I’ll admit I was jealous – well, I would say more envious. Brian recently had a business trip to Brazil. As I’ve been itching to board an international flight – destination, anywhere – I couldn’t help but dream of going with him, especially since Brazil and I had yet to be introduced. Reassured by him that it was all work and no play, I begged to differ when he called home and told me they were dining at fine restaurants and browsing a sea of outdoor markets. Highlighting the population of cows in that country (one per person), Brian noted his surroundings of leather goods and beef. This was like salt in the wound. Sigh.
Brazilians own the technique to not only craft beautiful shoes and handbags, but also can make a mean steak. He loved the beef. He attempted to comfort me that one of the restaurants he savored the most, had a sister spot in Portland, which he heard is even better than its authentic location.
A few weeks later, I tried to relive his Brazilian experience. Brian’s birthday was a good excuse as the restaurant he raved about, Fogo de Chao, was best left for a special occasion. Its elegant façade dominates its Portland city block. The black and white sign portrayed its classy persona. When one foot is in the door, the flamed chandelier is eye catching against its simple, classy backdrop. Greeted and escorted to our table, we descended only a few stairs to the main dining area. Standing there with its rainbow of colors, the salad bar makes a statement. From a Brazilian potato salad, to marinated peppers and mushrooms, there is something for everyone. I’m usually weary of any sort of buffet and avoid them for two reasons; I struggle to practice self-control and not overload my plate, and a lot of options mean not a lot of flavor in any of them. In Fogo de Chao’s case, only the former was true. There were so many mouthwatering decisions; I just had to try almost all of them.
Signaled by the universal language of green means go and red means stop, our waiters were cued by those colored markers on our table. When flipped to green, a poised man with black gaucho pants, wide belt, crisp blue shirt with a bright red tie approached our table asking how we like our meat. “Medium-rare,” I was told to say – it has the texture, which most resembles butter. The filet mignon enveloped what looked like a sword held high in the air. The waiter took his intimidating knife and slowly trimmed the perfect slice of meat for me. I took my tongs and helped catch the delicacy before it fell. I flipped my green marker to red and stared at the beauty sitting on my plate. I cut a piece that was big enough to ignite my senses. Almost immediately, my dormant palate awoke and I looked at Brian, approving his restaurant recommendation.
While a vegetarian may forgo the meat option of the meal, the salad bar mirrors a painter’s palette: the vibrancy of each color is good on its own, but when combined with their neighboring color, they’re even more beautiful. In addition to the buffet and variety of meat, we were also served side orders of polenta fries, caramelized bananas and garlic-mashed potatoes. All were delicious, although as someone who loathes bananas, I took Brian’s word for their heavenly flavor.
As for drinks, we stuck with our usual favorites – he opted for a recommended IPA beer and I sipped on a glass of Malbec. They are known for their cocktails, but since I prefer those beverages in the evening and sans kids, I passed. The waiter did bring the Littles a Brazilian sweetened drink. I had to test it, and couldn’t get enough.
Although the bill was steep, the kids were free of charge and therefore incentive for children to expand their palate beyond chicken nuggets and powdered cheese with noodles (standard option at American restaurants). Brian concluded this place is his new favorite. I also immensely enjoyed the cuisine and experience. So, while I couldn’t join Brian in Brazil, Fogo de Chao was the next best thing and as food is such an accurate depiction of many cultures, I convinced myself I hopped down to South America…at least for a short while and I hope to continue this secret affair with a country I’m dying to meet.
To peek at their menu, style and location, please visit their website: http://www.fogodechao.com/
(I have no affiliation with this establishment; I just really enjoy their food.)