It was a balmy evening, and I was determined to find J. a very special restaurant for a birthday celebration. Since My Florist Café wasnt all that I had hoped (although the food was very good), I set out to determine what would be a unique or special place for a dinner celebration.
Thumbing through a few dining guides, I saw something that took me back to two events in my past. The first was experiencing a Brazilian rodizio restaurant in New York City many years ago. It was some trendy place where the atmosphere was more important that the food. From what I remember, the food was okay, but not memorable. Then I remembered one of the first dates that J. and I went on when we were courting. It was a rodizio restaurant that was part of a chain and I remember the dark interior, the huge cold buffet and the waiter cutting us huge slabs of meat for our plates.
I thought it would be time to check out Phoenixs version of a rodizio restaurant and the only place that I wanted to try was Fogo e Brasa in Ahwahtukee. I checked out their website and liked what I saw, so I made a last minute reservation and hoped for the best.
Like many restaurants in the Valley, Fogo e Brasa was situated in a strip mall. Located just off the I-10 at Chandler Boulevard, it wasnt difficult to find, although the exterior is slightly hidden by a couple of small, stand-alone buildings in the same area. J. and I parked the car, entered and waited for the host to return from seating people who had arrived before us.
The restaurant was rather busy and only a few tables were open. The interior was rather dark with the buffet and kitchen directly in the back of the restaurant, the bar off to the left and the main dining room directly in front of us and to the right. We were seated at a table right near the host station and we had a clear view of everything. My only disappointment was that the fluorescent light streaming from the kitchen cast a pall over the rich, dark interior. It was so stark as to be distracting. A door or something to obscure the bright light would have been a good remedy.
We were only seated a few minutes before our waiter arrived. He was engaging and friendly and explained the entire process to us. We were to go to the cold buffet and enjoy the various salads they offered, along with cold seafood from mussels to crab legs. After that, there was a hot buffet with several entrees. Then, we would be given fresh plates and servers with long skewers of meat would arrive at our table and give us chunks, slabs and large pieces of everything from chicken to sirloin to tri-tip steak.
The cost for this feast would be $29.97 per person, excluding tax, drinks or dessert. It seemed like a fair deal since I am a big steak fan and love different cuts of beef. J. saw a chance at both beef and seafood and was smiling during the explanation of it all.
Our server took our drink order. What would a trip to a Brazilian restaurant be without ordering a Caipirihna ($6.50), the national drink of Brazil. J. ordered one as well. I also got a Diet Coke ($2.75). Our server also gave us a tri-colored wood cylinder that would signal the men with the skewers of meat to either drop by the table or keep walking. Red meant stop. Green meant go. If we placed the wood cylinder on its side, it was time for dessert.
The server disappeared to get our drinks and J. and I discussed our plan of attacked. While we had no problems hearing each other, we did notice that the noise level was fairly high. The patrons in the restaurant were not boisterous, but they were enjoying themselves so the background noise was substantial.
A few moments later, our Caipirihna appeared. In a large cocktail glass, the concoction of lime juice, ice and fermented sugar cane juice called my name. It was ice cold and the perfect mix of sweet and tart. Lime wedges and a bit of granulated sugar were added for effect. And it certainly packed a wallop. One of these was just fine for each of us. We sipped about half the brew and headed to the cold buffet.
(Note: Since this was a buffet, the pictures of the plates on my food blog are representative of what we had since we tried different things each trip and also each time the skewers were presented at our table. Click the link below to be taken to the review and photos.)
The cold buffet was substantial and well-stocked. We had a choice of about 10 salads from tossed to potato to pasta. There was also a huge selection of seafood. Off to one side, there was a rather large presentation of crab legs. J. was all over this and the other seafood options. I was more onto the salad portion.
J. was quite happy with the selections at the cold buffet. Along with the cold meatballs, the oysters and the seafood salad, there were potstickers, dumplings and crab legs. J. said all were very good, but was particularly fond of the crab legs. There were plenty of them as well, but J. was making sure not to overdo it. However, there was another trip back for seafood. There werent any losers in the bunch as far as J. was concerned.
