I had been in such a food funk on the road this fall - burgers, pizza, Mexican, I was even getting burnt out on Indian food, my new "go-to" comfort food. Always looking to broaden my culinary horizon, I found myself at a Brazilian restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins not long ago - Samba Taste of Brazil. I was reading about the place online and it appeared that it was an authentic Brazilian restaurant - not a Brazilian steakhouse like I've eaten at in the past - but one with foods that are indigenous to Brazil and their culture. With a bit of trepidation, but still sort of interested what this adventure may bring, I decided to seek out Samba for dinner one evening.
Samba is owned and operated by Brazilian natives Joe Luis and Maria Lucia Pantano and their son, Gabriel. The family took over the space of what was a former wine bar and cafe about four years ago and opened their small casual restaurant - complete with a small market of Brazilian food items. On weekends, Samba Taste of Brazil hosts live music, usually a guitarist who plays Brazilian music on Friday and Saturday nights.
I found Samba Taste of Brazil in the downtown shopping and entertainment area on Mainstreet in Hopkins. (see map) I was able to find a parking spot on Mainstreet (yep, it's one word to those who live in Hopkins), but there are a number of municipal parking lots in the area. I walked into Samba and was greeted by Gabriel Pantano who told me I could sit anywhere I liked. I took a table up toward the front of the restaurant.
The restaurant had a nice contemporary feel to it. The light colored walls were adorned with pictures and artwork with mini-spotlights highlighting the pictures. The wood floor was a nice touch, but it wasn't overly loud in the place like you'd think it could be. (That may be different with more people in the place and music playing on the weekends.) There was a nice bar area to the left side of the restaurant. (above right) The restaurant had a nice comfortable vibe to the place.
At the front of the building on the bar side was the little Brazilian market maintained by the Pantano family. The little area featured shelves stocked with candies, cookies, and other Brazilian snacks along with canned food, bottled juice, Brazilian flour, peppers and Guarana Antarctica - the second-best selling soft drink in Brazil (only behind Coca-Cola). I had to look through the little market area after dinner just to see what they had to offer.
There was a meat case that featured frozen Brazilian meats and sausages, along with a cooler that had juices, coconut water and cheese. I love looking through little ethnic grocery stores to see what people in other countries view as staple food items.
Looking through the menu that Gabriel had left off with me, I saw that most of the authentic Brazilian food they served at Samba featured beef, chicken or seafood. Escondidinho is a Brazilian-style shepherd's pie only instead of the dish being topped with mashed potatoes, they top it with mashed manioc (yucca). Then you have your choice of fillings that included beef (dried or ground), shrimp or a salted cod fish. Hmmm... Didn't know how that would go over. I'd would have liked to try a bite or two of it, but then I would have felt bad that I ordered it and not liked it.
Jaba is dried beef sauteed with onions and garlic, then served with fried manioc and collard greens. Atolado is a spicy dish made with your choice of chicken, beef or pork cooked with peppers, onions and garlic in a tomato sauce and served with mashed manioc. Moqueca is a Brazilian seafood stew made with a coconut milk base with onion, peppers, tomatoes and rice. I'm not big on the taste of coconut (I do like the smell of coconuts, however) so I was leery of ordering that.
They had other things on the menu including pasta dishes, paellas with sausage and shrimp, grilled meat entrees including top and bottom sirloin, chicken, pork and the Brazilian sausage, Linguica; and they even had gourmet Brazilian-style pizzas on the menu. Samba also had a number of appetizers, soups and salads.
A couple things sort of jumped out at me on the menu. There was a Brazilian strogonoff with your choice of beef, chicken or shrimp sauteed with mushrooms in a creamy paprika sauce. And the espetinhos were interesting - your choice of skewers of grilled steak, chicken or vegetables with onions and red peppers that was served with rice, beans and farofa. Farofa, I found out later, is a toasted manioc flour mixture, sort of like a corn meal. I thought I'd try that. I had ordered up a Palma Louca pilsner-style beer to go with my meal, even though Samba had a nice little wine list.
Gabriel brought the espetinhos to me and I was sort of intrigued what it was all about. It featured two small skewers - one with chunks of grilled steak and veggies, the other with chunks of grilled chicken and vegetables. There was a big ball of steamed rice with herbs on top, the farofa and sort of a pico de gallo on the plate. A small bowl of beans in a sauce finished out the meal.
I tried the steak first and the meat was overcooked. As someone who likes his beef rare to medium-rare, this was medium-well to well. It was sort of tough to chew, but it still had a nice grilled flavor. I decided to take a chunk of the grilled steak and dip it in the beans to get it a little more moist. It helped tremendously. Just a little bit of moisture made the meat more easy to chew.
However, as I went down the skewer, the meat was not as overcooked as it was on the one end. It was much more juicy and flavorful. The sweet red peppers had a great grilled taste as did the wedges of onions.
The chicken skewer was similar to the beef - on one end the chicken was overcooked and dry. Dipping it in with the beans helped, once again. But as I went toward the center and other end of the skewer the chicken was more moist and tender.
Not exactly knowing what the farofa was for, I dipped chunks of the beef and the chicken in the beans then rolled them in the farofa. The grainy mixture had sort of a corn meal taste and texture to it. I'm not big on corn meal, but I thought it was fine for what it was. I had to give it a try.
Quite actually, the beans were good and interesting. They sort of had a similar taste to Campbell's Bean with Bacon soup, a staple in our household when I was growing up. The beans had a nice texture to them and I liked the overall taste of the side.
I decided that the meal at Samba wasn't too bad. Part of the beef and chicken were overcooked, but the rest of it was moist, tender and flavorful. I certainly liked the beans and the farofa had an intriguing taste and texture. I'm still not certain if rolling the meat in it was the proper way to eat farofa. There were enough interesting items on the menu that I wouldn't be quite as apprehensive trying authentic Brazilian food if I make it back. Samba Taste of Brazil is one of those places where it's fascinating enough to give it a try again at some point. (Picture left courtesy Urbanspoon.)