Monday, July 30, 2012

Samba: Taste of Brazil – Hopkins, MN

M.GiantM and Febrifuge invited me out for dinner and a movie in Hopkins. M.Giant had been to Samba before (which is where he found me the terrible candy from South America), but Febrifuge and I were going in virginal. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I had high hopes, based on what M.Giant had told me about his first trip there.

The inside was brightly lit and really nicely decorated. Bold, but not garish colors on the wall, a few tasteful photos of Brazil, and some musical/dancing kitsch on the walls. The front part of the restaurant is a little make-shift “store” that has a variety of Brazilian foods, mixes, and snacks. I was very surprised at the variety of items here. Candy, powder mixes, cheeses, canned items, hot sauce, juices I can’t pronounce, sausages, cuts of meat, frozen desserts, and a bunch more. I honestly wish I had brought a cooler so I could have picked up some packages of Calabresa sausages and Carne Seca (dried beef) to bring back home. If you’re waiting for a table or waiting to pay your bill, do yourself a favor and pop into the store.

The menu has a really diverse set of food items. There are appetizers (all of which sounded Brazilian and delicious), salads, Brazilian entrees, grilled items, Paella, Pastas, Fish, and some tasty-looking desserts. I decided just to focus on the Brazilian dishes, since clearly those would be their specialty. We opted for a couple of appetizers to share – a ground beef Pastel (like an empanada) and an order of Pão de Queijo (cheese bread). It took me a while to narrow down the entrée I wanted, but I finally did. (I will also tell you it is near impossible to pronounce any of the items on the menu, but give it a shot nonetheless. Make it a little game if you want.) I got the Escondidinhos with Carne Seca. M.Giant got the Chicken Espetinhos and Febrifuge got the Churrasco with top sirloin and chicken. Don’t worry, I’ll explain all these in a bit.

We of course chatted about all things Brazilian until we grossed ourselves out with a new “hair-free” marketing slogan campaign for the restaurant. We should have stopped after we talked about soccer, thongs, carnival, and nuts… Then we quickly turned the topic to recent films. Febrifuge was ditching out on us because we were going to see Prometheus at the cheap theater two blocks from Samba, immediately after dinner.

The appetizers came out and looked surprisingly good. Better than I expected. The Pastel was amazingly good. Perfectly fried flaky skin wrapped around really delicious, flavorful, and juicy seasoned ground beef. After I had my small portion (since we split one three ways), I honestly wanted to order a dozen of these. It was great. The cheese bread was six small puffballs of baked (not fried) bread. They were light and crusty on the outside and doughy and cheesy on the inside. They were good. After each bite, I kept wanting more. This is another thing I’d love to have a TON or. They’re like mini donuts – you really can’t have just one or two. You need ALL of them. There is a mix for these in the store and I REALLY contemplated buying it. But I also know I would turn one box (which I’m sure makes 50) would be a one-sitting item. I know myself toooooo well.

The entrees came out and I hadn’t anticipated my dish looking like a Brazilian pot pie. It’s set up like so: carne seca (aged, dried, and shredded beef)(I got hooked on carne seca after the last time I went to Tucson AZ – so good), lots of onions, cheese, a covering of manioc puree (almost like a gummy grainy starchy mashed potato, and then covered with more cheese. The beef is really awesome. It is only dried BEFORE cooking, so don’t think it’s going to be dry – it’s very flavorful. The onions were very gratuitous in this dish (I’m not an onion fan, but I powered through to make sure I got the full flavor experience). The manioc puree wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have much flavor and as it cooled it got more starchy and heavy. I couldn’t even finish the small bowl because I was stuffed. The dish was good, but after having tasted other things, I know I’ll try something else for variety next time. Or I’ll just eat faster so it’s still hot as I near the end.

M.Giant’s dish was the Espetinhos – basically chicken kebobs served with veggies, and a side of rice and beans. He said the meat was really tasty and juicy, and was surprised by the beans. There was some sort of meat in them that made them extra good. He kept referring to it as “franks and beans”, but I’m sure it was something classier than franks. Maybe shredded beef or something.

The real winner was Febrifuge. He got the Churrasco –which is basically cuts of meat on a plate. He honored me with a bite of the chicken and I was really surprised at how good it was. It didn’t come adorned with any sauce or garnish, so I assumed it was gigot o be boring. That’s just how they present it in Brazil. Meat on a plate. It was one of the best pieces of chicken I’ve ever had. They apparently have some brilliant seasoning or marinade that is crazy good. I thought it was the best thing on the table until he gave me a bite of his top sirloin. Again, the seasoning blew me away (I’m a salt lover, so I’m guessing it was more salt than other restaurants might do, but it wasn’t all salt – I promise). The steak WAS cooked well all the way through, but it still didn’t ruin it – like I usually assume. The meat was still extremely juicy and the seasoning just enhanced everything. I will probably opt for the Churrasco next time I go here. And I WILL go here again. There are a lot of other items I want o try. Apparently, the Paella is top-notch here. If I wasn’t dead set on Brazilian fare, I totally would have gotten the Paella.

It’s a little out of the way if you’re downtown city-dweller, but Main Street in downtown Hopkins has a number of REALLY surprisingly delicious ethnic restaurants. And a block or two down is the $3 theater – bonus!

Top 5 things about Samba: Taste of Brazil
1. Churrasco top sirloin
2. Churrasco chicken breast
3. Ground Beef Pastel
4. Carne Seca
5. Super awesome market shop inside

Bottom 5 things
1. The manioc in the Escondidinhos (say THAT three times fast) filled me up waaay too fast
2. Surprised by the number of non-Brazilian items (Japanese beer, Chicken Parmegiana, etc)
3. I hope his place does killer business the rest of the week. We were the only ones there.
4. Not enough room for dessert this trip
5. It’s in the “date” range of prices. Not the “fancy date” range, just regular upscale restaurant pricing (I guess that isn’t a bad thing, but still I thought I’d warn you)

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