Plataforma to be salty while I thought (now-shuttered) Porcao didn't have a large enough selection of meat.

Some people might have reservations about Fogo de Chao because it is a chain, but I've generally found many high end chain steakhouses (think Morton's, Ruth Chris, not Outback) to be quite good at what they do. At $39.50+t/t for lunch and $59.50+t/t for dinner for all-you-can-eat meat and salad bar, it's one of the best values in the city. The restaurant is located just steps from MoMA, and is beautiful and spacious, with the tri-level space able to fit about 500 customers at max capacity. Because space is needed for the gaucho chef/servers to move around, this is one of the least cramped dining experiences you'll find in the heart of midtown.

The meal starts with the sides/starches presented to the table. All of them are tasty, especially their signature cheese bread. The bread is incredible, full of cheesy flavor yet soft and light, all while being gluten free.

Most people tend to start with the salad bar, although I prefer to start with the meat and use the salad bar to take a break. The quality of the stuff is very good, but I think the selection is rather limited for the salad bar-only price of $24.50 for lunch and $28.50 for dinner. The most notable options in my mind were the sliced smoked salmon, large leaves of butter lettuce, and jumbo spears of asparagus.

The signature cut of meat at almost any churrascaria rodizio is the picahna, also known as the rump cap or top sirloin cap. What makes this cut of meat special is, in fact, that fat cap, and the slightly melting fat is both easy to eat and added great flavor to the rest of the meat.

The piece of top sirloin without the fat cap of the picahna had a nice subtle sweetness. Cooked medium rare (you can request your preferred done-ness) and sliced thin, it reminded me of roast beef.

The bottom sirloin arrived with a nice, crisp crust. The texture was a bit loose, perhaps because it was a big slice against the grain, so it didn't have the mouth feel of eating steak.

The ribeye, on the other hand, had big beefy flavor and ate like steak. I recommend asking them to cut it thick to take advantage of that mouth feel.

I wasn't quite sure what cut of meat the garlic steak was, but true to its name, the garlic was the star. The strong garlic flavor packed a punch from under the fat. I recommend garlic lovers to eat a large piece of the steak in one big bite.

When it comes to steak, many people still prefer the filet due to its tenderness despite the lack of flavor that has caused it to lose favor among chefs. The filet's tenderness is also often an excuse to eat it well done, but the chefs at Fogo de Chao cooked my piece to a beautiful medium rare. For those who want more flavor but still prefer to eat the filet cut, they offer a bacon wrapped version. The bacon adds some nice fat and flavor to the meat, and wasn't overpowering like I was worried it might be. In fact, probably the best thing about the cooking at Fogo de Chao is that they tend to season lightly.

They also wrap bacon around chicken, another meat that's often disparaged for a lack of flavor. I didn't particularly care for either piece of chicken compared to all the other meat options, but I preferred the chicken that wasn't wrapped in bacon, which was cooked in white wine.

They didn't wrap bacon around pork, but instead crusted it with parmesan. I was looking forward to this, but my overall impression was "meh". There just wasn't enough flavor given the ingredients, although it was cooked well like pretty much all the meat on offer.

The pork rib wasn't much better in terms of flavor. It was super tender and the meat practically fell off the bone, but it felt more like an afterthought compared to the many bbq places around the city with superior ribs.

The best pork on offer came in the form of their linguica sausage, which had a robust texture (no casing snap though), nice spices and seasonings, and a tiny spicy kick.

I first ate mini lamb tbones during the whole lamb dinner at Resto, and wondered why I hadn't encountered them more often. These were very flavorful, with a strong lamb (some might call gamey) scent hitting my nose as soon as this hit the table. It wasn't easy to get at all the meat with a fork and knife, but well worth it for someone who enjoys eating lamb.

This was probably the best meat offering out of all of them. The beef ribs don't come on sword skewers, so you may have to request them separately from your server. The server arrived carrying a large wooden plank holding a couple of beef short ribs. The server then slices the meat off the top of the rib at a slight horizontal angle, resulting in strips that look like gyro from afar. The meat is flavorful, soft, and well marbled with fat.

It's been roughly a decade, but I am so glad that Fogo de Chao has finally expanded to the Northeast (there's a new one in Boston as well). It might not be as amazing as I remember it (especially the salad bar), but it surely beats any other rodizio we've had in NYC by far. Along with the comfortable classy ambiance, I would highly recommend Fogo de Chao for large group dinners, all you can eat binges, and low carb nights out.

40 W 53rd St btw 5th and 6th aves
New York, NY 10019

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