Vegetarians, turn away now. While I sympathize with your cause, and enjoy vegetarian food on a regular basis, my next post requires me to sing the praises of meat. Seared, slow-roasted, smoky, dripping meat.
This past weekend, I was treated to one of the most glorious meals of my life at Fogo de Chão in center city Philadelphia. Fogo de Chão is a chain of Brazilian steakhouses, but they are located only in major cities in the U.S. and Brazil.
Although this is a fine dining establishment, it functions on a very interesting restaurant model. They serve a set menu for a fixed price, all you can eat. The meal is served in three sections: salad bar, family-style side dishes, and...the meat.
First, the salad bar. Magnificent. It was like having one of my favorite culinary magazines manifested on my plate. I started with a base of typical spring greens, but my horizons were soon significantly expanded. What followed was a string of high-quality ingredients called for in recipes from the likes of Food & Wine, items I rarely buy because of their expense. Whole halves of sun-dried tomatoes. Lightly blanched asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, hearts of palm. Shitake mushrooms. Roasted redskin potatoes. Belgian endive. Prosciutto, smoked salmon, thick-cut salami. Fresh mozzarella, aged Manchego, and a giant wheel of genuine Parmigiano Reggiano (basically the only real parmesan--all others are imitations). I thoroughly relished my plate, wishing I could smuggle bags of tomatoes and parmesan out the door, before turning to the next phase of the meal.
The three standard sides were brought family-style to the table on small silver platters: garlic mashed potatoes, fried polenta, and caramelized fried bananas. Each was delicious, but I particularly enjoyed the mashed potatoes--smooth, thick, and savory. Before I was finished with the salad and sides, others at the table began ordering their meats, and I was soon overtaken by the rich, smoky scent.
Once you're ready for the meat, you don't have to leave your chair. You simply flip the colored chip given to each person at the beginning of the meal from red to green to start the nonstop table service. At the sight of the green chip, the waiters begin swarming your table, each with a different cut of fresh meat on a skewer. They slide nimbly between you and your dining partner and ask politely if you would like their cut of meat--top sirloin? bottom sirloin? filet mignon? ribeye? beef ribs? pork ribs? lamb chops? roast chicken? pork loin? sausage?--and you accept or decline. If you accept, they ask which doneness you prefer (medium is the brownest you're going to get), they fresh-slice it, and you pick it up with your own pair of tongs. My favorite cuts, the bottom sirloin and filet mignon, were perfectly seasoned, tender, and ridiculously juicy.
Since this dinner was a treat, and even Fogo de Chão's website doesn't tell you the menu prices, I can't tell you how much my food cost. But I would venture that it was probably the most expensive meal I've eaten, and I'm kind of glad. All you can eat meat should cost that much, so it's done sparingly. Go only on a special occasion, or if your bill is paid for you, and enjoy thoroughly. It's totally worth it, every once in a while.