Tonight marks the opening of the Brazilian churrascaria (and chain) Fogo de Chão, a glossy, modern restaurant serving a rustic, old-school style of food. San Francisco has a complicated relationship with chains, often banishing them to the outer reaches of the city. However, the city center is a notable exception to that rule, which is how a restaurant with 29 locations in North America (and 11 more around the world) made it into the city limits.
The chain, which opened in São Paulo in 1979, began as an homage to the gaucho style of cooking from two sets of brothers, who managed to translate their business into an international company that recently went public. Now, it's opening its first San Francisco location, and it's kind of a big deal for meat fans and Brazilians alike. General Manager Ryan Metcalf told Eater that the restaurant has already been reserved for buy-outs, months in advance. So, here are ten things to know about SF's first Fogo de Chão:
1) You're saying the name wrong. First of all, the name is a tough one. Unless you speak Portugese, you're probably saying it wrong. In fact, Fogo de Chão is actually pronounced "fo-go dee shown," not "fo-go dee chow" like you thought it was. That's right, your life is a lie.
2) The name means "fire in the earth." It refers to the traditional gaucho style of cooking in which large cuts of meat are roasted in a pit in the ground.
3) The fancy pants worn by Fogo's chefs aren't just for fun. Gauchos are cowboys in South America, and they are known for wearing Bambachos, the distinctive style of pants also worn by Fogo de Chão chefs. They're both functional and incredibly sassy.
4) The chefs are really from Brazil (mostly). SF's executive chef (aka Head Gaucho) Juliano Santos grew up on a farm in Rio Grande do Sul, which is where the first Fogo was founded, cooking with his family. He's since risen the ranks at Fogo, and is joining the SF team from the Las Vegas location.
5) The chefs are rockstars. They work with fire, they butcher their own meat and then they cook and serve it tableside. That's some real multi-tasking and interacting with diners (something many chefs aren't interested in doing), which explains why there is at least a year of training involved. And the more popular cuts are served by the most experienced chefs, which is a meaty ladder to climb to the top.
6) It's a real meat feast. Diners can choose from over 18 varieties of meat that is cooked over live fire and served on a skewer. That's in addition to the side-laden Market Table, and feijoada bar, which serves the traditional black bean stew from Brazil.
7) Filet is not the most popular cut. The signature dish is actually picanha, the prime part of the top sirloin, though filet mignon follows close behind. There's also a healthy selection of bacon-wrapped goods for those who are really jonesing for some meat sweats.
8) Get it while it's hot. Chefs have a narrow window of time to deliver the highest-quality meat experience to diners: two minutes. After that, it's considered cold and returned to the kitchen to be repurposed (let's just say that staff meal is nothing to sneeze at here).
9) Green means go. The Fogo way is a particular style of dining: diners sit down, order drinks from a server and hit up the market table (if that's your thing). To attract meat-laden chefs, diners use a card that is red on one side and green on the other: red means do not approach, while green means bring on the meat sweats. Someone is always lurking around to provide drinks, dessert and anything else diners' hungry hearts desire.
10) San Francisco isn't a unique snowflake. Did Fogo change the method behind their madness before opening shop in SoMa? The answer is no. GM Ryan Metcalf explains: "This is a modern, refined version of 1979 Gaucho cooking in Brazil, and is the same experience that you would have at our São Paulo store." That means it includes all of the meats, without giving in to San Francisco's love of small plates, tasting menus or kale. Manager Kandis Moore, who has spent time in SF restaurants like Alexander's Steakhouse, Chaya and The Big 4, says it's about preserving a culture, not about gimmicks. In fact, after many years in the industry here, she finds it refreshing. "That's what SF needs again: a culture of family."
Hours for lunch are: Sunday through Friday 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Dinner is Monday through Thursday 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., Friday 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Saturday 4:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. and Sunday 3:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. And, there's Happy Hour: Monday through Friday 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.