My cold buffet plate was equally good. The pasta salad, the potato salad and the potato croquettes were all quite tasty. The big winner for me was the marinated green beans. They were tender-crisp and slightly tangy. The only thing that I wasnt fond of was the potsticker because it was cold and I felt lost its appeal. There were a lot of other selections at the cold buffet, but I still had the hot buffet to hit before the meat bonanza.
Before we got a chance to hit the hot buffet, we were given a small basket of small rolls. However, they were more like cheese puffs. The small bread puffs were light and airy. The interior was hot and doughy with a light cheese flavor. They were wonderful and didnt last more than a few minutes. So, with the cold buffet and the bread puffs behind us, we headed for the hot buffet.
We ventured over to the hot buffet and it contained four items: Coconut Milk Fish, Pepper Steak, Stuffed Cabbage, and Turkey with Artichokes in a Cream Sauce. J. went with the Pepper Steak, the fish and the turkey. The winner for J. was the fish, which was described as moist, flaky and mild, but jazzed up with the coconut milk. We were unable to identify the fish, but I thought maybe it was cod or halibut.
I had only the pepper steak, the turkey and the stuffed cabbage. The winner for me was the turkey. Mixed with artichokes and a yummy cream sauce, this was a great dish. It was very pleasing and the combination of flavors had me wanting more. The pepper steak and stuffed cabbage were good, but paled next to the turkey and the fish.
As we were finishing up our hot buffet choices, our server appeared with a tray of side dishes because God knows we didnt have enough selections already. He sat down a bowl of white rice, beans, a fresh, mild salsa, fried bananas and something called farofa, which is a gritty, flour-based topping that you sprinkle on your food. The rice and beans were standard fare and the bananas were a little hard for my taste, but the salsa was excellent. As for the farofa, well, the taste was okay, but I really couldnt stand the texture. It just was too much like sand for my taste. I think J. felt the same, but didnt say much, instead just leaving it alone after a spoonful.
Then, it was time. We grabbed the wooden cylinder and turned it over to show green. Boom! We were descended upon by waiters with two-foot long skewers cutting us off slabs of meat. There was juicy moist ham, chicken thighs that had been grilled over an open flame, flame broiled sirloin, sausages, steak with onions and peppers. After our first round, we were then treated to pork tenderloin, a slab of grilled pineapple, lamb, turkey, and a tri-tip steak that had been rolled in crushed garlic and grilled.
The slabs were big enough that you could get any doneness you liked. We didnt care about that because all of the meats were moist and juicy with plenty of natural flavor. The winner for J. and I was clearly the tri-tip steak in garlic. Simple and delicious, so much so that we asked for several rounds. I am not sure how much meat we consumed, but Dr. Atkins would have been so proud. The meats were continually brought to our table without any hesitation until J. and I finally decided to put an end to our gluttony.
We turned the cylinder on its side and leaned back to relax after our Brazilian extravaganza.
Our server returned with refills on the water and my soda and then laughed as we told him we were finished. Thats all? he mockingly said. Yes, that was all we could take. Little did we know that our server had other plans.
Only a moment passed and two women quickly approached our table wheeling a large, six-foot high cart bearing a ton of desserts. This was so cruel. There was passion fruit pudding, flan, Strawberry Shortcake, Tiramisu, Chocolate Mousse, Creme Brulee and Cheesecake. J. and I decided on the Cheesecake ($5.00) because we wanted something simple.
We were immediately served a piece of the Cheesecake from the cart and given two forks. We dove in and were quite surprised. Instead of the traditional perfectly smooth cheesecake you get from most restaurants, this had all the markings of homemade. It was fluffly, imperfect in texture and had a crack in the top. The graham cracker crust was thin and crisp and the cake melted in our mouths. J. and I agreed that this was some of the best cheesecake we have ever had out in a restaurant.
After all the damage we had done to the greater animal population, we were content to simply relax and plan how we would get to the car without requiring assistance. Our server returned with the bill, which was $87.23 including tax. J. and I thought the dinner was a bargain considering the all-you-can-eat aspect and the quality of the food. The service was exceptional: friendly, funny, drinks that were constantly refilled and attentive without being overbearing.
It was a great meal and one I would recommend to anyone who is even remotely a carnivore.
Fogo e Brasa had J. and I smiling, even as we took a very long time to get to the car for the trip home.
Fogo e Brasa Brazilian Steakhouse
4909 East Chandler Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85048
Dress: Fancy Casual