A churrascaria is probably one of the only places where you don’t need to fear men wielding giant knives — nor worry that a few dozen of them, called gauchos, have descended on the Walt Whitman Shops.
"When we hand over a knife to a gaucho, it’s not just for cutting, it's for creating," said Erick Cienfuegos, general manager of Fogo de Chão in Huntington Station, which recently opened at the mall.
For those unfamiliar with Fogo de Chão — a Brazilian steakhouse chain founded in 1979 — it’s advisable to skip breakfast (and lunch) to leave room for the unlimited grilled and skewered meats spirited through the dining room by uniformed gauchos in giant pantaloons and red scarves. These noir cowboy-esque figures (who sharpen their knives daily) will appear at your table whenever you turn a coaster from red to green, shaving slices of at least 13 different kinds of meat, from filet mignon, rib-eye and the signature picanha (or sirloin cap) to lamb steak and linguica sausage, as you grab each flap with little metal tongs.
That experience, $62 per person ($41 at lunch), can go on for as long as you like, and also includes unlimited trips to the central "market table" — an icy, glam, gluten-free salad bar in the middle of the room constantly refreshed with salads, hummus, cheeses, fruit, salsas and meats; nearby is a feijoada bar serving up Brazil's signature black bean stew. Those who prefer the market table alone will pay $15 at lunch and $32 during dinner; certain cuts can also be purchased on their own. The centerpiece of the a la carte menu is Australian Wagyu NY Strip steak or rib-eye ($135 to $145) sliced tableside and served on a Himalayan salt block. Seafood towers and entrees ($22 to $99) and, for meatless eaters, a roasted cauliflower steak ($17, or $34 with the market table) round out that menu.
The 250-seat restaurant, the chain’s 48th, takes the spot where Del Frisco and Legal Sea Foods used to be, and sports the signature Fogo de Chão airy feel of soaring windows and ceilings, and cush, elegant chairs. There's a bar at the front for caipirinhas, the cachaca-driven cocktails of Brazil.
What sets the newest location apart is an additional bar at the back that faces the flickering gas flames where the meat is cooked, sort of like a sushi counter but for meat. Also new: A backlit case where tomahawk steaks are aging in full view, for 42 days. "We’ve been working with dry aged for awhile now, so every guest can see the whole process from the beginning to the end," said Cienfuegos, who has been with the company about six years and worked in New York City and Pittsburgh before coming to Long Island.
Cienfuegos is one of 100 or so employees at the newest Fogo, as is chef and back-of-house manager Petro Delakas, a grill master who started working in churrascaria in his native Brazil before moving to the U.S. and joining Fogo de Chao a decade ago.
Both men, who had worked together before, said there is a strong legacy of mentorship within the company. Gauchos (or gauchas for women) go through weeks and sometimes months of training. "At first we’re looking for a job, and we realize it’s much more than that," said Cienfuegos. "The same way they taught us, helped us to perform — we mentor and make sure the next generation transitions and continues the legacy."
Unlike in Carle Place, this Fogo de Chão has an outdoor patio that will be covered and heated through the winter. The restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner at 11:30 a.m., and weekend brunch ($31.95 for the market table alone, and $42.95 for churrasco) features an omelette station.
Fogo de Chão, 160 Walt Whitman Rd., Suite 1108B, Huntington Station; 631-382-6161, fogodechao.com