San Diego Restaurant Week is upon us again. It’s a twice annual affair and offers the best choices for checking out all the great restaurants around the county at a set price. A quick look shows that the usual restaurants are participating again but one of the new restaurants caught my eye: Fogo De Chão.
Fogo De Chão is a Brazilian steakhouse chain that has taken over the previous spot of Borders in the Gaslamp Quarter. (The space upstairs is home to Kaplan University.) Once inside the restaurant, it’s hard to remember that this once held a bookstore. Rich, warm furnishings filled up the area (one glassed room by the entrance displays a huge wine selection) followed by the smell of roasted meat.
But meat is the second course in this restaurant. As soon as you’re seated, you’re encouraged to fill up a plate at the salad bar. There you’ll find cold meat appetizers (salami, salmon, prosciutto), cheeses, pasta salad and a variety of salad greens. A few hot dishes (traditional Brazilian side dishes like rice, beans and fish) fill out the bar. It’s impressive and one can easily fill up on any of these items along with the endless, pão de queijo (hot cheese rolls) brought to the table. My only qualm about the salad bar is the lack of labels identifying the items. Sticking only to the salad bar and forgoing the meat course is $22.50 for lunch and $28.50 for dinner.
There are a few traditional Brazilian drinks on their menu included with the buffet. My favorite was the Brazilian lemonade. Despite its name it uses limes sweetened with condensed milk and cut with water. Delicious!
The second course is meat and its arrival comes with three dishes of crispy polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas. With a flip of the cardboard cutout to the green side, servers dressed as gauchos bring meat to your table.
There are ten choices: picaha (sirloin), bacon-wrapped filet mignon (tenderloin), alcatra (top sirloin), fraldinha (bottom sirloin), beef ancho (rib eye), cordeiro (lamb leg), lombo (pork loin filet crusted with parmesan cheese), costela de porco (pork rib), frango (chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and chicken legs), and linguica (pork sausage). If you’re determined to have a bit of everything, it’s hard to keep track. The people serving the meat don’t refer it to their menu name and the meats come so quickly and often that it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve already eaten or what’s on your plate. All the meat is local with the exception of the lamb, which comes exported from New Zealand.
Standouts for me — and the most popular in the restaurant — are the sirloin cuts seasoned with garlic. The seasoning on the meat can be sometimes a bit heavy-handed but can buffered with the underseasoned mashed potatoes. But even those were a too bland for me; the polenta and caramelized bananas were my favorites and helped prevent the onset of the dreaded “meat sweats.”
Desserts are not included in the buffet price. Prices start at about $9 and includes their signature papaya cream, South American flan, cheesecake, molten chocolate cake and creme brulee. After eating a heavy meal, the papaya cream is a light, refreshing finish that can be shared between two people. If you pass on dessert, there is a bowl of complimentary chocolates by the exit.
Restaurant Week runs September 15-20 and in the past they’ve always added a second week. For those who are curious about Fogo De Chão — especially with Rei de Gado a few blocks away — this is the great time to check them out. Their restaurant week dinner prices are only $40 (regular price $46.50) and lunch is $20 (regular price $29.50 with the same full selection as dinner)— a significant discount for endless meat eating. It’s already a popular dining destination a few weeks into its opening so making reservations at least two days in advance is highly recommended.
Fogo De Chão Churrascaria
668 6th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
*The meal was courtesy of Fogo De Chão. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for the review.