WHEN the sushi rolls, carpaccio, squid in garlic butter sauce and red snapper in cream sauce have settled under a layer of a minty cocktail with a tongue-twisting Portuguese name – caipirinha – the waiters dressed like Brazilian cowboys shave smoked and seasoned meat from sword skewers.
The Brazilian grill Fogo Brasil in San José specializes in extremes – the flavor and the quantity, exemplified in the walking, temperature-controlled, glass-walled wine racks with a separate, smaller compartment in which the whites are chilled.
And in the wide spaces, austere, stately and brown, with an excess of tables – 500 when sliding partitions between the dining rooms are rolled back and the rooms united. And, again, the quantity – Fogo Brasil’s level of gourmet quality served all-you-can-eat must be unique in the world.
OUT of necessity more than authenticity, many of the waiters and cooks are, like the restaurant’s style, imported from Brazil. Some struggle with the Spanish language. They lend their unique expertise to the roasting of meat on spits over a wood fire among the acres of stainless steel in the kitchen, and to the serving of meat with matador-esque flair among the expanses of wood floors, trim and glass in the three dining rooms and bar. They whir past the tables as if on a waiter conveyor belt, brandishing short swords spearing a stomach-boggling selection of different cuts of meat: mouthwatering ribs, assorted cuts of beef, sausage, pork and chicken.
The service works on a traffic light system: circular placards on the table are red on one side, green on the other, and depending on what color they are showing they will either shoo away or attract the meat. The meat is smoked in a glass case for nine to 12 hours before it is roasted, and if the cut is too big to slide onto the plate shish-kebab style from the waiter’s sword, he shaves it, and the diners pluck it from the sword with tiny tongs included among the place settings.
THE salad bar, toted as the biggest in the country, includes a banquet table of hot dishes and soups that change daily and a pasta bar with choices of pastas, sauces and mix-in ingredients that a chef assembles on order. Marinara sauce with capers, mozzarella and mushrooms atop penne is recommended.
Wine is one of the restaurant’s points of pride – 240 brands, hundreds of bottles and a dizzying price range – from ¢7,300 ($15) for the Undurraga pinot noir to ¢238,200 ($485) for the 1997 Château Mouton Rothschild pauillac. For collectors or the curious, the wine case is also a museum of sorts for rare, old wines that are not for sale.
Diners can try Guaraná, a fruit-based soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola in Brazil, and comes in regular and diet versions.
Perhaps designed for the convenience of its overstuffed guests, the bathrooms are touch-free, so diners do not have to move much – the doors, toilets, faucets and hand dryers are all automatic. Also, no need for a babysitter – children can watch cartoons projected on a movie screen in a supervised children’s room on the second floor.
Fogo Brasil is open every day, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. The $22.14 price per person includes all-you-can-eat pasta bar, salad bar and cuts of meat, as well as taxes, but not beverages or dessert. The restaurant is 100 meters east of the Nissan dealership in La Sabana, in western San José. For information, call 248-1111 or e-mail [email protected].