Gaucho Marks—Fogo de Chão

April 2016 View more

NMAG0416_TableForTwo_Fogo de Chao-interior_800pxBrazil is having a moment in Naperville.

As if the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro weren’t enough to ratchet up local interest in the festive sights and sounds of this massive equatorial republic, along comes a new outlet of the popular Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão to offer Naperville residents a chance to immerse themselves in the South American milieu.

For those with a limited knowledge of either the country or its popular steakhouse export—whose awareness of Brazilian culture perhaps extends no further than personal grooming and “The Girl from Ipanema”—a visit to Fogo may be an initially perplexing experience. But once diners get a feel for the enticing rhythms and format, they may soon begin to wonder if it’s possible to enjoy every meal in this type of setting.

NMAG0416_TableForTwo_Fogo de Chao-073_800pxAt Your Service 

The pants and the chips probably demand an explanation right up front for first-timers at Fogo de Chão.

In keeping with the theme of South American authenticity, servers are clad in traditional gaucho pants. So while the dress code overall seems pretty flexible, it might be best to leave your own billowy trousers at home in order to avoid an awkward encounter. The cardboard chips at each place setting, meanwhile, act as traffic signals for that crew. As the servers circulate throughout the dining room with skewers of more than a dozen different cuts of meat—from beef to lamb to chicken to pork—a green chip indicates that you’re interested in trying something, while a red chip conveys some variation of “I’m good” or “my belt is about to give up.” Chip management is key to the pacing of the meal, so exercise care when making those turns.

In addition to the roving gauchos, table service is rounded out by an intensely attendant team of staffers always at the ready with a fresh plate, a drink refill, or a quick explanation of one of the churrasco selections.

NMAG0416_TableForTwo_Fogo de Chao-044_800pxParade Route

Before the carnivorous cavalcade starts in earnest, however, there is the not insignificant matter of the Market Table. Describing this vast centerpiece of the room as a salad bar is like calling Carnival in Rio a quiet little get-together—more than once upon admiring the impressive display of fresh meats, cheeses and vegetables was I tempted to mimic the arms-outstretched pose of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue high atop Corcovado and exclaim “now THIS is a salad bar.”

NMAG0416_TableForTwo_Fogo de Chao-137_800pxThe Market Table is offered as a meal unto itself for vegetarians and light eaters, and after gorging on the fresh produce and gourmet cheese and paper-thin prosciutto and brown sugar bacon, not to mention the seemingly self-replenishing basket of cheese puff pastries back at the table, it seemed an entirely reasonable proposition. But then that chip flipped to green, the gauchos started paying regular visits and somehow the full-on Fogo seemed like the only way to go, with slice after slice of top sirloin, ribeye and filet mignon, freshly shorn tableside from larger cuts with carving skills that suggest these guys never get a family Thanksgiving off, arriving in an endless rotation. These meats were accompanied by tasty horseradish and chimichurri sauces, while side items such as garlic mashed potatoes, polenta sticks and fried bananas kept magically appearing throughout the meal.

NMAG0416_TableForTwo_Fogo de Chao-151_800pxHow long the meal lasts is probably a question of capacity. Based on our experience, those gauchos would have continued to serve as long as green was showing or we passed out, whichever came first. But common sense prevailed and we ultimately flipped back to red, satisfied that, Olympics or not, we had enjoyed the best of Brazil—right here in Naperville.

Fogo de Chão
1824 Abriter Court

Photos by Greg Shapps