Friday, May 02, 2008

Fogo de Chao in Downtown Minneapolis

(Tiny picture courtesy their website.)

I was invited to go to lunch with a few colleagues last week and they suggested Fogo de Chao. I'll admit that I've been avoiding this place, but still been curious. On the one hand, grown foreign men in flouncy pants, on the other, endless meat parade. I knew if I waited long enough, chances were that I'd end up there on somebody elses dime.

While walking over there, the one person that had been there before, the diminutive Amie warned us of what she called a "meat coma." They are serious about the all you can eat meat, and it's easy to too quickly get over served. (Sounds like late night happy hour at Liquor Lyle's.)

The room is impressive, although something about it still reminded me of the long gone Copeland's. The same color palate of shiny, maroon and slick panels. The room has gone through a major change, though. What was once all sectioned off is now almost cavernous open space. There were glinting wine bottles everywhere and the salad bar was huge.

Our server approached and explained how the whole thing worked. There was what looked like a coaster in front of us. Green means, bring me more food, red means I'm verging on the meat coma. The gauchos would leave us alone if the card was red. Before we were to embark on our skewered meat Odyssey, we were invited to visit the salad bar.

These guys are clever. This was without question, the most handsomely stocked salad bar that I have ever approached. While the restaurant appears to be a carnivore's gluttonous paradise, the salad bar is an omnivores dream. All sorts of greens, cheeses, cured meats and veggies. There were carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes and cucumbers. There was spinach, Romain, mixed spring greens and basil. There was prosciutto, sopresseta and genoa. Roasted peppers, marinated peppers, pepperoncini and a jalapeno and cilantro type chimichurri (which was delicious.) Parmesan, gouda and some brie. I mean, these guys had EVERYTHING. I decided to heck with the meat and loaded up a bunch of healthy greens.
The wine list was respectable and there were a few familiar bottles. I suggested to a friend who wasn't certain what to order to go with the Chateaux St. Michelle. It's a respectable, cheap little glass - a great pick for someone who likes wine, but isn't yet the obsessive Surdyk's stalker (or card carrying Wine Thief fan club member. I got a Coppola Cabernet - respectable, as well. $12 for a glass, but a pretty fine specimen.
Soon our salad plates were being cleared. I was the last to finish and could feel the meat hungry eyes on me as I delicately cut up my final sun dried tomato (so sweet, chewy and luscious!) The moment I laid my fork to rest, the plate was gone, replaced with a clean, new one.
Next, the onslaught began. It was almost 1-2-3 GO! And we flipped over our cards like the opening move in Speed. Swarthy men appeared from every corner in the room. It was like a carousel ride of meats. "Sausage and chicken?"
"Um, yes?"

"Which one would you like?"
"Oh, chicken, please?" He slid a piece off, accidentally brushing my boob in the process.
"Lamb chops?" Asked another. They were teeny little chops and looked a little dry. I think everyone at the table was averse to lamb because there weren't any takers.
More men, more skewers and I soon completely lost all track of what I was even being offered. I just know that soon I had a plate full of various slices of meat, I'd yet to see anything bacon wrapped, which I was told was the best cut, and my boob has never been so involved in a meal. I turned my card back over and wondered what the Portuguese equivalent of Uncle would be. No more than five minutes had passed and we'd been virtually swarmed by gauchos, meat, swords and husky voiced accents. It's the restaurant equivalent to a walk on role in the Princess Bride.
I sliced into each of the meat pieces. The little grilled chicken drummy was surprisingly tender and moist. It was really good, and my favorite piece of meat. I had a top round that was tender, lovingly rosy in the middle with a crispy fire char crust along the edge. It virtually melted in my mouth. The pork rib was an unfortunate cut. I think I got the end one because it was too rubbery with fat for me to cut any edible slice of meat off the bone. It might have tasted wonderfully, but I got frustrated and gave up on it. More meat for the meat eaters!
Before diving back into that pool, I tried the sides that they'd placed before us. The garlic mashed potatoes were under seasoned and had no trace of garlic flavor in them. They were just straight forward, nothing special, needing salt mashed potatoes. My grandma's were identical (grandma of the brown lacy eggs are a good thing side of the family.)
The fried polenta was equally unremarkable, fried polenta. It was fine. I realized the sides were to be ignored because this was all about the meat. MEAT GAUCHO! I flipped over my card.
There was a slice of some chewy part of beef, I missed what he said it was. I passed on the lamb again, took another accidental elbow and finally the bacon wrapped filet minion arrived. I was looked for the chicken guy, while batting away the chewy piece meat guy that either came back too soon, or another hunk was already sent from the kitchen. I couldn't even look at their faces, it was just a constant churning of meat being presented to me. (Not unlike the happy hour at Liquor Lyle's...) This time I accepted the sausage.
The card went back over. "Well, I'm done!" declared Amie. I was near there. I tasted my final plate.
The tough looking piece was exactly what I expected. It was from a working part of the animal and it was really dry and chewy. Cooked low and slow, it probably would have benefited and had a delightful, brisket flavor. It was just done too quickly. The fillet was a little bland. I think too often fillet minion is just cooked, served and people are charged too much for it. There's so little fat in the cut, that it requires a little attention, a little love to coax the beguiling flavors from it. The bacon was fine. I don't think it was the best thing. The little sausage had a nice snap and the clear juices roiled out from the inside. It was mildly spicy, with that lovely wood fire flavor. It would have been wonderful for breakfast with gently cooked eggs over easy by a campfire.
I was done. There wasn't so much of a sense of meat coma coming over me, than a heavy gutted, why did I eat so much red meat feeling? Now, I can usually sock away a steak. In my family, it was a dishonor to eat a t-bone and not completely pick the bone clean. Still, it was all so much and so fast! And what was up with the boob thing? Was I sitting at a wrong angle? I'm almost positive it wasn't intentional.
To my shock, everyone ordered desert. I tried to convince myself to at least try the Tres Leches cake, and consoled myself that I could box most of it and bring it home, but I just couldn't. Not another piece of food was making its way past these lips. Instead I ordered the Italian coffee, coffee with Amaretto and whipped cream. I reasoned that the coffee and booze would act as a digestive.
The desserts looked wonderful. Maggie let me have a bite of her cheesecake and it was divine. April's creme brulee looked perfectly done. The crust a nice, even brown and the custard inside smooth and light.
I hadn't wanted to go, but I'm glad I finally did. It was fun and I got a couple of cheap thrills by way of the men with meats. Is it the best steakhouse in the cities? I'm not sure I'd go that far. It's a lot easier to have an entertaining, good steak dinner there than over at Murray's, but I've had better steaks elsewhere in town. It is definitely a great place to go for dinner and a show. Just be prepared to sleep it off somewhere safe, and know that there is a small chance you might regret it all in the morning.


At 12:23 PM , Blogger andy said...

I would really, really like to hear of pheasants and tomfoolery. Hint.

At 7:08 PM , Anonymous Loberg said...

Seconded! That pheasant story (and resultant photo) has got to be one of the greatest northern-MN humor bits I've ever heard - especially when the culprit is revealed to be none other than...

At 2:52 PM , Blogger Reetsyburger said...

Sounds extremely MEATY! I think my finace will have a great time there this weekend for his bachelor party.


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