Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Five Paragraph Bitter Food Critic vs. Fogo De Chao

Few phrases can evoke the body into unconscious acts, rendering us less human and more automaton, operating on pure emotion. Of these phrases, most invoke love and major life announcements. "Will you marry me?" "I'm pregnant." "All-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse."

I have done my best to avoid hearing two of those phrases and the accompanying emotional response, but "All-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse" spoke to my soul like a classic Spenserian sonnet or a well-edited blooper compilation on YouTube. I took the Five Paragraph Bitter Food Family to Fogo de Chao recently, reveling in the poetry that only fire-grilled meat can write.

After perusing a wine list specializing in South American malbecs, diners are given a disc, one side red and the other green. If you don't want any meat, keep the disk showing red. Flipping that disk to the green side gives the serving gauchos carte blanche to bring out scores of skewers of perfectly-charred meats to your table, and you're free to take as much or as little as you'd like, and at your desired level of doneness. Prime rib, various types of sirloins, bacon-wrapped filets, chicken, pork ribs, lamb chops, each bite perfectly seasoned and prepared. It's like Dr. Atkins' dream restaurant - all meat, all the time, with none of those pesky starches to get in the way.

That disk, with the red and green, reminded me of the Omni from the early `80s TV show Voyagers - the green side was good, red was bad. All that was missing was Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg saying "Great job, kid!" The green side meant the meat kept coming, and like a lonely man in the presence of a beautiful woman, I couldn't say no. I started to revert to primal instincts. I couldn't pronounce polysyllabic words. The gauchos brought out pincanha, a salt-seasoned sirloin. I ate that with glee. Bacon-wrapped chicken medallions. I pointed and grunted in approval. Alcatra, another form or sirloin? I am told by my mother than I actually drooled. Linguica, a type of sausage - by that point in the evening, things were becoming cloudy, fuzzy. I must have blacked out. I vaguely remember somebody at the table offering me a bite of cheesecake, and somebody shoving a piece delicious key lime pie in my mouth while I looked at the skewer of beef ribs like Mark Foley at a Congressional Page.

The veritable orgy of meats does not diminish the surprisingly good salad bar, featuring not only the usual lettuce and carrot mixes, but a mix of local and South American vegetables, peppers , chilies and dressings. The salad bar also has more meat, thinly sliced prosciutto and smoked salmon served cold, as though you didn't get enough dead animal already. Once I awoke from my food coma, I found the desserts were efficient and tasty, and the coffee - usually a weak spot in many restaurants - was incredibly delicious. I can't imagine eating there too often; it's easily 70 dollars or more per person for dinner between drinks, the meal, dessert and DC tax, while lunch is about half that. But, somewhere in that Big Diet Book in the Sky, Dr. Atkins is looking down, smiling at Fogo de Chao.

Fogo De Chao earned 19 out of 20 possible Whammies! One Whammy! for each type of meat served (14 that day), one Whammy! for the coffee, two Whammies! for the salad bar that didn't suck, one Whammy! for the extensive wine list, one Whammy! for the Key Lime Pie, one Whammy! for the incredibly gracious service. One Whammy was not earned for them not allowing me to live there. I promised I'd be clean. Stupid health department.

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