It's not every day that I like to totally pig out, but I made an exception last weekend for Fogo de Chao. Fogo de Chao is a churrascaria, a Brazilian restaurant where you'll find different kinds of savory meat served on spits -- all you can eat for a fixed price. As you can read on Fogo de Chao's web site, they cook their beef the "Gaucho" way. Ideally this would mean that they would grill their meat over open fires, but somehow I doubt that's how the meat at Fogo de Chao is actually being cooked.
I imagine scheduling reservations at Fogo de Chao is one of the more difficult sciences in this world. It's fixed price at $45 a person, all you can eat, and there's no time limit, so I wasn't surprised that we had to wait for our 8 PM reservation. It didn't matter much though, since we got lucky and found an empty table at the way-too-small-for-a-two-floor-restaurant bar.
While the hostesses seemed overwhelmed, they were very eager to please, regardless of the bartenders' comments about how inexperienced they were. There was a whole team of people whose main job was to get people seated and clear tables. Our friends were running a little late and still hadn't arrived when it was time for us to be seated, but the hostesses sat us anyway, which I wasn't expecting.
Your server greets you the instant you're seated, although you probably won't see him/her a whole lot the rest of the night, unless your wine bottle gets empty. Once they explain "the system", you're pretty much off and running and on your own. The waiter directs you to a salad bar and bread, which you actually don't have to eat. While the salad and antipasto aren't bad, it's not the reason you're there. Rather than visiting the salad bar at the beginning of the meal, I'd recommend taking a break half way through the meal and having a salad as a palate cleanser.
You can control how often waiters (or gauchos as the restaurant calls them) stop at your table with food by flipping over your coaster (I don't think it was actually a coaster though, because if you put your glass on it, the gauchos wouldn't see it) to green or red. I don't think I need to explain which color means you want more food. It was unclear to me whether or not the coaster actually meant anything though, since there were times when the gauchos brought food to my companions and I regardless of our coasters. Basically, as long as there's one person with the coaster flipped to green, they will stop by and offer the entire table food.
I had visited a restaurant very much like this when I vacationed in Aruba two years ago, and I pretty much had the same experience there as I had at Fogo de Chao. The service is prompt and attentive, the wine list awarded yet expensive, and the food inconsistant. You can get a great slice of meat in one gaucho's visit to your table, and a completely different cut in another visit, and regardless of whether or not you ask for a medium rare slice, or a well done slice, most of the time you don't get quite what you ask for.
I could go into detail on each cut of meat, but I'll save you the time and just tell you what the tastier cuts were. The juicy filet was very good, as was the flavorful lamb (in either leg or chop form), which I thought was the best that Fogo de Chao had to offer. It was the most flavorful, tender and interesting by far. I also liked the bottom sirloin. There was definitely an overuse of salt on all of the cuts of meat and I'm not the only one to notice this.
Dessert? Who would have room other than a professional eater?
Our final bill for the four of us was close to $325. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that bill, but I guess what was I expecting when we ordered two bottles of wine for $60 a piece, and each of our meals cost $44.50 (update: the price has since been raised to $48.50)? Add on the 10% DC dining tax and you've got a nice hole that's been dug in my dining budget this month. Looks like I'll be writing about some cheap eats in the near future.
My final opinion...
I'd rather go to Ray's the Steaks before going to Fogo de Chao. At least there, I can order a steak, have it cooked to order and not feel like a pig at the end of the night. Plus, my wallet will be a little heavier.
Fogo de Chao
1101 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC 20004
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 5pm-10pm; Friday 5pm- 10:30pm; Saturday 4:30pm-10:30pm; Sunday 4pm- 9:30pm
Dress Code: Business Casual - I saw people in nice jeans.
Parking: Valet and street if you can find it.
Smoking: Allowed at the bar.
Closest Metro: Federal Triangle
Baby-Friendly Rating: 1 out of 4 diapers. LOL. Yeah. No. Too upscale.