I’ve been a customer of Fogo de Chão—a Brazilian chain that now has more steakhouses in the United States than in Brazil— since I first dined at their branch in the upscale Jardins neighborhood in São Paulo a decade ago. I’ve also been to the Moema and Santo Amaro Fogo de Chão churrascarias (Brazilian steakhouses), both in São Paulo, and, of course, I’ve been a regular at the Beverly Hills location.
Fogo de Chão is an excellent chain; the experience in L.A. is identical to what you’ll find in Brazil with a few exceptions—exotic cuts like chicken hearts aren’t available here, and you can’t get fresh hearts of palm in the U.S. The overall consistency and quality is thanks to the rigorous training of the restaurant’s gauchos (meat-grilling cowboys), like the new Downtown Fogo de Chão’s Clair Pizzi, from Nonoai, Rio Grande Do Sul, and Henrique Huyer from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande Do Sul.
Pizzi, the restaurant’s assistant general manager, has 18 years of churrascuria experience. He started at São Paulo Brazilian steakhouse Novilho de Prata before getting a job at the Moema Fogo de Chão in 2000. He opened the company’s Chicago branch in 2002 and then worked as a gaucho server from 2005 to 2014 at the Beverly Hills Fogo. Gauchos go through an intense 10-week training on butchering, meat preparation, and grilling 10-plus cuts, and once they join the rodizio (rotation of meats) service team, they’ll be responsible for anywhere from one to four cuts each shift—one gaucho per cut being the ideal for finer selections like picanha or top sirloin.
Like all other Fogo de Chão churracarias, the Downtown location relies on experienced gauchos and managers to maintain the quality of the grill team, which uses USDA Choice beef from Texas and Colorado here in the U.S. and feaures an always fresh and appetizing market table with salads, cheeses, condiments, and vegetables to complete the gaucho experience.
The Brazilian steakhouse tradition begins at the market table for dishes like hearts of palm, Brazilian-style potato salad, and marinated peppers—once you’re seated, oven-fresh pao de queijo (cheese bread), plantains, and farofa (cooked cassava flour) arrive. Go back to the market table for some beans and rice. Set your dining card to green and you’re in the rodizio. Pick your cuts as they arrive and be sure to use condiments like the vinagrete (tomato, onion, and bell pepper in seasoned vinegar), farofa for dusting your meat, and pimenta (hot sauce)—usually made from malagueta peppers. In Brazilian culture, this is all part of the grilled-meat feasts from the street to churrascarias like Fogo de Chão, where they honor gaucho tradition, one carved slice at a time.