Readers often ask me what we do for dining when we travel and if we ever bring our children to “fancy” restaurants. When I reply “Sure, all the time”, my response is usually met with surprise and the follow up question, “why?” My answer involves a whole list of reasons why we do explore upscale establishments and a whole bunch of tips for a positive experience. When we were in New York City this past weekend (we head into the City every couple of months and have dozens of posts on things to do that you can find here), we had a wonderful lunch at Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse and I was reminded of many of these reasons and tips.
First, a little background on Fogo de Chao: The name means “camp fire” or “ground fire” and it comes from the churrasco method of roasting meat which involves preparing an area in the ground for roasting the meat over an open fire. The meat is first prepared on skewers, then roasted over the fire, and then served directly from the skewers. Today, Fogo de Chao serves 13 different types of meat (steak, lamb, pork, and chicken) that way (albeit no fire pits in the ground!). The first restaurant opened in Brazil in 1979 and now the company has over 50 restaurants around the world, including over 40 restaurants in America, and over a dozen restaurants in Brazil, Mexico, and the Middle East. The three story, flagship restaurant is located in midtown Manhattan and includes private dining spaces, two bars, an impressive wine collection, and a 17 foot sculpture of O Lacador, a nod to the historical monument in Brazil. The Bar Fogo on the upper level has an impressive (and lively, from what I have read) Happy Hour on weekdays (not appropriate for kids) and there are plenty of private event spaces for larger parties.
The Fogo de Chao Churrascco Experience usually includes continuous table side service of all 13 types of meat, the Market Table, and Brazilian side dishes. Guests may also choose to order a singular meal (which does include the Market Table) or to dine on just the Market Table. The Market Tables includes dozens of salads, side dishes, full charcuterie and cheese boards, and prepared and seasoned vegetables. The weekend brunch also includes an omelette and waffle station, made to order. There are plenty of gluten free options and Fogo de Chao does offer vegetarian options. Children ages 7-12 dine for half the cost of an adult experience and children under age 7 dine for free. More information on pricing here.
The initial price of the Churrascco Experience may seem expensive, especially when dining as a family, but we have been to visit twice (once in the Washington DC restaurant, mentioned in this post) and once in New York City and have had wonderful experiences both times. It wouldn’t be within our budget to eat there every week, but I think it’s the perfect spot for a celebratory meal and there are many reasons why Fogo de Chao, especially, is very family friendly.
5 Reasons to Bring Kids to Fine Dining Restaurants:
1. They can learn about different cultures through food. Very often, fine dining establishments will cook with ingredients from a variety of cultures. It’s a great time for children to try something new even if it’s only“no thank you” bite. Often, my children will think they won’t like something just because it’s new and looks different than what they are used to, but then when they try “just one bite” they end up loving is and asking for more. Trying an appetizer is a great start and less of a gamble; if they truly don’t end up liking the food, we haven’t wasted a lot of food or money. We especially like to try more upscale restaurants for lunch; it’s usually a more appropriate time to bring children, spirits and patience are usually higher, and the prices fit with our budget. At Fogo de Chao, the Market Table was a great way for our children to try papaya and Brazilian chicken salad. They even serve chicken heart, made to order, which is hard to find at many restaurants. Staff bring a platter of fried bananas and fried polenta, both new items for our family, to each table- we ended up asking for seconds thirds of the fried bananas. Our most favorite “new” item was the Brazilian lemonade. We cut our son off after three glasses. Get the Brazilian lemonade- with coconut milk. Best. drink. ever.
2. They can learn about making healthy choices. Most restaurants that cater to families have the same five meals on the “kids menu.” It gets boring really fast. And the same five meals aren’t usually very healthy. Many of the fine dining restaurants we have visited offer healthier options and give kids the opportunity to make decisions about what items they would like to pair together. At Fogo de Chao, the Market Table is a picky kid’s dream- every item is in it’s own dish or bowl; the berries are separated from the pineapple, and the cheese and meats all have their own arrangement and nothing overlaps. To adults, it looks symmetrical and artistic, but kids will be thrilled that things aren’t mixed together, or even touching, and they can create their own masterpieces. Plus, everything is so beautifully displayed that kids will be encouraged to try new foods. Buffalo mozzarella is our son’s new favorite cheese after seeing it paired with tomatoes and basil (and he ate all of it!)
3. They can practice their table manners. Good manners are important whether you’re dining at a fast food spot or dining with royalty, but many fine dining restaurants set a table with more “tools” than kids are used to seeing. Knowing what fork to use when, which bread dish is theirs, and what to do when you get up from the table are important etiquette rules that will serve everyone well. Learning how to graciously decline an offer is also important, and as staff are constantly bringing new types of meat to the table at Fogo de Chao, our children needed to be reminded how to politely ask “What cut of meat are you offering?” instead of “Will I like whatever that is?”. Fogo de Chao does make it fun with coasters that serve as signals to staff (the green side means “Yes, please stop” and the red side means “No, thank you”). With attentive staff, it also means that kids need to get comfortable, in a safe way, talking to strangers. Since they were very young, our children have always ordered their own meals and spoken directly to staff and we encourage them to speak up, make eye contact, and use good manners.
4. They can sit and engage in conversation. Personally, I am horrified that some restaurants offer iPads and miniature televisions at every table. I know puzzles, crayons and coloring sheets are popular at many family friendly restaurants (and our family has had many an EPIC word search battle while on the road) and many fine dining restaurants don’t offer these forms of entertainment. I think that’s a good thing every once in a while. Children (and adults, too!) should learn to put away the electronics and talk to each other. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Show interest. I love that so many of the tables at Fogo de Chao were round, making it easier to see everyone at your table and engage them. Having the Market Table definitely helps with kids’ restlessness- they can get up, move around, try something new to eat, and get some of their wiggles out.
5. They can learn not to rush when eating. I’ve read so many articles and parenting books about meals in European countries that last for hours, in stark contrast to the rush rush of American culture, with so many people eating on the run and in their cars. A fancier meal does often halt that rushing, and encouraged people to savor the food. With kids, I can admit it can be hard. A place like Fogo de Chao encourages guests to stay a while. The whole premise behind dining at Fogo de Chao is to take your time and savor new foods. In my opinion, it’s the perfect spot for a special, celebratory meal (again, the private dining spaces and the round tables encourage conversation and connection). Guests can take their time, starting with the Market Table, trying new cuts of meat, and enjoying each other’s company. We dined for over 90 minutes, and it was by far one of the longest meals we have had in a long time. Our children didn’t act restless (they each made close to a dozen trips to the Market Table) and we took our time enjoying our food and each other’s company.
For us, these reasons make any family meal priceless.
Disclaimer: Our family was hosted by the New York Fogo de Chao restaurant. All opinions expressed are my own.