For those of us who have had truly authentic deep-down-from-the-roots-made-with-love Brazilian food, we have also, most likely, had a disappointing “Brazilian” dining experience in the Iron-bound section of Newark. When I saw the sign for Samba go up this fall (located in the Park Street Cafe) I thought,”Please, please don’t be another Churrascaria!” Well good news, it is not. True Southern Brazilian “Home-style” as owner Ilson Goncalves describes his menu, has come to Baristaville. Ilson is from the area of Santa Catarina and told me he is trying to recreate the meals his mother would make, “She would make Feijoada* (a traditional black bean dish) on Thursday for Friday but it was even better on Saturday.”
Now summing “Brazilian food” as one type of cuisine is silly. Years ago I was fortunate enough to eat my way from Rio to Manaus and many, many places in between. The country is large and diverse in climate and culture. Just because you fell in love with Acaraje in Bahia don’t expect to see them on the menu at Samba. “Many traditional Brazilian ingredients are very difficult to find here,” Ilson told me, but he is searching for the ingredients daily.
So what to try? Barista Annette Batson and I (and all were big hits with my kids) loved the Salgadinhos Sortidos ( little pasteries: 1 chicken, 1 beef, 1 cheese) , Frango a Passarinho (Tiny chicken cutlets on the bone with parsley and garlic) and the Mandioca frita com linguguina calabresa (Fried yucca with Brazilian pork sausage) as appetizers. Our number one favorite main course was the Bobo de Camarão (Yucca Puree with coconut milk, tomatoes and onions served with whole shrimp and rice). It was outstanding. Some dishes are served with farofa (toasted yucca flour) and traditional Brazilian collard greens and other with rice and breaded fried banana. The appetizers ranged in price from $5.95- $8.95 and the main course ranged from $14.95-$18.95. I would say very reasonable for the portion size and quality. The other big plus is for those who have a gluten free diet, ask for your meal to be made only using yucca flour as it is gluten free. How great is that?
Now for dessert…I usually skip dessert at restaurants because I am often disappointed. This was hardly the case at Samba. Wowee-wow-wow, the desserts were all fantastic. I’m not sure there were many discernible words heard from our table, more like grunts and “Yum, yum’s”. The flan caramel is the best I have ever had (I’m sorry Mrs. Hernandez), a passion fruit mousse and Brazilian chocolate mousse were also fantastic.
This is what my tasting partner Annette said about Samba,””I’d say Ilson (sweetest restaurateur in town) is dishing up Brazilian country cooking like he grew up on, not a glammed up menu you find in NYC. With that said, he is open to requests for dishes in advance – and you can’t get a better yucca frita anywhere. Very kid friendly menu”
Other than the food being wonderful, Samba is probably one of the most romantic restaurants in Baristaville, illuminated by dozens of candles every night with beautiful silver flatware and pitchers Ilson has found from estate sales all around Baristaville. Everything from Bossa Nova to Samba music softly plays (he takes requests, please play Previsão for me) and plans on having live music in the near future. Even the area leading into the restrooms is showcased with the fronts of wooden wine cases recycled from neighbor Park Street Liquors. He assures me for now that Samba will remain Park Street Cafe Monday-Saturday for breakfast and lunch as it has become a favorite meeting place for friends to meet up after going to the Park Street Y.
Beautiful, cozy, romantic with wonderful food owned by one of the hardest working restaurateurs I have ever met. A place where I can close my eyes, take in the smells and sounds and sing in my head,”Silver Jet take me, I’m all set, take me through the sky….fly me to Brazil.”
Mention Baristanet from now until Febuary 5th, 2012 and get 10% of your check at Samba.
Samba, 7 Park Street, Montclair, 973.744.6764