DC's Prime Meating Place
[from February 2006 issue]

Bombarded by superlatives, you may turn away from another "best-ever" review. But then you'd miss out on a few words about DC's newest, biggest restaurant hit. Over the top? You betcha, for Fogo de Cho is an outsized, meat-eater's paradise, with zany waiters wielding meat-filled skewers and tearing through the vast dining room like men on a mission: Treat every patron like a gaucho-in-waiting. This is Southern Brazilian meat feasting at its most aggressive.

Whether you've just reined up on your steed or come from across town to the nearest Metro stop, you are in for a gastronomic blow-out, and youd better have made reservations, amigo, or you'll languish in line waiting for a table. After all, speculated someone on the scene, it's quite possible that DC's Fogo de Cho location (there is a total of six such restaurants in the US and four in Brazil, with more likely on the way) will serve up to 30,000 patrons a month -- thats about 1,000 people a day who will walk away surfeited with good food and drink.

If management ever opens up the kitchen for tours, I'd sign up. How does any kitchen staff manage to grill so much meat over open fires and get it all perfectly done without singeing their fingers or turning lamb chops into charcoal? It's hard to keep track of the many different cuts of skewered meat streaming by the table, though a handy brochure gives you a kind of road map: filet mignon, top sirloin, bottom sirloin, beef ribs and pork ribs (though none the night we were there), chicken breast wrapped in bacon, linguia, pork loin, and two different cuts of lamb.

As your waiter explains while taking drink orders, the trick here is to use the color-coded wooden cube at the table to signal when you want meat offered (green), or when you are pausing in your feasting to take a breather (red). But, before you start, he points behind him, help yourself to the salad bar. Not just any greens display, this artfully and opulently arranged counter sags beneath the weight of so much cheese (many varieties, including fresh mozzarella), cold cuts, greens, tossed salads (didnt see a Caesar version), fruits, stacks of asparagus spears, roasted peppers -- well, you get the idea. It's hard to draw the line, but you may want to limit yourself to asparagus and lettuce. There's a lot more to come.

Back at the table, you'll find that someone has left the basket of melt-in-your-mouth cheese popovers with their unusual puffy texture. There may be six or seven per basket, but these won't last long, as you pile them high with the cold cuts, and the anxious waiters look enquiringly at your color cube: Want meat yet or not?, their gaze asks.

Saying "yes" initiates a meat parade, and it's hard to keep track of what you've already eaten and what looks tempting on the passing skewers. It seems the lamb chops were big hits-and probably are daily favorites -- snagging the lamb guy was tough, and finally our waiter took charge, bringing him and his lamb roast (chops were gone) for our selection. And while all this meaty hubbub goes on about you, your waiter drops off several side dishes, including, of all things, a mound of cheese-sprinkled mashed potatoes, and squares of fried polenta. Meat overload. Carb overload. Tums!

If you happen to be sitting by the entrance, you can't miss the hungry crowd gathered behind you, and you thank your lucky stars you thought to get reservations. Otherwise, you too would be staring, waiting for a chance to go hog wild, so to speak.

Although it may seem insane, don't skip dessert. The kitchen offers a killer crme brl -- quite the best we've ever eaten -- and assorted pastries that include plain cheesecake, a turtle cheesecake, a chocolate molten cake, and the famed Latino tres leches, a sponge cake soaked in three different kinds of milk. I've had better, but for keeping with the Latino spirit, it's a great choice.

All this over-the-top gluttony does come with a price: a hefty bill may knock you flat, and you will feel more like curling up for a nap rather than walking out the front door. But, amigo, the whole deal is unforgettable.

Fogo de Cho Churrascaria, 1101 Penn. Ave., NW; tel., 347-4668. Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri., 10:30pm; Sat., 4:30-10:30pm; Sun., 4-9:30pm. Cost per person: $44.50, desserts & drinks extra. Major credit cards accepted.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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