Fogo de Chao’s massive midtown Manhattan restaurant is a temple to barbecued meat.
I was dying to try the all-you-can-eat steakhouse, which recently filed an IPO, after declaring it was “set to take over America.” I stand by that statement after last night.
Of the 35 locations in which Fogo is already open, Manhattan is by far the most competitive restaurant market in the country. But the loud, vibrant dining room across the street from the Museum of Modern Art fit right in. It was packed and oozed energy even on a Tuesday night. Large parties far outnumbered couples and families.
The three-level restaurant has bars on the two top floors, both of which were nearly empty, and a dining room on the bottom floor that is dominated by a salad bar Fogo calls the Market Table. Fogo claimed in it’s IPO filing that profit margins are higher than other restaurants because food and labour costs are kept low.
The Market Table is the key to the restaurant’s profitability. It is also where our waiter insisted we start our meal. I preferred to start with a beer but then soon moved on to the salad bar.
A team of about three people appeared to be keeping the massive Market Table, which dominates the large dining room, stocked while a steady stream of customers helped themselves to dozens of fresh vegetables, salads and cold meats and cheeses.
I noticed people tend to not plan ahead, fill up on the salad bar and not have enough room for more than a few helpings of meat. Not me, though, I’ve seen this movie before. I took it easy on the Market Table. As salad bars go, it wasn’t too bad except for the rice and beans. Even a sprinkling of salt would have made a difference there.
But, I got over my disappointment quickly after flipping my coaster to the green side — which lets the staff of about half a dozen table-side carvers know I’m hungry.
Now for the reason everyone is here. Each variety of meat looked amazing when brought over on the skewer and sliced at the table. The final product, though, was a mixed bag.
Both varieties of filet mignon were predictably delicious. So was the Picanha top sirloin, which they say is their signature cut. Juicy, full of flavour, and perfectly cooked. We had multiple helpings of each.
The Alcatra top sirloin was also good, but the steak asado was little more than a lump off gristle. The dried out, over salted pork ribs were also a disappointment.
A steady stream of servers kept bringing cuts of meat to out table and asking if we wanted more. After a quick breather, we were back in it to win it.
Both the lamb chops and leg of lamb were also delicious. Juicy, flavorful and perfectly cooked. The optional mint jelly was not even necessary.
The bacon-wrapped chicken (too salty) and chicken thighs (tasted like a bottle of wine, in a bad way) lacked imagination. Another server quickly took them away as more meat came to the table.
Both the pork loin and sausage, also cooked over an open flame, were missing in action.
After more than a dozen helping of meat and multiple trips to the salad bar, we somehow had room for dessert.
Among the choices provided — multiple cheesecakes, pies, ice cream, creme brûlée, flan and a papaya cream concoction — only the latter three were made fresh on a daily basis.
Despite being told the papaya cream (a milkshake) was their signature dessert, we went with the creme brûlée and flan. We regretted not going with the papaya cream.
As I said before, the dinner was a reasonably-priced mixed bag. Mostly good but not life-changing. However, you can’t go wrong with all-you-can-eat meat.
One couple nearby celebrated a birthday as another played with their young daughter. The atmosphere was upscale but family friendly.
Fogo de Chao is far from unique but has no other Brazilian steakhouses to compete with at the scale it is planning. With plans to open another 100 restaurants, chances are you’ll find yourself in one in the future.
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