Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thanksgiving the Gaucho Way at Fogo de Chão

Weber Haus, the real premium cachaca, imported by the restaurant.

The spread at Fogo de Chão, Beverly Hills

Alcatra, bottom sirloin, the gaucho was on his game.

Picanha gente!

Daniele Soldate flanked by two excellent Fogo de Chão staff

The gauchos of southern Brazil now how to put on a feast.Multiple cuts of roasted meat, fresh vegetables, salads, cheeses, beans, rice, fried polenta, farofa, accompaniment sauce, and caipirinhas.A celebration after a hard days work on the range for the Brazilian cowboy.So,what more could you ask for on Thanksgiving but churrasco at Fogo de Chao.

The southern Brazil tradition of grilled meats with a generous salad bar to accompany the assorted cuts is a resplendent hypothesis. Churrasco is a customized experience for the diner, but anarchy isn't the path to gaucho paradise. Raw vegetables are always included to aid in digestion, hearts of palm, maionese (Brazilian potato salad), various other salads, fresh rounds of cheese, smoked salmon, roasted peppers, molho campanha(accompaniment sauce), an assortment of vinegars and oils,and radicchio are among the salad bar fare at Fogo de Chão, all purposeful and mouthwatering.

Brought to your table are fried polenta, farofa (manioc meal), banana frita, and mashed potatoes. Because the largely non-Brazilian crowd thumbs their noses at such plebian foods like beans and rice, they aren't at the salad bar nor are they brought to the table--don't worry, just ask and your waiter will bring them to you.

Did I mention caipirinhas? Well, that was the first thing we did, at home, and upon arrival at the restaurant.Fogo de Chao carries Ypioca, 51, and Leblon.You will be offered the "premium" Leblon caipirinha, but just smile and let them know that the 51 or Ypioca would be fine. 51 and Ypioca are choice and relevant in a caipirinha, Leblon is a product that is neither premium nor worth the extra cost. The caipirinha(little country girl) is the perfect start of all my Brazilian festas (parties), or a nice batida (Brazilian cocktail made with fruit and cachaça). When the mood is right--around mid-feast-- ask for a shot of the only sipping cachaça available in LA: Weber Haus.You won't regret it.

After some caipirinhas, a trip to the salad bar, decanting our bottle of Nickel and Nickel and polishing off our Artiste sauvignon blanc from Santa Ynez, it was time for rodizio (rotation of meats). For Thanksgiving, Fogo de Chão replaced the frango com bacon (chicken wrapped in bacon) with peru com bacon (turkey wrapped in bacon). Then the fraldinha (bottom sirloin), a favorite of the night, alcatra (top sirloin), filet migñon, picanha and mouth-watering ancho beef. As always, the deft gauchos at Fogo de Chao delivered dreamy,sensual cuts from their 15 selections, traditionally seasoned with rock salt and garlic, tender and flavored with nostalgia. Churrasco tip: Use your red and green disc to control service.

Many people go green and stay, bombarded by multiple cuts sitting on your plate in a backlog of rapidly cooling slices of meat. Get a picanha, watch out for filling up on sausages and lesser cuts, add some molho campana on your meat and enjoy. Put on the brakes with the red disc side, and wait 'til you're ready for another bite, the best experience of churrasco is the energy of hot sliced USDA Choice beef from the skewer to your plate for the condiment and then to your palate. Don't worry about missing a cut, Fogo de Chão has an attentive staff and will send out any cut you like by request.If you have room, go for the lot if you have the capacity, why not?

I always look for Danielle Soldate, Fogo de Chão's own "gaucha" customer service representative to get those beans and rice; she will make sure that you get anything you would like to revisit or missed.

The Fogo de Chão in Beverly Hills is identical to their branches throughout Brazil and the US in quality and service, the type of elegance and indulgence experienced by the Brazilian elite in the upscale Jardins neighborhood of Sao Paulo or the lavish Flamengo location of Porcão churrascaria in Rio.

Although there is a lack of Brazilian ambience in staff and clientele, many non-Brazilian staff are learning Portuguese, I did overhear one well-heeled Brazilian couple dining that night. A few moments with Daniele and I begin to feel that sensation, the kind of energy and warmth Brazilians have, the smiling, and the splendor. Fogo de Chão is the best churrascaria in Los Angeles, the most expensive, but 100% Brazilian in flavor and presentation, well worth the extra $$. Not a bad choice at all for your next Thanksgiving celebration.

Fogo de Chão
133 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA

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