Restaurant Week. Hmmmmm. How do I even go about describing restaurant week? I guess the best analogy I can make is that the excitement an 8 year old child feels on Christmas morning is comparable to the thrill a foodie feels when Restaurant Week has arrived. Twice a year (once in October and once in February), some of the best center city restaurants come together for two weeks and offer 3 or 4 course pre fixe menus for only $35. Considering the normal price tags at many of these establishments, the event proves to be a steal and a great opportunity for foodies on a budget to experience some of the city’s best cuisine. I usually try to make it out 2-3 times during a given Restaurant Week, and this month was no exception.
The Location: Fogo De Chao on Chestnut Street (btwn 13th and Broad).
The Time: Thursday evening at 8:00.
The Occasion: Friend’s 3oth birthday.
Fogo de Chao is a Brazillian steakhouse, meaning they specialize primarily in meat. Lots and lots of meat. I believe there is a ala carte menu, but the big draw (even when it isn’t restaurant week) is the pre fixe menu. Since we were a group of 17, we kept things simple and went for the traditional Brazillian steakhouse experience.
To start things off, Fogo de Chao offers a huge and impressive salad bar. It includes all of the ingredients for garden salads, as well as a variety of pre-made salads. There is also a very nice selection of roasted vegetables and fresh breads, as well as Italian meats and cheeses.
The main course is all about the meat. There are 15 different cuts of meat offered and served table side by gentlemen with giant skewers of beef, pork, lamb, sausage, and chicken. That’s correct, the waiters carry 3 foot long skewers, and slice their respective cut of meat directly onto your plate. You can try as many, or as few, cuts of meat as you like, and seconds are definitely not frowned upon. I tasted the majority of the options, but some cuts were definitely better than others. My favorites from the red meat family were the ribeye and the filet. One of the other dinner guests raved about Fogo de Chao’s signature cut, a top roast sirloin, so I was very much looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed and found it to be on the bland side compared to the ribeye and the filet. I was also underwhelmed by the parmasean pork, finding it to be dry, and didn’t bother trying the sausage which appeared to be nothing more than breakfast sausage links. The true stand-outs for me, surprisingly, was the chicken! I thought for sure it would be dry or greasy, but totally not the case. Both the bacon wrapped chicken and the chicken drumlet were moist, flavorful, and the only cuts where I asked for seconds.
The side dishes, including crispy polenta, fried plantains, and loaded mashed potatoes, are served family style and refilled at the table as needed. I actually think the side dishes might be my favorite part of the meal. We definitely do not need to discuss how much crispy polenta I ate! The spatular sitting beside me was reluctant to try it, never having had polenta before, but after some encouragement he dove on in and agreed that the little fried strips of goodness were one of the highlights of the meal.
Fogo De Chao is housed in a great space on a hoppin block of Chestnut Street. Parking is a real pain, but other than that, the location is prime. The restaurant itself is large and airy, so even though it was absolutely packed, it never felt crowded or too noisy. The decor is nice, although probably a little fancier than the restaurant actually is. Fogo looks pretty upscale when you first walk in, but in reality it is more than acceptable to wear jeans here.
The service was quick, attentive, and friendly, although sometimes I wondered if the waiters were actually listening when you told them how well done you wanted your meat. I requested medium-rare every time, but what I ended up with seemed a little arbitrary. In all fairness to the staff, it was a busy Thursday night during restaurant week, so overall I thought they did a great job!
I’m probably not the best person to give a review of a Brazillian steakhouse because, to be honest, they aren’t exactly my jam. I think it is a fun concept and makes for an enjoyable evening out with friends, but sampling 15 different cuts of meat is a little farther on the “dude food” scale then I usually go. The whole experience just feels a little gluttonous to me. They give you a card to flip from green to red. Green means YES! Bring me more meat! while red signals Oh no, I’m full and can’t eat another bite… for now. If that doesn’t say, I live in a country where a third of the population is obese, then I’m not sure what does! Also, since I was sampling so much, there was no way I could possibly finish everything. By the end of the night my plate was covered with the remnants of about 8 different animals. Real appetizing, huh?
That being said, I really did like Fogo de Chao. There are 3 main Brazilian steakhouses in the Philly area. The other two are Chima (on 19th and JFK) and Na’Brasa (out in the burbs on 611). I have dined at Na’Brasa before and found the quality of the meat at Fogo de Chao to be much better. I’ve heard some iffy things about Chima (although I can’t say from first hand experience) so if you are looking for your first steakhouse experience, I would definitely recommend Fogo.
On a separate note, have you ever been out for dinner before with a large group, where (with the exception of the hosts of course) everyone only knows about a third of the other guests? Sure makes for some interesting dinner conversations! I found all of the other guests to be enjoyable (for the most part…) but I thought the young lady sitting across from me was going to steal a meat skewer from one of the waiters and drive it directly into the heart of the guy sitting beside her. Thankfully she contained herself and the 17 of us made it through dinner without any casualties!
Bang For Your Buck:
Restaurant week is absolutely the way to go here. Typically the pre fixe menu runs for about $50 a plate, but during restaurant week the exact same offerings are available for $35 a head, and they throw in dessert for free.