Fogo de Chao 

Orlando's newest churrascaria is a shrine to beef, with heavenly tableside service

click to enlarge Fogo de Chão is worth visiting to impress a colleague, pamper out-of-town guests, or to celebrate a failed experiment in veganism
  • Fogo de Chão is worth visiting to impress a colleague, pamper out-of-town guests, or to celebrate a failed experiment in veganism

When I was in college, my roommate and I celebrated an end-of-semester dinner far beyond the means of our meager student dining plan at a Brazilian churrascaria in Salt Lake City. I'd never seen a salad bar big enough to feed several companies of U.S. Marines, gorgeous mocha-skinned gauchos offering tableside meat-carving service – or a bill as big as my monthly allowance. You'll find the same kind of experience at the I-Drive iteration of the Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão.

There's no menu, per se (all dinners are $42.50; salad bar only, $19.50), just an impressive wine list that favors wines from Spain and South America. Or start with a caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, made with cachaça (sugarcane rum), raw sugar and lime, then head up to the salad bar.

The strategy here is to taste a little bit of everything and load up on things that will pair well with the mountains of meat that'll end up on your plate. A few of our favorites were marinated shiitake mushrooms, thick chilled asparagus spears and chips of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese freshly carved out of a 50-year-old wheel. Rice and beans, flavored with chunks of bacon, line the bar as well.

Several hot plates of accoutrements will have appeared on your table once you return from the salad bar – sweet, crispy fried bananas I wanted to eat for breakfast every morning, addictive deep-fried squares of polenta and forgettable garlic mashed potatoes. Flip that service disk over from the red side to the green, and an army of waiters will swarm to offer you your choice of 16 different spit-roasted meats.

Don't miss the thick slabs of rib-eye or the filet – both were meltingly tender and sported thick crusts of salt to season the meat. The pork tenderloin and chicken were good too, but this is primarily a shrine to beef, and that's where all the good stuff is. I was looking forward to the signature garlic-crusted sirloin, but found it overcooked, though the juicy skirt steak made up for it by leaps and bounds.

A big difference between Fogo de Chão and other Brazilian steakhouses in the area is the level of attention paid to the preferences of each guest. Before cutting your slab of protein, you'll be asked how you like it cooked, and if that spit doesn't fit your specification, rest assured one will be brought that does.

We were happy to have a manager drop by at least twice to make sure all was well and ask if we had any special requests – and no, they didn't know we were reviewing. When French master chef Alain Ducasse's temple of haute cuisine opened in Manhattan, then-Times food critic Ruth Reichl marveled at the 4:1 ratio of servers to restaurant guests. You can expect the same kind of consideration at Fogo de Chão – at least 10 different people visited our table before the night was through.

If you can manage dessert, bravo to you. The bowl of strawberry ice cream refreshed, and topped with a generous pour of crème de cassis liqueur, was a digestif and dessert all wrapped up together.

It's certainly not a place to have a serious conversation, unless being interrupted every 10 minutes or so doesn't annoy you, but Fogo de Chão is worth visiting to impress a colleague, pamper out-of-town guests, or to celebrate a failed experiment in veganism with a little hit of cholesterol for the blood.

Fogo de Chão

8282 International Drive
407-370-0711
fogodechao.com
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