Fogo de Chão has an excellent reputation. With locations spanning the United States as well as restaurants in Mexico, South America and the Middle East, it is easy to see that Fogo’s Brazilian steakhouse dining experience is universally appealing to a large cross-section of diners. In October, the chain opened its sixth location in California, and its first in Orange County. As this writer had previously had a wonderful experience at the Las Vegas location, I was curious to check out the new Fogo de Chão at Irvine Spectrum Center.
Two days after Thanksgiving, my stomach was settled enough to endure another thorough gorging, which is pretty much a guaranteed outcome of any visit to a churrascaria-style dining experience. For those who’ve yet to indulge in such an experience, churrascaria dining (aka Brazilian steakhouse dining) usually involves a few components: a salad bar-style spread of various foods, the opportunity to order specific ala carte items off the menu, and, principally, the option of tasting the various prepared meats that are offered by the roving gaucho chefs.
As I went for lunch the day after Black Friday, it is likely that many would-be diners were still recovering from having fought the crowds to get the best deals the day before. Still, I made a reservation via their website. It turned out that I hadn’t needed to reserve a table, but I would certainly recommend making a reservation, as it is easy to see from various Yelp reviews that Fogo de Chão gets a full house in the evenings.
For parking, I just used the Spectrum lot that is closest to Restaurant Way, which is called 100 Parking. Fogo is a short walk from there, and once I entered, I was impressed by the design. Their reputation for beautiful interiors is supported by this location’s set-up. Since it was a wee bit cold outside, I opted for inside dining (they also offer an al fresca dining option). The hostess seated my party immediately, and our waitress showed up a moment later to take our drink orders and give us the rundown of our dining options. We opted for the Full Churrasco Experience, which was $42.95 (the weekend brunch rate) and included the Market Table, featuring seasonal salads, fresh veggies, soups, waffles, an omelette station, a nice selection of cheeses, etc.
First, I warmed up with a few nibbles from the table. These included a little salad, a few pieces of cheese, some roasted garlic cloves (which I mashed onto some bread), a piece of linguica sausage, and a very tasty batch of homestyle fries with bits of steak in it. Then I invited the gaucho chefs to approach me. For the uninitiated, each plate at a Brazilian steakhouse has an indicator next to it; usually these come in the form of a cardboard coaster with red on one side and green on the other. When the diner wishes to be approached and offered the various cuts of meats, said diner need only make sure their indicator has its green side up. When you’re stuffed or when you want a little break, you flip it over so that the red side is facing upwards.
My first cut of meat was a small piece of pork tenderloin that was covered in Parmesan cheese. It was pretty tasty, but I didn’t go for seconds because there was plenty more to try. Next up was a pork rib that was served with a slice of lime. This was also a satisfying morsel. After this, I cleansed my palate with a piece of the table bread, which was very soft and had a nice touch of cheese to it. While I was noshing away, my dining partner was taking her time with the pear endive with bacon and cheese, from the Market Table. Her report was a solid thumbs up.
After flipping my indicator back over to green, the gaucho chefs returned to offer more cuts of meat. Next up was the garlic beef (house special sirloin with garlic), followed soon thereafter by a slice of bottom sirloin, a slice of top sirloin, and then some lamb chops. Generally speaking, all of the steaks were delicious but a bit salty; on the occasion that I got a piece that was not the first slice off of the slab, the level of saltiness was not so pronounced.
As for the preparation, I prefer my meat on the rare side, and all of the slabs were cooked so that one half of each skewered slab was cooked on the well side and one half was cooked on the rare side. The lamb chops were delicious (especially with a bit of Fogo’s chimichurri sauce). Next, a gaucho chef whose skewer was lined with chicken breasts that had been wrapped in bacon wandered over. Naturally, I had to have one of those! It was not bad.
By this point in time, my Diet Coke had been well-attended with refills, and I definitely had the feeling that all of the waitstaff were intent on ensuring that all the diners were being well taken care of. Then, just as I was starting to feel that my body was wondering why I was stuffing it so much, my waitress asked if I’d be interested in any of the made-to-order sides from the kitchen, and I broke down when she mentioned garlic mashed potatoes and carmelized bananas. The potatoes went down pretty smoothly, but I had to keep an eye on the bananas, as I wondered whether or not to take the waitress’s recommendation and order some ice cream (an extra cost) to complement the bananas.
I had a chance to think it over while I tried a decent piece of lamb steak from a passing gaucho chef. As it turned out, my dining partner and I decided to bring the whole meal to a conclusion with a piece of chocolate lava cake a la mode (served with whipped cream and chocolate floral designs). That cake was pretty darn good, but once I’d heaped some of the cake’s ice cream onto the carmelized bananas, that became the winning desert combo.
The entire experience left me feeling good. Sure, some of the steaks were a bit salty, and the Market Table was not as impressive as that of the Las Vegas location (I haven’t yet been to the other California locations), but the plentiful variety of fine meats was satisfying, and the Market Table did include enough gourmet side options to keep me happy. Plus, with an extraordinary waitstaff, the bottom line is that if you’re looking for a fine dining experience, and you are as into juicy steaks as you are into a variety of meats, I would recommend giving this Fogo de Chão a try.
Fogo de Chão, 623 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine; (949) 398-1500, fogodechao.com/location/irvine