Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing!!!

There's nothing like eating meat. It can be deep, savory, complex and delicious. It has a texture that no vegetable can ever match - no matter how much tofu you add. I'm not afraid to stand up and be counted amongst the meat eaters of the world.

It was Vanessa's birthday and the decision was made to celebrate her 31st at the new Fogo de Chao Brazilian Churrascaria in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. I had been to the Atlanta Fogo de Chao back in 2004 to celebrate Bronwen Serna's victory at the United States Barista Championship and remember it with fond memories. Now it was time to see if today's reality matches yesterday's memories.

The Clan had gathered once again, occupying a table 16 strong. Most restaurants might balk at such a large party, but no Fogo. They can seat 300 in their dining room and one of the servers told me tonight they would seat about 1200 guests. At $48 a person, that's a minimum revenue just shy of $60,000. For one night.

Not a bad business to be in.

Of course, tonight was a little bit different. The Army-Navy Game was in town at Ravens Stadium which mean absolute pandemonium. I typically hate going out to eat on a Friday or Saturday night and as I pulled up to the valet (or tried to), I remembered exactly why I hate eating out on Friday and Saturday nights. Everyone, their mother, their grandparents, and their sister's best friend's cousin's uncle is out on the town eating as well. Crap.

But I try to be an affable chap and decided to go with the flow. So after a fifteen minute wait for a valet attendant to attend to my chariot, into the restaurant I went.

Inside was also pandemonium. To say the place was packed would be an understatement. Packed and loud. People were everywhere. It was a mad house. I wanted to run. I thought about leaving. But the sign by the door that read: "Please allow our valet attendants 20 minutes to retrieve your car" meant that I was staying.

Besides, I was hungry.

One thing about Fogo is that you should never leave hungry. It is consuming mass quantities of food on a whole new level. Turn your green/red marker over to green and the chefs swarm over you with their swords of meat. For the uninitiated, it's an impressive sight. Hot, glistening meat on large, metal skewers arrive at your table in a continuous wave. Eat as much as you want because there's always more.

There's a decent salad bar in the middle of the main dining room and we headed over to investigate. Unfortunately, so was half the restaurant, which meant a very long line. I hate lines. Oh well, screw the salad, I'm going green!

Back at the table, with my marker set to green, the meat started flowing. At first a trickle. Nice. I can keep up with this. Then, suddenly, a wave. I'm swimming. Hard. The meat is piling. I can't swim fast enough.

I turn the marker back to red, but sitting next to me is Rod, who has his marker still set to green, so the meat still keeps landing on my plate. I have to wave the red side at the people and wave them off of me. I need to slow down. I need to rest. Marissa and them haven't returned from the salad bar and I'm already in danger of being full. And we've only been here for ten minutes.

Fogo de Chao offers fifteen types of meat. Mostly beef, but there's pork and chicken available as well. Much of the meat is just okay. Not enough salt or seasoning, so by the time the chef cuts into the meat for your portion, it just tastes kinda bland. Kinda gray. What you want are the outer cuts that have been seared by the fire. That's where the flavor is.

The standout meats were the sausage and the bacon wrapped filet and bacon wrapped chicken. Seems that anything wrapped in bacon is going to taste better. The chicken legs always came out searingly hot, which is a plus, and had good flavor. The rest of the beef was kinda benign and uninspired. None of the main beef cuts really stood out for me.

If you don't attack the salad bar (which is just filler anyway), they drop on the table platefuls of mashed potatoes, fried dough balls and a polenta-like thing. All of them are pretty good, although I thought the fried dough was a bit oily.

In spite of the place being packed, loud and generally very loud (I know I said that already, but it was LOUD). I had a good time. It's really hard not to have a good time when The Clan has gathered. What's the latest gossip? Who's the biggest fuckup? Who's serious about moving to Barcelona? Is Tilly really going to start her sex toy-related business? Who's next for a pregnancy? Some stuff I can relate to, other stuff I can't.

The staff is helpful, talkative and at times, funny. Many of them are actually from Brazil, which is a nice twist.

Dessert finally came and I ordered the Strawberry ice cream. It was nothing special. Had I been dining alone, I probably would have thought it outright sucked. It was loose, melted and generally so-so. Tilly had the cheesecake - that was so-so, as well.

In the end, our bill came out just shy of fourteen hundred dollars, including tip. Certainly, not the best meal I've had for $85 but not the worst.

Fogo de Chao
600 East Pratt Street, Suite 102
Baltimore, MD 21202