See sights and sounds of Sacramento’s newest Brazilian steakhouse
It’s an old dictum in journalism that three makes a trend, so Brazilian restaurants are officially trending – albeit slowly – in the Sacramento suburbs. The opening, earlier this year, of Fogo de Minas in Natomas, made a trio with Roseville’s 5-year-old Flame and Fire and Folsom’s Brisas do Sul, reviewed in this space in February.
I wasn’t aware that the demand for all-you-can-meat churrasqueiras was so high here, but Sacramento once had a reputation as a meat-and-potatoes-loving town. Fogo de Minas serves that need, minus the potatoes, and was doing good business on all of my visits.
The “full rodizio” setup at dinner is much as it is at other Brazilian joints: You grab a plate at the buffet, you load up on salads, you flip a little card on the table to green, signaling that you’re a go for meat. Then, the meat comes, borne by servers dressed like gauchos with spit-roasted cuts of beef, pork, lamb and chicken on big swords. You say yes or no, they slice it with a flourish, you grab it with tongs, eat and repeat.
For $44.95 (half that for kids and vegetarians), you get as many trips to the buffet and as much meat as you want. Not surprisingly, Fogo de Minas seemed to be a favorite destination for very large dudes, who populated several tables near me. One tall gentleman, clearly not messing around, boldly started off with two plates.
More power to him. I could barely keep up with the rich slices and chunks from the grill, which – in a pleasing touch – is visible through a window from the dining room. The space here is divided in two, with a main dining room featuring the buffet and grill and a bar area separated by a shoulder-height wall.
The welcoming service, however, is the same in both rooms, as is the lilting background of pop hits turned into samba-beat Muzak. In addition to the all-you-can-eat rodizio at dinner and weekend lunch service, there’s a pay-by-the-pound lunch option during the week. For that, you get a plate and load up at the salad bar, then swing by a window into the kitchen and get slices of whatever meat you want. At $9.95 per pound, this is definitely the budget-friendly choice for lighter eaters.
But how are the meat and the accompaniments? In a word, varied. Some cuts – notably the picanha (the Brazilian name for sirloin cap), the flap steak, the beef ribs and the parmesan pork – were excellent, succulent and juicy, with tons of meaty flavor. The muscular picanha boasted crunchy flakes of just enough salt to bring out and balance its beefy depth. Parmesan pork had an umami-rich golden crust and a juicy burst of just a little fat within. Beef ribs had all the richness of that cut, tasting like something between a majestic holiday roast and a hefty beef braise.
Other cuts, however, were dry or otherwise flawed. Fogo de Minas aims to serve most beef medium rare (though they will happily cook cuts longer for those who prefer more doneness), but even so, some items, like chunks of garlic steak, were tougher than they were juicy.
Top sirloin could have been a little more rare for my taste (it was closer to medium-well) and ended up a bit dry. Leg of lamb was so dry and oversalted it resisted the knife, and pork ribs had turned almost crunchy. Pork sausage, too, was dried out on one of my visits. I suspect that some of the desiccated items got that way because of because we were there at a less-busy time; skewers of carved meat get returned to the grill between carvings, and at slow times that can lead to overcooking.
Not all the meat is red, mind you. Bacon-wrapped chicken breast pieces were succulent and tender. Chicken hearts, dense with the liverlike tang of iron, had a tender chew – not for everyone, but great if you like that rarely served bit of offal. Chicken thighs, usually a dependably succulent piece, were disappointingly a bit dry.
One item served on skewers was the juiciest of them all – with zero risk of undercooking – and my favorite of everything I tried at Fogo de Minas: grilled whole pineapple, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and crackling-caramelized on the outside like the top of a crème brulee.
I could eat that grilled pineapple all day. Certainly it was more appealing than a lot of the salad-bar options, which varied widely. Black beans and rice were dependable, if unexciting, and I loved the bowl of incendiary little red malagueta peppers for spicing things up. A vat of chimichurri, acidic and bright green, was also available to take to the table for dressing all the meat.
