Monday, December 09, 2019

Fogo de Chão - Irvine


Fogo de Chão isn't the biggest churrascaria chain in America. Texas de Brazil beats it by 15 with 57 units across the country as of this writing. Fogo de Chão also isn't the first churrascaria chain to debut in the U.S. either. Rodizio Grill claimed that title when it started in 1995 in Denver. But it's likely that even if you've never been to Fogo de Chão, you might already regard the brand as though it was the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in a sea of Outbacks. Its expansion into key markets like Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, and especially Beverly Hills, burnished its reputation as the "fancy" churrascaria chain.

Upgrading the churrascaria is how Fogo de Chão started forty years ago in Brazil. In 1979 two brothers decided to take this backcountry concept of all-you-can-eat meat served by roving gauchos and turned it into a fine dining experience. They catered their first restaurant to the businessmen and fashionable types in São Paulo. The rest is history.


Last month, Fogo de Chão finally expanded into Orange County when it opened in Irvine, a city that had long been the turf of Agora Churrascaria until Texas de Brazil moved into town in 2016. That year I wrote a mixed review of Texas de Brazil, noting inconsistencies in the meat that seemed to get more noticeable the fuller I got.

To put simply, Texas de Brazil did not convince me that a corporate outfit could do churrasco better than an independent like Agora. But with its sterling reputation, I went to the new Fogo de Chão hoping it would change my mind. Yet the impression I got after dining there was the same as my trip to Texas de Brazil. I came away with a distended tummy, a huge debt on my credit card, and a still unshaken belief that I would’ve been happier going to a traditional steakhouse.


It's not that I couldn’t have treated it like it was a Mastro's or a Fleming's. Fogo de Chão actually has a non-all-you-can-eat option where you could conceivably order steak, chicken, lamb, salmon and sea bass a la carte.

But to go to a churrascaria without doing the all-you-can-eat rodizio will feel as pointless as a trip to Disneyland without going on the rides. And unlike Texas de Brazil and Agora, Fogo de Chão offers different tiered pricing for its rodizio that range from $54 for the basic "Brazilian Cuts" to $125 for a meal that involves Wagyu beef sirloin.


I'd advise against the latter unless you possess a limitless appetite and a limitless bank account. Modest eaters on a budget should keep it simple with the lowest priced option. Let's face it: When it comes to all-you-can-eat anything, your enjoyment will only hold up until the law of diminishing returns kicks in. And when what you’re binging is meat, you'll reach that point at a churrascaria sooner than at any other type of buffet.

My night started promisingly with the picanha, a fat-rimmed, C-shaped sirloin cap that's always the most enjoyable cut you could have at a Brazilian steakhouse. Balanced between its char, salt, fat and ruby-red flesh, the picanha was the slice that whetted my appetite for more meat, more fat, more pieces of cow. Unfortunately, the picanha-wielding gaucho would never come around again, and the more I ate of the other lesser and chewier cuts that came in its stead, such the Alcatra (top sirloin) and Fraldinha (bottom sirloin) the more I realized I was filling precious stomach space with meat I wasn't particularly enjoying.


It continued that way the rest of the evening. For every juicy parmesan crusted pork loin and crusty slices of lamb, there was a mealy bacon-wrapped sirloin, a gristly garlic steak, and chicken breast so dry it turned to dust. By the time the pork ribs came around, served with a lime wedge, I couldn't bite off more than a nibble.

I probably should’ve gone easy on the feijoada and rice, which is essential to the Brazilian food experience but ultimately just filler when you're trying to recoup the admission cost. And I probably should have skipped the salad bar’s marinated vegetables and stopped after the first round of the brown-sugar-glazed bacon--the second batch the kitchen put out was burnt so badly it didn't just taste like charcoal, it was charcoal. Thankfully the mashed potatoes brought out by my server, who disappeared for most of the night, had already cooled to a solid block by the time the first gaucho arrived--so it was easy to pass on.


