February 2006Think "steakhouse" and you think of dark, clubby dens with hefty slabs of beef and even heftier egos at the table. Manly places. And then there's the new Fogo de Chão, in Penn Quarter, where a cavalcade of servers in tall boots and red scarves tromps through the dining room with long spears of meat. You half expect to find Mel Brooks scribbling notes for some kind of Broadway cowboy fantasy.
The men in boots and scarves don't just serve you--they cook, too. Most are hardened vets, born into gaúcho families in southern Brazil, where life centers around cattle herding. The atmosphere at Fogo may be more sanitized, but the process isn't. The gaúchos still impale their cuts of pork, lamb, and beef on long metal rods, sprinkle them with rock salt, then expose them to a flame.
The fun part is watching the men race through the dining room to get the still-warm cuts to each diner. And, of course, pushing the all-you-can-eat concept to its limit. We liked the picanha, a cut from above the sirloin; the slow-cooked beef ribs; the garlic-rubbed lamb chops; and beer-marinated chicken. Or you can ask lead carver Joao Ongaratto what he and his crew recommend. "Steak," he replies, "lunch and dinner. Even on our days off."