One hot covered dish on the buffet was a mystery: one day it seemed to be fish, another a very mild, peanutty curry. In general, the salad bar and buffet would benefit from better labeling, especially as regards dish ingredients and potential allergens.
Salads were a little underwhelming and not as varied as I’ve seen at some Brazilian restaurants. A bright carrot-pea salad and crunchy sautéed green beans were fine, but a yolk-heavy egg salad and thickly mayonnaised potatoes were heavy and dull. I also liked hearts of palm, dolmas and an unusual chicken salad with corn and green olives, but green salads seemed a little wilted and pasta salad flabby with over-chilling. In sum, little on the salad bar was tempting enough to draw me and my companions back for more.
More would have been welcome when it came to the little cheese puffs (pao de queijo) that came around in baskets. Made with tapioca flour, they are like a chewier version of gougeres and made for excellent snacking.
Drinks were also fun. The Copacabana, a fluffy, sweet-tart blended passionfruit and rum number, was as festive as its name, though it took a long time to be served. A straightforward caipirinha, the lime-based national cocktail of Brazil, is punchy with cachaca, a fermented sugarcane-juice spirit. The wine list is on the shorter side, but there’s a good variety of nonalcoholic options, including passionfruit juice, Brazilian sodas and iced tea.
I would have been fine with that grilled pineapple as my one and only dessert – and as a substitute for a lot of dinner – but there’s also a dessert menu, including cheesecake, flan, a sticky-looking triple chocolate cake and more.
We tried the pave bombom. True confession, the choice was in part because of its delightful name. The server tried to describe it, but didn’t convey much beyond the fact that it would have chocolate and white chocolate layers. These proved dense, not very distinctly flavored and quite sweet – many of the desserts and drinks have a sweetened condensed milk base – with what seemed to be a Lindor-style truffle, a bit of cake and some textures I couldn’t place, which seemed like thicker rice paper. All in all, it seemed like a Brazilian trifle. I might not be the right audience for it, but in future I’d stick with the pineapple or try the flan.
If you’re a fan of Brazilian-style dining or a big meat eater, Fogo de Minas adds a good option closer to downtown Sacramento than other similar places in the area. Much of the meat quality is good, and it’s a fun way for a big group to do a celebration dinner. Just make sure you go hungry to get your money’s worth – and be choosy when it comes to the meat.
Fogo de Minas
2606 Gateway Oaks Dr., Suite 110/150. 916-883-3646. fogodeminas.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine type: Brazilian steakhouse
Price range: All-you-can-eat meat service at dinner $44.95 (check). Lunch, sold by weight, can be a surprisingly good value at $9.95 per pound.
Food: Meat, meat, and more meat, of varying quality: some, like the signature picanha and juicy flap steak, is fantastic; other choices, like sausages and lamb, were sometimes dry or oversalted. Extensive salad bar is also a mixed bag, but there’s plenty of choice.
Service: Courtly and attentive in the full-rodizio style at dinner, meaning gaucho-clad servers are circulating with speared meat. The food comes out frequently, but drinks and the check can lag a little.
Ambiance: Informal and unpretentious, with a slightly uneasy mix of a strip-mall setting, touches in the now-common rustic-chic vernacular (raw wood, lit-up aluminum signage), and more old-school décor: sleek dark surfaces, big silk-flower arrangements.
Accessibility considerations: Easy parking with nearby accessible spots, double doors at entry and widely spaced tables. Buffet, with big heavy plates, may be challenging to navigate for the less mobile.
Noise levels: Moderate, with soft samba-ized versions of pop music playing in the background.
Drinks: Full bar with a short and modestly priced wine list, Brazilian-style cocktails including a good caipirinha and a strong list of nonalcoholic options: Brazilian sodas and tea, tropical juices and more.
Vegetarian options: Limited to the salad bar, which offers black beans, rice and various pasta, egg and vegetable-based salads. But in the end, this is a restaurant for carnivores.
Allergy and dietary considerations: Salad bar choices are not labeled with ingredients and are self-serve, so tread carefully or ask a server when choosing. Meat is served medium-rare but the servers are accommodating about special requests for those who need or prefer it fully cooked.