The pao de quiejo, however, were another matter. Perhaps more than the picanha, these cheese bread balls--here resembling tiny popovers--have been and always will be a churrascaria favorite of mine.

And when the empty basket was finally refilled after my repeated requests, I ate them with gusto disregarding the fact that they’re an insurance policy the restaurant took out to ensure its profits stay in the black--a buffer against the insatiable meat eaters who might enjoy Fogo de Chão more than I did.

Fogo de Chão
623 Spectrum Center Dr
Irvine, CA 92618
949) 398-1500
https://fogodechao.com

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Delice Breton - San Juan Capistrano (My Last Review for OC Weekly)


The review linked below is my latest for OC Weekly and also my last. You should read it not because it is, but because it shows (yet again) that in Orange County, unexpected food can happen in unexpected places. This is the kind of review I live to write. I am also especially proud of this piece because of the title. A pun doesn’t get more perfect, but I can’t take credit. The genius behind it is my wife, who is also my live-in editor, cheerleader, and now, official pun-maker. Please enjoy. And thank you for reading my column in OC Weekly for the last twelve and a half years!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Delice Breton - San Juan Capistrano

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Faka's Island Grill - Santa Ana


“A scoop of rice. Macaroni salad. Fried chicken. Disassemble a typical Hawaiian plate lunch to its components and you’re left with things that, by themselves, aren’t very special. But put them together in a clamshell container, and something magical happens.”

Read the rest of my OC Weekly review of Faka's Island Grill. Link below.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Faka's Island Grill - Santa Ana

Friday, December 06, 2019

Ramen & Tsukemen TAO - Buena Park



If you’re still bummed that Tsujita’s South Coast Plaza plans never materialized, Ramen & Tsukemen TAO is the next best thing. Slurp ramen, dip tsukemen, and feast on chashu dons crafted by a former Tsujita chef from the mothership in Tokyo. Link to my full OC Weekly review below!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Ramen & Tsukemen TAO - Buena Park

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Navarro's Taqueria - Santa Ana


“Clack-clack-clack. Sizzle-sizzle-sizzle. As soon as I stepped into Navarro’s Taqueria, I heard the familiar and comforting noise of a metal spade pushing and scraping seasoned bits of fried meat across a hot griddle. I smelled the aroma, too, as it wafted through the room. Both triggered a Pavlovian response. My senses told me that I’m going to eat tacos—lots of them—and very soon.”

Read the rest of my OC Weekly review of Navarros Taqueria. Link below!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Navarro's Taqueria - Santa Ana

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Gem Dining - Fountain Valley


This is it. The modern Asian restaurant you’ve been waiting for. Read my OC Weekly review of Gem Dining by the geniuses at The Voc Kitchen. Link below.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Gem Dining - Fountain Valley

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Isla Cuban & Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar - La Palma


Mofongo. Ropa vieja. Empanadas. Chicharron de pollo. Read all about the new Cuban restaurant in La Palma in review for OC Weekly. Link below.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Isla Cuban & Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar - La Palma

The Drake - Laguna Beach


“Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic would feel out of place here, but Leonardo DiCaprio from The Wolf of Wall Street would be right at home. Or I should say Leonardo DiCaprio from The Great Gatsby? “

Read all about The Drake in the rest of my OC Weekly review. Link below.

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Drake - Laguna Beach

Monday, December 02, 2019

Two Asian Hot Dogs


The Korean rice dog at Chungchun Rice Dogs and the Japanese hot dog at Sumo Dog are the next advancements in the hot dog arts. Read about them in my latest OC Weekly review! Link below!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Two Asian Hot Dogs

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Hole-In-The-Wall Burger - Lake Forest


“You don’t eat this burger; rather, you embark on a torrid love affair. Things quickly get hot, steamy, messy and juicy. Once you finish and bask in the afterglow, you need a few napkins to wipe yourself off.”

Read the rest of my OC Weekly review of Hole-In-The-Wall Burger from the link below!

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Hole-In-The-Wall Burger - Lake Forest